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Midtown apartment tenants form a union after landlord tells them to move out: ‘They want gentrification’

Armour Flats resident Mark Smith says he would like to stay in the apartment complex, but he could never afford the new rates at $900 once the units are remodeled.
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
Armour Flats resident Mark Smith says he would like to stay in the apartment complex, but he could never afford the new rates at $900 once the units are remodeled.

Residents at Armour Flats Apartments were hit with letters telling them they had to move out. Then they found out their rent was being raised. Now they're fighting back.

Residents of Armour Flats Apartments in Midtown have formed a tenant union to push back against a new landlord, who’s not renewing their leases and plans to remodel the units.

Reliable Properties notified at least nine residents they must vacate by November 30, and increased their monthly rent by $100.

Julie Byerlee stood on the steps of Armour Flats on Monday, clutching several letters she’s received from Reliable Properties. Byerlee has lived at the apartments for a decade.

“I’m just waiting for another note to be on the door,” she says. “They change their mind every day. But I know their mind will never be changed to where we get to stay.”

Reliable Properties initially gave residents just one month to move out, but after some wrangling, the landlord agreed to extend that deadline through the end of November. In the meantime, the landlord already raised rents on those whose leases were not renewed.

The nine affected tenants reside in one-half of the 24-unit complex; residents in the other half have reportedly not yet received a vacate notice.

The Armour Flats Tenant Union says Reliable Properties is pushing renters out so they can remodel the existing units and lease them at a higher price. On Monday morning, workers could be seen coming and going from the building, while construction noises came from the upper floors of the building.

101121_cm_ArmourFlats
Carlos Moreno
Julie Byerlee, a 10-year resident of Armour Flats, shows off the several letters she's received from Reliable Properties alerting her to the different developments in her lease and subsequent price hikes and length of time she would be allowed to stay in the unit.

Byerlee notes that many residents of the approximately 100-year-old building live with disabilities or on fixed incomes.

“We’ve got new owners here that have decided that we are expired,” Byerlee says. “They want gentrification. We are too old, we’re expired. We need to just be dumped.”

The Armour Flats Tenant Union is being assisted by housing rights organization KC Tenants, which has organized four tenants unions so far this year.

“They’ve decided their best recourse is to collectively bargain,” says Wilson Vance, a KC Tenants organizer. “They've decided this is the only way that they're actually going to get any kind of justice to either stay in their homes or to get monetary compensation for the fact that they're being displaced in the middle of winter.”

On Monday, KC Tenants and the Armour Flats Tenant Union announced a list of demands that included:

  • Reliable Properties representatives meet with the union by Oct. 18.
  • Reliable Properties must retract their lease non-renewal notices, and guarantee residents the option to renew their leases at their current rent, with a yearly option to renew with no more than a 2% rent increase.
  • For the tenants who wish to move, Reliable Properties must retract the lease non-renewal notices and guarantee tenancy through at least April 1. Reliable Properties must also cancel rent obligations between Nov. 1 and their chosen move out date, and provide relocation assistance to displaced tenants.

Neither Reliable Properties or their representative, Christina Juhasz, returned requests for comment by press time.
Vance says that Juhasz did show up Monday morning to meet someone at the apartment, but refused to answer any questions and left the complex when Vance confronted her.

101121_cm_ArmourFlats
Carlos Moreno
Armour Flats is an approximately 100-year-old apartment complex at the corner of Holmes Road and Armour Blvd. The 24-unit complex was bought earlier this year by Reliable Properties which has started remodeling the units, raising the rent and not renewing the leases of at least nine current residents.

Three-year resident Mark Smith says he likes the apartment and its location because of the access to buses and local amenities. But he says there’s no way he could afford the new rent at $900 a month.

“That borders on the ridiculous,” he says. “I don’t know who could or would stay here, even on the principle of it.”

Smith says he’s placing his hopes on the tenants union being successful, but recognizes that economics usually wins the day.

Vance says she wants Juhasz to sit with the residents and discuss the demands with them. If they dont' get a meeting, or aren't satisfied by the outcome, Vance says the next step for the tenants would be an “escalation” of efforts. However, Vance would not elaborate on what escalation would look like.

“None of this is surprising. It happens every day,” Vance says. “What’s different here is that the tenants have come together and decided they are not going to take it.”

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