Here’s how a group of Rohnert Park seniors banded together to take on their corporate landlord

Reliant Property Management and Flynn did not respond to my multiple phone and email interview requests.

A support network

Raising your chances against those odds, the Copeland Creek Tenants Alliance had a lot of help in the Sonoma County Tenants Unionthat works to strengthen the rights of tenants in the region.

The Sonoma County Tenants Union is the housing advocacy arm of the North Bay Organization Project, a coalition of local grassroots organizations. She pushes for housing justice through policy reform campaigns and provides support and legal referrals to renters in crisis through a direct line (707-387-1968).

The organization also uses that hotline as a means to help disgruntled tenants form de facto unions in apartment buildings so they have a better chance of getting results by acting as a collective.

This is a strategy that has been gaining tractionespecially from the covid-19 pandemic destabilized the economy and more in danger shelter for tenants who already have problems. Tenants have been unionizing locally across the country Y even nationally when faced with corporate landlords who exploit or exacerbate the vulnerability of tenants through evictions, increased rents and fees, or poor living conditions.

After receiving several calls to the hotline about issues at Copeland Creek, the Sonoma County Tenants Union decided the complex might be a good candidate.

“That’s why we started the hotline, so we can stay on top of what’s going on in complexes across the county so we can step in and encourage and work with people to get organized,” said Chad Bolla, a tenant organizer for Sonoma County Tenants. Union.

The organization helped the residents to coordinate the first meetings, mediate the tension between the neighbors and guide them in creating a structure for the association. They also rented the community center for the initial meeting and showed up to watch from the outside in solidarity.

In the months after the first meeting with Flynn, relations deteriorated.

On the day of their scheduled meeting in February, Flynn sent an email to the tenant alliance canceling.

“I have given this a lot of thought and am very conflicted about what to do,” she wrote. “On the one hand, I believe deeply in the work we do and the importance of providing quality affordable housing for seniors in Sonoma County. On the other hand, there are certain truths to accept in life, and the truth here may be that there are some people in Copeland Creek who will never be happy despite our best efforts.

“And while they may masquerade as advocates of change, they’re really just advocates of chaos.”

Flynn went on to say that he would agree to the rescheduling if the association was open to certain changes, including that property management would have the final say on any proposed agenda items. In previous emails, he called for broader participation by residents of the complex and for the Sonoma County Tenants Union to no longer attend.

The group of tenants backed down. There hasn’t been a meeting since.

Meanwhile, security cameras have been placed in the mail and laundry rooms, but not in the parking lot, according to residents I spoke with. The status of other requests remains unclear.

Steering committee members I spoke with acknowledged that not all residents agree with their efforts and getting more people on board is their biggest challenge: some label them “haters,” some are overwhelmed by health issues, and others they are unwilling to rock the boat for fear of retaliation, they said.

After knocking on the complex’s door about a potluck for the tenants’ alliance and their efforts, a resident received a cease and desist letter from Reliant’s attorney saying other tenants had reported feeling “harassed.”

“Solicitization of residents and intimidation of applicants that interferes with their quiet enjoyment of the property… violates the terms of their lease,” the letter said. “If you continue to do so, management may … seek all available damages and attorneys’ fees.”

Even with these setbacks, the Copeland Creek Tenants Alliance has pushed forward.

Snow was slow to get involved at first, he said. Despite her past activism in the women’s movement of the 1970s, she felt the particular weight of her vulnerability now as a low-income senior, previously homeless from the Tubbs fire.

“This was my only chance to have a place to live…there are a lot of things I’m dealing with that I just want to be left alone. But I think that concept of being left alone can be quite destructive,” he told her.

“When you disappear, a problem does not disappear, but you disappear from the solution. So I just have to continue to have faith that progress will happen.”

The association sent out an anonymous survey at the complex to gauge support. Of the 50 responses, 41 were positive, Pedone told me, reading some.

With the Sonoma County Tenants Union and the North Bay Organizing Project, they showed up at a city council meeting and organized events for renters in Copeland Creek and surrounding areas with awareness-of-your-rights workshops. The Rohnert Park Fire Chief spoke about fire season safety at one, and Mayor Jackie Elward was in attendance to listen to residents’ concerns. At the complex, association members have spread information and resources about rent increases prohibited by the pandemic that have helped get refunds, Pedone said.

Now, they are planning the next steps to push Reliant to re-engage.

“If you don’t stand up for yourself, it’s an invitation for you to take advantage,” Pedone told me. “No organizing effort has ever been easy.”

“In Your Corner” is a new column that puts surveillance reporting to work for the community. If you have a concern, advice or hunch, you can contact “In Your Corner” columnist Marisa Endicott at 707-521-5470 or [email protected] On Twitter @InYourCornerTPD and Facebook @InYourCornerTPD.

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