I-TEAM: Hartford Tenants demand action from City Council, say they’re living in unsafe conditions
***Update as of Wednesday 10/12/2022: A spokesperson at Maple Group Management tells the I-Team they are not associated with Avalon Village any longer. The spokesperson says they are two different companies. Some of the buildings/around 850 units run/owned by Avalon have been sold to a new owner who hired Maple Group Management. The city says that the new owner is working to improve the units they bought.***
HARTFORD, Conn. (WFSB) - Several dozen tenants rallied outside, and inside of Hartford City Hall Tuesday night.
The tenants told city councilors they’re being forced to live in unsafe conditions, while at the same time, watching their rent increase.
Around 30 tenants, from a dozen properties across the city spoke at the first public comment session the city has held since 2020, because of coronavirus concerns.
They may live at different addresses, but all asked the city council for the same thing: better living conditions.
The tenants say it can be done, by holding landlords accountable.
“I’m paying my rent and I’m doing my job, it’s time they started doing theirs,” says Billie Terry, a tenant on Sherbrooke Avenue.
“No more roaches, no more rats. We want you to work for us,” were some of the chants that could be heard.
Speaker after speaker telling city councilors what it’s like to live like them.
“Sometimes when you run the water, and it leaks from the second floor to the bottom floor, to my store, the roof, the ceiling comes in a little bit,” says Terry.
“I feel I live in unbearable conditions for you to up my rent,” says Fannie Ragland of Franklin Avenue. “I have to clean my stove because I have rat droppings on it.”
Water damage in the ceiling.
People sleeping in the hallway.
Bottled urine on the floor.
Conditions the tenants say they’ve been living with, and the same conditions they say their landlords and property management companies ignore time and time again, all while raising rent.
Half of the tenants that spoke live at 50 Morgan Street.
They say the new owners, Shelbourne, have ignored their calls for safer conditions.
“They have been allowing tenants to park for 8 months in an area that should be condemned,” says Maureen Leahy, a tenant there.
Zachary Williams, another tenant says, “there’s an ongoing sewage leak in the wall in the gym.”
They also told the City Council a former tenant often sneaks in and been found nude inside the building.
We called and left messages for both Shelbourne and managers at Axela, a management company.
The other half who spoke live in properties managed by the property management company Avalon, who has since changed its name to Maple Group, according to tenants.
“I’ve called them numerous times, sent emails to them, gone to the agency and nothing,” says Sharon Terrell of Marshall Street.
We tried to track down the management company ourselves.
A sign on their offices in Hartford and East Hartford said they were closed, and no one picked up the phone.
The I-team has been looking into tenant concerns surrounding Avalon/Maple Group management for weeks.
887 Asylum Avenue is one of the places tenants took us inside.
We saw open panels in the garage, tenants say things have fallen out of.
In some cases, duct tape was holding parts of the water damaged ceiling up.
The I-team obtained around 100 housing inspection reports for just some of the properties they run, going back two years. The reports show bedbugs, roaches and mice have been common issues at many of the properties.
City councilor Joshua Michtom says he supports the tenants’ concerns and thinks the city needs to be tougher on property owners.
“From my understanding what happens, they come, and they (the landlords) get a warning and a modest fine, but then there’s no follow through, to make sure the issue gets fixed,” says Michtom.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin shared a statement with us saying, “Our housing inspectors pursue every complaint, and they work hand in hand with our health, fire, building and police departments every day to make sure that property owners maintain safe, healthy environments— or face consequences. We’ve put in place the most proactive residential licensing and inspection programs in the city’s history, and we’ve increased the budget and staffing for housing inspectors over the past two years. With respect to the properties highlighted at tonight’s meeting, some complaints have been investigated and found to be unsubstantiated, while others are being addressed by new property owners. We take every complaint seriously, we will not hesitate to take aggressive enforcement action, and we encourage residents to raise their voices and hold our feet to the fire.”
According to land records, some of the properties run by Avalon have been sold to a new owner, like the ones on Gillett, Asylum and Forest Street for example. This happened on September 7th.
Several others still remain under the ownership of the original landlord, like ones on Sherbrooke Avenue.
Now, we called every number listed for each landlord and property manager of these properties listed on city documents.
No one returned our call.
The Avalon/Maple Tenants Union says they have a list of demands they’d like the city to put into action which include the following:
Fine landlords to the maximum extent possible for all code violations. All inspections need to have a plan for follow-up, and the city should assess fines as soon as a landlord misses a deadline.
Hire enough housing code inspectors to reign in landlords, including the four the city said they would hire but didn’t.
Ensure the rental licensing program is functional and has the resources it needs to so all Hartford tenants have safe housing and don’t have to complain to codes.
Include landlords’ compliance with tenants rights, like for privacy and security in their homes, in the rental licensing process.
Use city funds to pay for repairs (and bill the landlord) or pay security deposits/first months rent to help tenants move.
Make the Fair Rent Commission more accessible to tenants facing rent increases, unsafe conditions, or retaliation, including by accepting group complaints.
Prioritize language justice by translating all public-facing materials and providing interpretation, including for housing code inspections.
Meet with tenant unions in the next three weeks and on a regular basis about the unions’ demands and the city’s progress in holding landlords accountable.
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