Tenants sue North Portland apartment owners for unsafe conditions, retaliation

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PORTLAND, Ore. – The current and former tenants of a North Portland apartment complex are suing the new owners for providing unsafe and unhealthy living conditions over the past several months, along with claims of retaliation.

There are 19 tenants listed in the lawsuit, filed on Friday, seeking damages from owners of The Melrose apartment complex along with it's property manager.

The apartment complex in the St. Johns neighborhood is more than 40 years old and no one will dispute the fact that the units fell into severe disrepair over the past several years. A new group of owners, from California and Oregon, purchased the complex in October 2016. Shortly after the purchase, most residents received an eviction notice.

While some tenants left, the evictions were eventually rescinded. Residents credited an ordinance passed in 2017 that would have required landlords pay thousands in relocation costs for no-cause evictions.

Owners immediately began renovating the now-vacant units. The tenants said they then leased those new units at higher rent rates.

“In the meantime, they did no repairs for us,” said Anthony Williams, a former tenant.

Williams had been living at The Melrose with his girlfriend and son for three years. He says their unit was never in good shape.

“When we first moved in, we couldn't go in for three and a half, four days. We just spent days cleaning it. From us moving in, it was already bad condition,” he said.

While other units were being renovated, Williams says complaints from the old tenants fell on deaf ears with management.

“The landlords and the owners, they neglected it, we told them multiple times about it, and just no response,” Williams said.

He estimates he told the new management at least 15 times about mold in their apartment, but nothing was ever done.

In the lawsuit, which includes Williams and his girlfriend, several tenants described living in unsafe conditions for several months after the new owners took over.

Tenants described visible mold and mildew, cockroach infestations, broken heaters, broken electrical outlets, broken appliances, windows that were not weather-proofed, floors in disrepair, and more. The lawsuit goes on to describe a growing list of code violations, many of which were never fixed.

In October, tenants received a notice that their rents were going to increase by about nine percent. The next day, tenants sent a letter to management asking them to rescind the rent increases until problems in their units were fixed. In November, tenants were given a second no-cause eviction notice.

Remaining tenants need to leave by Feb. 5.

Williams say the process hasn’t been fair and new owners haven’t treated the old tenants like tenants who moved into newly renovated units. Williams and his family moved out in December. They now live in Vancouver, but he says it has been stressful for his seven-year-old son.

“He spent a good chunk of his life here. All he asks is, ‘When can I go back and play with his friends, I want to go back and play with my friends?’ It's harder on him than it is us, and it's all about the kids in the first place,” said Williams.

The plaintiffs are seeking damages from the poor living conditions and from what they are calling retaliation from owners.

Dan Lavey, a spokesperson for the group of owners, denies any allegations of retaliation.

“And while nearly half of the residences were renovated in just a few months, further work remains to ensure that every residence is improved to meet the expectations shared by our residents, owners and city officials. To expedite the renovation process, in November, the difficult decision was made to give residents living in un-renovated unit’s official notice that they will need to seek different housing arrangements,” Lavey said in a statement.

Lavey says 30 tenants have been paid an average of $4,000 in relocation assistance to date. He says owners offered an additional $200 for moving costs and streamlined the process for tenants who wanted to move into a different unit within the complex.

“We’re certain that the renovations that have been completed combined with the expedited improvements yet to come, will make The Melrose a better, safer and healthier community for everyone,” said Lavey.

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