LAUREL, Md. — Just days after more than 50 families announced they would go on rent strike at the Westgate at Laurel Apartments in Maryland, the property owners approached the tenants to start negotiations.
Schweb Partners LLC and the resident group have agreed to meet three times in the next three months to address the list of demands regarding rent increases and better living conditions.
On July 7, a group of tenants presented signatures and a list of grievances to the management office after holding a rally outside the complex.
Olachi Harbour spoke at that rally about the rent hikes that vary drastically among residents.
"The rent increases are unequivocally irregular," said Harbour to WUSA9. She claims that her rent increased by $120 a month, but she was able to bring that amount down to $75. She has decided to join the tenants on strike because she says that some of her neighbors are paying hundreds more, yet the conditions of the units have not improved.
With the support of the activist group CASA, neighbors have rallied together to express their concerns about parking. When Schweb Partners LLC took over they put in place a monthly fee of $10 per month for a parking spot. If residents do not pay for parking, they are not allowed to have visitors use one of the allocated visitor spots. Tenants say an agreement with a local towing company has led them to park in neighborhoods nearby because they fear their vehicle will be taken away even if they have a pass.
On Wednesday, July 12, residents and the New Jersey-based company had the first of three meetings. Ana Rodriguez, an organizer with CASA, says it was an important first step.
"They came and met with us, but we did not get the results we were looking for,' says Rodriguez who was at the meeting. The tenant group says they asked the property owners to hold back on evictions until an agreement was made, but they allege Schweb did not agree.
Those withholding rent, have received a failure to pay rent notices. These rent strikers have no legal protection from being evicted.
"Feeling real scared and anxious about it because I have never been through that. I have always been a resident that has paid my rent, never owed," said Harbour after receiving the document.
WUSA9 has reached out to Schweb Properties LLC numerous times. We spoke to the property manager on location but we have yet to receive a response to our inquiries.