Gilbert House residents face sharp rent increases

Residents at the Gilbert House in Queen Anne recently received notice that their rents are going up — a lot.

Approximately 30 residents gathered July 22 for a meeting in the courtyard of the upscale apartment building on 1529 Queen Anne Ave. N. As they went around the circle, introducing themselves, they shared how much their rents will go up. For some, it was 30 percent; for others it was more than 50 percent. 

The building has approximately 55 units. More than half of the current residents are on month-to-month leases. Residents received notice July 15 after the building — previously locally owned — was purchased by an out-of-state company (information about who purchased the property was conflicting as of press time). The new rent prices will begin Oct. 1. 

The group — a mix of young professionals and older couples — were concerned that they’d have only 60 days to decide if they wanted to stay in the higher-priced apartments. They also expressed concerns about remodels, safety, security and cleanliness. 

The new management declined to attend the meeting, said Sara Vandenbelt, a resident who was helping lead the meeting. “I think they had the sense they’d be thrown to the wolves,” she told the group. 

New building manager Christina Jones agreed to meet with a representative to hear the grievances aired at the meeting. Resident Erik Pettee was selected to represent the residents in the meeting with Jones.

Jones did not return multiple calls for comment. 

Comparable to the market

Pettee, who works from home, said he was “pretty amazed” when he saw the notice come through his door. 

The notice specifies that, while rents are going up, there will be improvements made to the units, including new countertops and energy-efficient appliances. Many residents don’t want the improvements, Pettee said: “They just want their units to be left alone and their rent to stay down.” 

Pettee was expecting a $100 to $200 increase; instead, the rent for Pettee’s 700-square-foot, one-bedroom unit will increase by 30 percent, from $1,425 to $1,850 per month.

“It’s crazy how they handled it,” he said. “It went from being an awesome place to live with a really great property manager…who was always on site, to a big, corporate, company buyout.”

Pettee knew an increase was coming, but he didn’t realize how significant the increase would be. 

One man at the meeting remarked that the steep increase seemed like management was trying to “force people out.” 

The residents wanted to hold the meeting to see if other residents were facing such steep increases and to make sure everyone knew what the law was. 

“They can charge whatever they want; I can’t be mad at them for charging what they want to,” Pettee said.

Many of the residents at the meeting concluded that other comparable apartments in the area cost about the same as their new rates. 

“Rent is high everywhere, it’s not like [the increase] is totally out of bounds,” one man said. “I think they’re testing the waters.” 

Owners are legally allowed to raise rent as needed. 

Pettee said he wants the management company to “be attentive to our concerns, but they know what they can get for [the apartments].” 

“They’re probably not interested in what we have to say about the cost,” Pettee said. “It just sucks. It’s not like I’m mad at them or anything. It just went from feeling like this mom-and-pop facility to a big, corporation-owned facility overnight.”

There was no notice that the building would be sold, Pettee said. 

Tenants’ rights

Seattle Tenants Union executive director Jonathan Grant said there is a difference between state and city law in cases like this. Under state law, a landlord must give 30 days’ notice before a rent increase. Seattle city law gives tenants a little more protection, mandating that if a rent increase is more than 10 percent, a landlord must give 60 days’ notice. 

If a tenant disagrees with a rent increase, he/she can file a complaint with the Department of Planning and Development and they can choose not to pay but face eviction, which they can try to fight in court. Or a tenant can pay under protest and take the landlord to small-claims court to fight the increase. 

Rents are skyrocketing, Grant said.

“We’re getting calls every day from tenants who are receiving rent [increases of] 100, 200 percent,” he said. “There’s no way to prohibit this until there’s a state law to prevent [it].” 

Pettee met with the Gilbert House’s new management last week and said he now feels much better about the takeover. The management told him the rent increases were decisions handed down from the new owners, who are trying to meet the average market prices.

As the residents meeting on July 22 began to wind down, the group asked by a show of hands, how many people planned on staying under the new rent; less than one-third of the group raised their hands. Many said they’d stay on their month-to-month lease until they could find something better. 

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