Tenants of Affordable Complex Face Mold, Pests, and Raising Rent

Tenants of Palms on Lamar deliver a letter addressed to their landlords Thursday, Sept. 28 (Photo by Maya Wright)

For months, tenants at the affordable Palms on Lamar apartment complex say they have been enduring mold, severe pest infestations, and faulty AC units during this record-hot summer.

On Thursday, Sept. 28, tenants came out from their homes to march to their leasing office and deliver a signed letter of requests. This is not the first time the tenant association has officially expressed concerns to management – they have been asking for resolution and recognition since before summer. In the meantime, they say conditions have remained poor, even as they’ve experienced unpredictable rent increases.

Residents called on the nonprofit legal aid group BASTA Austin in March to assist in a petition campaign to demand management address repair work and cap rent increases. Lead BASTA organizer of the property, Jazmin Rivera, and the 50-member tenant association believed their sit-down with management in May was productive. They say management verbally agreed then to rescind all unnoticed rent increases, remove incorrect late fees, and cap rent increases at $100 for the rest of year. But since then, several tenants have received lease renewal notices that include increases up to $500. Also, rather than addressing repair work adequately, management has reportedly ignored complaints or replaced faulty appliances with other damaged equipment.

“I can’t even reach the leasing office,” said Sally Camacho, who has been living in the complex for three months now with her husband. Sally added that on top of the office not having a working voicemail system set up, they also change their hours frequently. “Sometimes when I go down there to talk with them the door is locked but I can see people inside. I can even see the maintenance people inside.” Sally, who is about to go through a major surgery, says while she continues to pay rent on time, she has been staying with her mother for fear that mold and other conditions may only worsen her already weak immune system.

Palms on Lamar tenants have dealt with ongoing cockroaches (Photo by Maya Wright)

The Palms on Lamar receives federal funding so that they may be qualified as offering affordable rent, and they advertise as affordable. Operated by Rainey Management, their website says that the group “promotes equal housing opportunity and choice for all prospective residents regardless of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, disability, or marital or familial status.” Some of the complex’s working-class families are recent immigrants who haven’t joined the association because they fear retaliation.

The signed letter pointed out the vulnerability of the complex’s community. “So many of us are already struggling to pay our current rent. We do not want to move out of our homes and we do not want our neighbors to be displaced,” the letter says. As part of their united request, the tenants state that they would like both owners, Jacoby Levy and Dmitry Gourkine, to attend a meeting before October 12.

Once the group reached the steps of the leasing office, several residents volunteered to speak, two of whom were translated by supporting employees of BASTA. Dalia Lomelin Martinez, who has lived at the Palms on Lamar for five years, spoke in Spanish beside her husband and child. “I’m asking the owners, if you see this – all my family is asking for are the basic needs. We are not asking for luxury. We just want to be afforded the things we pay for.”

The Chronicle reached out to Rainey Management and the Palms on Lamar management office. Neither had responded to our requests for comment as of the time of publication.

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