LAUREL, Md. — Tenants at the Westgate at Laurel apartment complex have started a rent strike as a tactic to get the ownership of the property to address several issues that they allege have been dismissed since Schweb Partners LLC took over in 2020.
More than 50 families have joined the protest vowing to not pay rent for the month of August. Some residents expressed concern about facing potential eviction procedures, but they say drastic measures are needed to get better living conditions.
"I understand that at the end of the day business owners need to pay the mortgage over the building, however that is with the understanding that buildings are well maintained," said Lauren Buscher to WUSA9.
Tenants have created a list of demands and signatures that were turned into the management office. Among the complaints are raising rents that vary among residents, unresponsive repair requests, unsanitary living conditions, and frequent parking issues.
"We've written a letter. All of us have made complaints individually. It is at the point where we have to escalate it. This is the only choice that we have to get some kind of response from them," said Buscher.
Tenant advocates from CASA say that residents have been receiving rent increases that vary hundreds of dollars. In addition, parking fees have been established with a short notice. Residents pay $10 a month per parking spot and only if they pay for parking. Then, they are allowed to have visitor parking which is an additional fee. If an unauthorized car is found on the premises, it can be towed and ticketed for $175.
Another tenant that joined the strike is Nuvia, who says water from the unit above her apartment started dripping from her ceiling, flooding her kitchen and soaking her entire carpet. She claims to have requested that the water-damaged carpet be replaced, but management only agreed to clean it, leaving it more damaged than before. Nuvia says that Schweb Partners told her that replacing the flooring would fall under her responsibility.
Her bathroom and kitchen ceiling still has mold issues following the water incident.
"Look at this, I already told them to come fix. They did it once," said Nuvia as she showed WUSA9 her unglazed tub that she covered with a mat.
CASA organizers helped organize a rally on the property and will provide the strike participants with guidance.
Laurel City Councilmember-At-Large Martin Mitchell showed his support at the rally. "Currently there is no protections for renters like price gouging," said Mitchell who is working on passing legislation in the city to help with unfair rent pricing, but he says similar protections need to be in place in Prince George's County.
"That's the message we are watching. Not only tenants but elected officials," said Mitchell.
WUSA9 reached out to the New Jersey based company Schweb Partners LLC, but we have yet to hear a response from them. Some tenants are planning to take a bus to New Jersey to have a meeting with the ownership in the upcoming days.