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Athens tenants air grievances at a town hall

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The Athens Revolutionary Socialists hosted a tenant town hall Monday at the United Campus Ministry building, with mayoral candidate Independent Damon Krane and City Council candidates Independent Ellie Hamrick and Independent Chris Monday all in attendance.

Individuals were allotted 30 minutes to discuss past and present grievances with landlords.

The discussion began with bed bug infestations within rental properties, and Monday touched on his own struggle dealing with the insects. Krane brought up his struggle with mice on his property and how he handles the problem in a non-lethal manner.

Following that, many town hall attendees described their struggles attempting to get their security deposits back from landlords after their lease ended. Monday mentioned his own struggle, recounting how a landlord previously refused to return the deposit for a problem the property owner had caused.

An attendee asked if any landlords were present, and Linda Hiller, a landlord, indicated she owns six rental properties. She was then asked to leave the event because individuals felt she was violating a safe space for tenants to air grievances. 

“I had a few pieces of advice I could have given, but they clearly don’t want me here,” Hiller said. 

After Hiller left, individuals at the event said they asked her to leave out of fear of retribution and that it was nothing personal against her.

Attendees then split up into groups of three and discussed potential solutions to common housing problems. The event then resumed, and the groups put forth ideas they discussed.

Monday’s group proposed gathering a fee from each tenant and use that pool of money to hire a lawyer to fight cases for tenants. Krane said this idea is similar to Ohio University’s legal program in which students pay a $15 fee at the beginning of a semester and have access to a lawyer should they need it.

Hamrick’s group put forth the concept of “group action,” which would involve residents banding together to confront landlords about unjust behavior, she said. Hamrick also said that the university is the largest landlord in town because students have to “rent” their dorms.

Krane’s group focused on city housing regulations and the lack of code enforcement in Athens.

The town hall allocated some discussion time for “operation slumlord smackdown” — a plan, endorsed by Krane, Hamrick and Monday, to encourage harsher penalties for landlords who don’t follow city housing laws.

Athens City Council recently passed legislation that increased penalties for landlords who repeatedly fail to comply with city housing laws.

Krane pointed out the lack of code enforcement officers and went into detail about how the current enforcement officers are overworked. 

There are nine employees who work for Athens Code Enforcement and Community Development, the department responsible for enforcing housing laws. Only four employees, however, performed housing inspections in the past year, according to The Athens NEWS.

Hamrick picked up where Krane left off and spent some time going over how landlords currently get away with repeated offenses. She also expressed that she wishes to see city code brought up to at least Section Eight standards.

Monday believes that there are some members of the city government who could be convinced to support the plan should Krane, Hamrick or himself be elected.

Krane said following at the event: “This campaign has taught me how hard it is to get tenants to tell their stories. Many are afraid to have their faces and names be associated out fear of retribution from their landlords.” 

He also went on to describe how the issue with landlords is a complex situation that involves the transiency of college students, inexperienced tenants, the power balance and many other issues.

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