Phoenix advocacy group Worried About Rent provides resources to help guide tenants through forming a union.
Tenants living in the Amara Apartments complex in Phoenix hit a breaking point last year.
From cockroach infestations to ceiling collapses, flooding, and unaddressed holes in walls, the Amara renters felt they could no longer stand their landlords’ alleged inaction.
The renters formed a tenants union in December, with the help of Phoenix-based advocacy group Worried About Rent (WAR). Union members sent the property owners a five-day notice demanding a suspension on evictions until repairs occurred in addition to the cancellation and return of late rent fees charged during the pandemic, and more.
“I have never in my life been treated with such disrespect by anyone, let alone property management,” Alex Payne, one of the union’s organizers, said in a press release.
These conditions may sound familiar to other renters. To fight back, tenants can organize and form a union, too.
WAR provides resources to help renters figure out the steps to forming a powerful group.
First, it starts with education.
WAR’s website provides a list of tenants’ rights, rules landlords must follow when filing evictions, reasons tenants can break leases, and other resources. There are also links to learn more about the federal government’s COVID-19 eviction protections and places to apply for rental assistance.
When it’s time to get neighbors together, WAR has a tool kit that includes ways to get residents on board, including downloadable flyers and social media graphics. There are also best practices for holding meets, sample agendas, and templates for crafting letters to landlords.
Spreading the Word
When it comes to getting the word out to the public, the tool kit includes tips for posting on social media and contacting media outlets. The kit also includes information on how to hold a rent strike, although Arizona law notes any nonpayment of rent, even if it’s withheld in protest due to a landlord not following a lease’s terms, can still lead to an eviction.
For those who take in information best through audio and video, WAR offers webinars explaining these concepts. Representatives of the group also filmed a presentation with City of Phoenix Councilmember Carlos Garcia last month about forming a tenants union.
For a wider look at evictions in Maricopa County, WAR has a map showing the hardest-hit precincts and the landlords responsible for the most evictions.
WAR encourages tenants to contact them with questions or for guidance on forming unions and negotiating with landlords. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 623-252-4621.
What’s Next at Amara
With help from WAR, the Amara Tenants Union held a demonstration Monday night to show the public what was going on inside the complex.
“We can only get our needs met when we stand up with each other,” Julian Hernandez, a WAR spokesperson, said in a press release. “We don’t have to put up with roaches in dishwashers or stick our neck out fighting this alone when we’re so much stronger together.”
The last the union heard from Pennybacker Capital, the property’s owners, was a Jan. 15 response to the union’s initial letter. The company said it was working to address maintenance requests, many of which it said were leftover from the previous building owner.
Regarding finances, the company said in its response to the union that it had been working with residents to create payment plans. It also said past due balances equal to December’s paid rent had been waived and extended that program through January.
“As with all our properties, we place the health and safety of our residents first,” a Pennybacker spokesperson wrote in an email to The Copper Courier. “As the new owner of Amara Apartments, we value and take our residents’ feedback seriously. We are committed to maintaining safety and building a supportive community.”
The Amara Union responded in a letter dated Feb. 1 saying many residents were unaware of the December concessions, and that they weren’t enough considering the pandemic began in March.
“Since you have shown your disinterest in working with us out of your own volition, we can only meet these needs once you recognize our tenants union and start putting our basic humanity over your profit margins,” the union’s letter stated. “You can save face, resist, and retaliate like you already have been, but we won’t let up until you come to your senses.”