Virginia Ferguson, also known as Ginny, is a mother of five on Social Security. She received several notices from her landlord for allegedly having multiple people staying with her who were not on the lease. On Feb. 26, two days before her eviction date, a hot-water pipe burst, flooding her apartment and her packed boxes.
She was refused an extension on her eviction date and she was charged $350 for the carpets that were ruined by the flooding.
“They charged me $350 to clean the carpet,” Ferguson said. “The apartment flooded. That wasn’t on me. They wanted to charge me for brand new carpet.”
Her landlord kept the initial security deposit, refused to extend her stay while she dealt with the damage caused by the flooding and charged her for new carpets.
This is only one of the stories that was shared during the July 18 protest held by Washington Community Action Network (Washington CAN). There was a legal forum held by the Rental Housing Association of Washington (RHAWA) at the Frye Art Museum and Washington CAN was protesting outside.
Many shared similar sentiments — that lobbyists and attorneys are making it harder for tenants to attain their rights. City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, well known for her fight for affordable housing and her victory for raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, was also in attendance.
Protesters chanted, “Tenants rights are under attack. What do we do?” followed by, “Stand up! Fight back!”
A theme of desperation and anger hung in the air as protestors shouted their demands for tenant rights. Police stood a half block away as the attendees of the legal forum watched from the air-conditioned museum.
According to Washington CAN, the protest — similar to their general network’s vision — was fighting for policy changes with regard to the eviction processes and landlord accountability, as well as fighting the state ban on rent regulation.
“We’re also making these pushes in local governments across the state,” said Erin Fenner, who is a part of the communication team at Washington CAN. “For instance, in Federal Way, we’re fighting for a rental inspection ordinance, which would help curb the sort of issues Ginny faced. It would give tenants an easy, quick, budget-neutral way to hold their landlords accountable, while also logging inspection information in an online public database.”
The RHAWA held a legal forum to give its members an opportunity to ask questions of attorneys specializing in tenant-landlord laws and real estate. RHAWA serves as a resource for independent rental owners, and has been involved in multiple lawsuits against the city.
Their most recent lawsuit was related to the restrictions based on criminal backgrounds, which went into effect in February.
“RHAWA’s Legal Forum is an educational event for landlords to learn how to comply with laws, and to understand their legal responsibilities,” said executive director of RHAWA Sean Martin in an email. “Protesting against landlords who are educating themselves on how to comply with landlord-tenant law and do things the right way doesn’t help anyone.”
The topic of homelessness was very present in the protest as many tenants become homeless after they are evicted from their rental units.
“Everyone is a paycheck away from being homeless if they don’t have six months worth of savings,” said Sharon Lin, a Washington CAN member. “This is a statewide problem.”
Ferguson has been fighting for a rental inspection ordinance in Federal Way, which will create more transparency in inspections, as well as a path for tenants to hold their landlords accountable in court. She fought alongside Washington CAN to hold landlords accountable.
In addition to the personal stories and and chants, there was a lot of encouragement.
Sawant attested to the power of organizing as she said, “Look how afraid they are. Look how many cops there are. They are afraid of us getting organized because they know as well as we should that it actually works.”
They were confident in the strength of their protests and the effect of their organizing, so while the legal forum took place inside, protesters planned for the future, unbothered.
Check out the full July 25 - July 31 issue.
Real Change is a non-profit organization advocating for economic, social and racial justice. Since 1994 our award-winning weekly newspaper has provided an immediate employment opportunity for people who are homeless and low income. Learn more about Real Change.