- Tenants Take Action After City and Management Fail to Address Rising Health Code Violations at Red Oak Apartments
Tenants continue to expose the rise of dangerous maintenance issues during one of the most historic heatwaves. As problems from mold to lack of central air conditioning arise, the Chamberlayne Tenants Council says: Enough!
Statement from Members of the Chamberlayne Tenants Council:
Richmond, VA–Amid record-breaking heat, tenants are left in sweltering conditions alongside the egregious acts of negligence by Red Oak and Ginter Park LLC. These issues have only grown more acute as the temperature rises. With obscenely high water bills, poorly ventilated units, and black mold, tenants at Red Oak are now also facing the harsh reality that Ginter Park LLC refuses to fix their central A/C units, often providing no more than leaky, derelict window units that make the proper cooling of homes impossible.
Months after city inspectors visited Red Oak buildings and weeks after management addressed code violations to comply with the city of Richmond, issues from mold to lack of proper central air have only become exacerbated in one of the hottest months in recent history. While deemed “safe” by the city’s standards, dozens of buildings owned by Ginter Park LLC continue to face neglect, and tenants remain unclear on the repairs that Management addressed.
The Chamberlayne Tenants Council organized a fan distribution to directly respond to the hazardous temperatures tenants are made to live in. Nearly 50 fans have been given through this tenant-led initiative to alleviate what tenants have been experiencing in their homes. However, other issues concerning mold, electrical problems, and spikes in water bills require tenants to keep the collective pressure on Red Oak management to provide professional maintenance.
While some Red Oak tenants have seen city inspectors frequent the property more and have seen increased activity around maintenance, these surface-level repairs and small gains have been primarily due to the collective power and pressure from tenants, the community, and the media. Until living conditions improve, tenants continue building power to protect one another from absentee landlords taking their money every month. CTC will hold a rally on Labor Day, demanding Ginter Park LLC do what tenants pay them to do: provide safe and adequate living conditions. Red Oak tenants call for community support to keep tenant conditions in the spotlight and the pressure strong until their demands are met. CTC calls for fellow workers and community members to show their support at the rally on September 4th. The outcome of this rally can set a precedent for tenant rights, combating unsafe living conditions, and the rising cost of in Richmond. Anyone who believes in the people’s right to live with dignity is encouraged to come and show their support.
The Chamberlayne Tenants Council, an affiliate of Richmond Tenants Union, is an autonomous tenant council made of tenants and neighbors in the Chamberlayne Avenue area. They work with a network of tenant councils to form the backbone of a broad front to fight for housing justice in the face of crises of debt, low wages, and high rent.
The Richmond Tenants’ Defense Council (RTDC) is an independent alliance of tenants and community partners who are building power to fight for the interests of working-class renters in our city. We are organizing all over the city to defend ourselves from the unfair business practices and appalling conditions that private property management companies and landlords expect us to simply accept. We believe that the more tenants get organized across the city and support each other, the more we can defend ourselves.
- Red Oak Update June 2023: Our Response to City Inspections, so-called repairs, and media coverage
A quick update on our campaign to empower our neighbors at Red Oak to fight back against inhumane living conditions imposed upon them from their out-of-state landlord:
We’re making progress! It’s slower progress than our neighbors deserve and Red Oak is still dragging their feet, but it’s clear that Ginter Park LLC responds to collective people power in ways that they don’t feel obligated to respond to individual complaints and maintenance requests. We put out a press release three weeks ago, and we are certain that owner-profiteer Elliot Bialostozy is feeling the increased pressure from tenants, the community, and media. Good. He may have a little more pressure, as a treat.
We are seeing some small gains in response to the pressure of people power: maintenance has replaced mailboxes and doors, city inspectors have increased activity, and we’ve also received a verbal commitment from Red Oak to open their office on certain specific days after tenant complaints of intentional inaccessibility.
Last month, city inspectors visited the apartments after repeated pressure from tenants and they issued three code violations including structural issues, at one of the many buildings where issues persist. Two weeks ago, those specific violations were supposedly addressed to be in compliance with the City, though it isn’t clear what repairs were actually done. According to a resident we spoke with after the news article the city inspectors only requested that repairs be made to the exterior of the building. A tenant shared with us that she recently saw the owner giving instructions to maintenance workers on what he thought needed to be fixed. The building’s broken mailboxes have not been addressed to date as they are still broken. According to tenants, neither the owner nor the city inspectors actually went into any apartments to assess or address living conditions.
Much like Elliot Bialostozy’s maintenance instructions and the city inspectors’ inspections the media coverage so far has been mostly concerned with the face rather than the heart of the matter. Raising awareness about surface-level concerns is a great first step but the work is far from over. The one building in question still has pest control issues, irrational and unaccountable water usage billing, broken mailboxes, and various smaller neglected maintenance issues that don’t rise to the level of city code violations. There are dozens of buildings owned by this company and each of them still have issues interfering with the health, safety, and dignity of our neighbors, the tenants of Red Oak.
We spoke to a disabled, elderly Red Oak tenant whose kitchen hood vent has been broken for several months. This prevents him from cooking meals without worrying about smoke and vapors exacerbating his COPD, and potentially triggering a hospital visit where COVID still rages on.
Living conditions are still unacceptable, and we intend to continue building power among the people to oppose and overcome these barriers to a dignified life. We draw lessons from practice and successful tenant rights campaigns and movements across the country including RTU, Brooklyn Eviction Defense, and the Autonomous Tenants Union Network.
We call for you, fellow workers and members of the community, to show your support at the Chamberlayne Tenants Council meetings. Join us as we come together to protect and empower each other. Reach out to us via email or on social media for more information on how to show solidarity with Red Oak Tenants!
- Important Update: Press Release 5.30.23
Tenants Call for Response to Increasing Negligence from Red Oak
Tenant council members have yet to see the Red Oak rental office and Ginter Park LLC take concerns seriously, as tenants continue to expose dangerous maintenance issues as a result of neglect from Management.
Statement from Members of the Chamberlayne Tenants Council:
Richmond, VA– After years of meeting with tenants and reaching out to Red Oak Management on the growing amount of unaddressed maintenance issues, Ginter Park LLC have yet to respond or take action on the tenants’ concerns and the conditions they are being made to live in.
“We have heard and seen dozens of horror stories of the unlivable conditions they are being made to live in, from black mold to security and structural issues. They are absolutely very quick to act when it comes to collecting unpaid rent, towing tenant’s cars, and raising rent and water usage costs. Within days tenants can expect to receive an envelope on their doors for all their neighbors to see. This only makes it clear they do not prioritize tenant concerns unless it involves collecting a check.”
A letter co-written by tenants was sent last December to Ginter Park LLC, the company that owns the dozens of apartment buildings along Chamberlayne Avenue. The letter identified several specific issues that were asked to be rectified immediately from pest control to issuing parking passes. Since January and even before, several attempts by Chamberlayne Tenants Council, Richmond Tenants Defense Council, Richmond Tenants Union, tenants, and local news outlets have been made to reach anyone on the phone or by letter with Red Oak/Ginter Park.
“The Red Oak leasing office continues to be difficult to contact and slow to act and the issues tenants are being forced to live in are only growing more dangerous. The lack of professionalism and outright disrespect for hardworking people only proves that Red Oak/Ginter Park management is not taking these problems seriously.”
On January 13th, Red Oak tenants up and down Chamberlayne participated in a call-in day to make sure their demands were being heard at the Red Oak rental office. A source revealed that Elliot Bialostozy, owner of Ginter Park LLC and Red Oak Apartments, was aware of the phone zap and purposely took leasing office workers out for lunch to ensure that no one would be available to respond to maintenance requests. After the organized phone zap, tenants were encouraged to share their experience living at Red Oak by leaving a review on their website. Tenants have been working to get in contact with Red Oak management and ownership since before the pandemic. Scathing reviews can be found from over two years ago that still echo what tenants are dealing with today.
“Ain’t nobody ever been in the office long enough for us to actually get to know them, to establish any type of relationship to respect. The way I feel about it is the people in that office don’t give a fuck about us. We are a paycheck to them and barely that because the majority of them avoid even dealing with us and still get paid. They don’t answer the phones, they don’t respond to emails, they don’t return calls. They don’t do anything. I’m trying to figure out how you operate as a business, not dealing with the individuals that are supposedly keeping you afloat?”
“This is the worst managed situation I have ever been a part of. I mean, you call, they don’t answer. You call again. They have an electronic system. They tell you a list of options. You leave a message, they don’t answer. I went to the office, filled out one of those request slips, and placed it in the box. No response.”
Stories like those of the tenants we have interviewed can be found up and down Chamberlayne.
The Chamberlayne Tenants Council, an affiliate of Richmond Tenants Union, is an autonomous tenant council made of tenants and neighbors in the Chamberlayne Avenue area. They work with a network of tenant councils to form the backbone of a broad front to fight for housing justice in the face of the crises of debt, low wages, and high rent.
- Important Update: Phone Zap 1.13.23
Join RTDC Friday January 13th for our Red Oak Phone Zap. Call and leave a voicemail or send a text expressing your solidarity with Red Oak’s demands 9-11 AM or 230-430 PM. For voicemails please call 804-329-6249. Dial *67 before you enter the number to protect your anonymity. For those sending text messages the best number to text is 203-309-0754.
Whether texting or calling if you need help with what to say here is a script:
Hi, I’m calling in support of tenants at Red Oak Apartments. These tenants have demanded that you take action! The ridiculous water bills, being charged for nonexistent pest control, and lack of proper heating in many of the residences. These are reasonable demands. Red Oak has not responded in writing as og January 2nd, the dealine which tenants have set for you. Does Red Oak intent to fix these problems.
If you are a tenant at Red Oak you DO NOT have to say your name or unit number.
If you would like to read the letter sent to Ginter Park LLC on behalf of tenants visit this link here.
- An Open Letter to Red Oak Apartments/Ginter Park LLC
Dear Red Oak Apartments,
This letter is written by the Richmond Tenants’ Defense Council, on behalf of the tenants of Red Oak Apartments. Residents have identified a number of reasonable demands that can be quickly rectified by Red Oak.
The following concerns must be addressed immediately:
Tenants have received water bills for absurd amounts of money– even hundreds of dollars– with no accurate information concerning how those bills were calculated. Tenants who request individual water meters must have them installed. Red Oak must provide tenants with detailed accounts of how their previous water bills were calculated, including copies of original bills from the City of Richmond. Tenants demand an end to service fees to third party companies like Conservice.
Tenants have been charged as much as one-hundred dollars for failing to move all of their appliances and furniture away from their walls in advance of visits by pest control. Red Oak must immediately cease to charge penalties for pest abatement issues. Tenants must be provided with electronic pest abatement devices free of cost.
Tenants at several buildings have identified that signs warning of towing are out of date and no longer reflect the towing policy in their leases. All signage regarding towing must be current, and all changes must be clearly communicated to tenants. Tenants must be provided with a parking pass and a guest pass.
Many tenants report that their heat is not functioning, and requests for maintenance are not being responded to in a
timely manner. Heating units must be fixed as soon as possible, and tenants must be provided with space heaters in good condition until repairs are complete.
We expect to receive a response from you detailing a timeline for addressing the concerns mentioned in this letter, in writing at the above PO Box, no later than January 2, 2023.
Richmond Tenants’ Defense Council