Hundreds protest eviction of tenants in New Haven
Residents of a New Haven apartment building who are facing eviction gathered with hundreds of their supporters Wednesday to rally against the move that would force them out of their homes.
With calls of “stand up, fight back,” the protestors marched the four blocks from the front steps of New Haven City Hall to the office of Ocean Management, which operates the apartment building at 311 Blake Street, where tenants are facing eviction.
The protest also drew the attention of Sen. Richard Blumenthal, State Senate President Martin Looney, the Service Employees International Union and Connecticut State Council Executive Director Kooper Caraway.
Blumenthal addressed the crowd, telling them to be proud of the gathering.
“Different races, different ages, different backgrounds. This is what America looks like, standing for justice. Standing up and speaking out for fairness,” Blumenthal said.
On Aug. 19, 16 residents received notices to quit from Ocean Management. A notice to quit is the first step in the eviction process.
The notices to quit were part of “no-fault” eviction proceedings. No-fault evictions are when landlords opt not to renew a lease, but have no complaints against the tenant.
Residents believe the evictions are a retaliatory response to them resisting Ocean Management’s proposed 20% rent increase for certain apartments. They say union leadership met with Ocean Management to discuss the rent increase plan days before the notices to quit were sent to residents.
It is important that residents and their supporters do not back down, Blumenthal said.
“Not letting a bully intimidate or exploit innocent people who just want a place to live at an affordable price. This is about a landlord retaliating against people who are asserting their legal rights. That is the worst kind of exploitation,” Blumenthal said.
In a statement sent to Connecticut Public Radio, Ocean Management said rent has not increased since the COVID-19 pandemic began, despite inflation, and is below market rate.
“We met in good faith three times with the representatives in an attempt to accommodate, and even expressed our intention to accommodate some tenants who experience financial hardship,” the statement read.
Each resident that received a notice to quit is a member of the tenants union, which formed last fall.
Tenants who have existing cases against Ocean Management did not receive eviction notices, according to Blake Street Tenants Union Vice President Sarah Giovanniello.
“I have an active housing code case against the landlord for fire safety and mouse issues that has not been resolved and so I think it would be illegal to evict me right now,” Giovanniello said. “I think in their opinion, this is their right to do. But they've also admitted that they did it because our negotiations stalled. To us, that is clear retaliation, which is actually illegal.”
Jessica Stamp, the Blake Street Union Steward, has lived in the building for six years, and received a notice to quit. Stamp said she’s been a model resident while Ocean Management has been unresponsive.
“Getting this eviction, on one hand, it's hilarious because they're communicating with me for once, so that's exciting,” Stamp said with a laugh. “But on the other hand, I've always paid my rent on time, I helped them to clean up the property.”
On Monday, the union filed a request for a court injunction in the eviction proceedings. A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 12, to discuss the retaliation claims.