Clayton Lane and Santa Fe apartment residents in Northeast Austin say the landlord is using legal loopholes to push them out of their homes, despite city rules that require landlords to give 120 days’ notice before tenants must vacate for renovations.
The Windsor Park neighborhood residents told the American-Statesman they were given a 120-day notice to vacate on April 28, which would take their leases through the end of August, but they were informed that rent would increase by $650 starting June 1.
Because their lease requires a 35-day notice before a rent hike, the increase was delayed to July 1, residents said, and that incentive comes with a waived rent for June if they are out by then.
Sandra Brown has lived at the property — southeast of the Interstate 35 and U.S. 290 East interchange — for more than a year. She said the situation has left many residents scrambling because many families and tenants, including herself, cannot afford to pay the extra $650 in July or August, and the number of affordable places is limited.
“Everyone is getting worried and trying to look for a new place as soon as they can,” Brown said. “But it’s been hard to find a place that will be available that soon. For some people, it’s hard to meet the (rental) requirements, too.”
More than 40 tenants at the sister properties in East Austin were told they would have to leave their homes because of ongoing renovations. But under city ordinance, residents are entitled to protections that allow them time and help to find a new place to live.
Because Austin has been going through major redevelopment the last several years, the city in 2016 implemented the Tenant Notification and Relocation Ordinance that is intended to help residents who are being permanently displaced by renovations or redevelopment.
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The ordinance requires owners to notify residents 120 days in advance and, in some cases, to provide relocation assistance.
But the Clayton Lane and Santa Fe apartments owner, Patrick Duke does not believe residents are covered under the city ordinance.
Jason Kraus, who is representing the developer, previously told the Statesman that because the renovation project was not a redevelopment it was not subject to the city ordinance.
The project, Kraus said, is a cosmetic remodel of the property, including installing new energy-efficient windows, siding and insulation along with new flooring, drywall repair, paint and cabinetry.
Pressure has residents on edge
Each month about seven leases, which were on month-to-month terms, were terminated as work was being done, creating fear among residents that they could be next and would only have 30 days to move.
Kraus told the Statesman that the leases were selected this way because it allows crews to “efficiently work on one area of the complex at one time, and reduce the noise and disturbance to the remaining tenants.”
But tenants have complained about living with the constant noise, water shutoffs, dust and internet connection loss as a result of the construction, which they say was another tactic to push people out.
Tenants at the two properties organized to form the Clayton Lane and Santa Fe United tenants association with the help of housing advocacy group Building and Strengthening Tenant Action, or BASTA.
On April 21, after residents spoke out about the issue, the City Council amended the city ordinance to make it clearer that residents in cases where it is not a complete redevelopment would still be protected.
But residents said they are still feeling the pressure to move and don’t have many affordable options available in the next few weeks, especially as the clock ticks on a rent increase.
Brown said she is starting to pack up her belongings, but she is worried because she does not know where she will go.
“I know that I won’t have the money to look for a new place and stay here,” Brown said. “So, I have to be out of here before the increase. I’ve been looking for places already, but the one I found won’t be ready until July.”
She said she also does not want to move far from the area, because of its proximity to her children’s school, Harris Elementary, which her son, a third grader, has been attending since prekindergarten.
“I’ve been looking everywhere, and if I have to, I’ll go somewhere else and drive my kids here,” she said. “But I was hoping not to have to do that.”
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Protesters demand more time
On May 6, residents, community leaders and allies protested at the complex, demanding more time for families to find alternative housing, and calling for fair treatment and basic respect while they are still on the property.
Sofia Alarcon, a tenant organizer with BASTA, said tenants want Duke to be held accountable to the city’s Relocation Ordinance, and “to stop exploiting every loophole to undermine the intent and purpose of it.”
“Thankfully, the owner agreed to delay the rent increase, which is a huge relief for folks, but it doesn’t stop there,” Alarcon said. “They have to be out by June 30 (to avoid the rent increase). Some folks will find housing, but others won’t be able to for a variety of reasons, like higher rent rates and application requirements, including proof of income, that some people can’t provide. And that is a huge barrier.”
But, she said, residents could benefit from having more time to find housing if they were allowed to stay on property through August without the rent increase.
Council Member Chito Vela, who attended the protest, said he believes tenants are protected under the city ordinance, adding that the amendment further solidified that.
“I’m happy that folks are still in place right now and have a little more time,” Vela said. “We wanted to give people time to prepare. But I am trying to get a handle on what we can and can’t do also as a city, so I will keep fighting for our residents.”