For the Patton family, the notice came taped to their doors while they were cooking dinner.
“My son said, ‘We’re getting kicked out?’ ” said Mike Patton, an apartment dweller on Spokane’s South Hill who was given a notice to leave his apartment after being told his rent would be increasing 33%. “He was freaking out.”
The landlord at the center of a rent hike dispute last year on the South Hill, which drew involvement from the Spokane City Council and an outcry from the union representing the city’s tenants, is once again raising rates. That’s trapping the Pattons and their neighbors with the consequences of a historically tight rental market in Spokane that landlords say is being exacerbated by legislative action in Olympia aimed at helping short-term renters get on their feet.
George Janosky, who paid a reported $1.2 million in April for the 12-unit building where the Pattons are living, declined a request to speak about the rent increases, which were posted at the apartments on 10th Avenue earlier this month. The purchase price was twice what the previous owner, who bought the building from a family member in 2015, paid for it. The notices, written in cursive and taped on the doors without prior notice, indicate that “improvements” will be made to the building but don’t say the exact amount of the rent increase or when it will take effect.
“Rents will be brought to current market rates,” the note reads. “At this time, the new rents will be approximately $1,000 per apartment.” The notice tells tenants they can give a 10-day notice of their intention to move out to avoid the higher payment to avoid “a lease penalty.”
Patton had been paying $750 for his two-bedroom, basement-level apartment and was locked into a lease made with the previous landlord through February. However, he had been paying that landlord on the 15th of every month because of his unique, seasonal working schedule as a chef at Gonzaga University sporting events, an arrangement Patton thought would be honored.
It wasn’t. On May 6, he received a three-day eviction notice from Janosky for untimely payment of rent, and is now living in the building based on another handwritten agreement that he’ll be out by the beginning of August.
“I don’t really feel that it should have come to this,” said Patton, who never received a visit from Janosky or any of his representatives before the notices were taped up. He and some of his fellow neighbors believe that Janosky is raising rents in an effort to push them out in favor of well-heeled residents.
“The notice was in sloppy, cursive handwriting,” said Megan McCracken, who lives in a top-floor, two-bedroom unit she shares with her parents. She helps out with the rent.
Steve Corker, the former City Council member who is head of the Landlord Association of the Inland Northwest, said property owners are being squeezed between accommodating working renters trying to find financial stability and new laws from the state Legislature lengthening the eviction process for potential bad tenants.
“This is forcing landlords to basically say, ‘OK, I’m going to have to reduce my risk,’ ” Corker said. “That means raising rents and increasing deposits. The tragedy is that by moving voucher people into some of these low-income properties, they’re taking away housing from the working poor.”
That’s had the Tenants Union of Washington State on high alert, said Terri Anderson, executive director of the group. They’re monitoring landlord/tenant relations throughout Spokane over concern that the new state laws, which take effect July 28, will have some landlords pushing to increase rents and posting three-day, versus the new 14-day, eviction notices this summer.
“This sounds like a scare tactic to me,” Anderson said of the situation on 10th Avenue. “It doesn’t say you must pay this much by this date. The law is pretty clear on what kinds of notices are required.”
Anderson disputed Janosky’s contention that the $1,000 rent was “market rate,” pointing to a standard established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that establishes a fair rate for a 2-bedroom apartment in Spokane County at $885 a month.
Spokane City councilmembers say they’re concerned, too, about the prospect of escalating rents forcing families out of housing. A working group made up of lawmakers and representatives of both tenants and landlords put on hold negotiations over new housing laws while the Legislature completed its work this session, and it will resume this summer, said City Councilman Breean Beggs, who represents the South Hill.
“It’s a good news/bad news thing,” said Beggs. “The good news is the city’s growing, the bad news is we’re not keeping up with our housing.”
City Councilwoman Lori Kinnear said she wanted to learn more about the situation on 10th Avenue before commenting specifically, but said the possibility of raising rents to protect a landlord’s investment doesn’t mean they shouldn’t consider the human impact of that decision.
“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should,” said Kinnear.
Corker urged lawmakers and the public not to demonize landlords, who are simply responding to market forces and may be muscled out by larger companies if regulatory burdens are placed too high on property managers.
“It’s almost like the state is asking landlords to be social workers, to basically pick up the tab for the housing crisis,” he said.
That tab, however, is being pushed on families like the Pattons. Mike Patton said seven years ago, his family was living in the Union Gospel Mission shelter and had worked hard to find a stable place to live. It’s an effort that now seems wasted.
“You try to achieve middle class, and then someone finds out you have this money and says, I want more,” Patton said. “It’s just a kick in the teeth.”
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