Houston: Tenants Speak Out and Organize Against Uninhabitable Conditions

By Helen Milne

Tenants at Sungregor Apartments, a residential complex in southeast Houston, are facing rent hikes while living in dangerous and uninhabitable conditions, spurring them to action in recent weeks in order to force property owners to answer their grievances. Units at the complex are infested with rats and cockroaches, multiple units have been flooded with sewage, mold permeates the ceilings and walls, and the complex’s electrical wiring is faulty.

Landlord Efram Sewell of Green Acres Holding Company LLC has increased tenants’ rent while making no repairs to the complex since buying the property earlier this year—rent has increased from $675 to $750 for two bedrooms and from $850 to $1250 for three bedroom units. Many tenants rely on government assistance for rent payments, and now that they will need to pay the new increase out of pocket, some tenants are refusing to do so.

Cosmetic changes have been made to the complex such as a fresh coat of paint on the building exterior and the installation of a new fence. This is seen as an attempt to conceal the squalid conditions residents are forced to live in and ignore their demands for substantial repairs.

Backed-up tub filled with sewage

“He’s not doing what he’s supposed to do,” one tenant told Tribune, “you’re supposed to fix the inside first, that’s what actually affects us—we don’t care about a new coat of paint.”

One tenant described how his sister’s unit has had mold in the bathroom and vents while Sewell refused to act: “I had to clean it myself…I called him but he didn’t do anything.”

There has been no hot water in the complex since late June, and due to the dilapidated plumbing system, tenants intermittently go without running water and receive no prior notice—forcing tenants to rely on boiling water and buying water bottles.

Recently, heavy rains caused an already broken pipe to back up and flood several units with sewage. After sewage backup flooded one of the buildings, Sewell refused to answer calls for 12 days, prompting tenants to alert city officials and call a local monopoly media news station.

One disabled tenant described how they had to, “walk in it, tip toe in [sewage]” The sewage flooding ruined her adjustable bed and Sewell informed the tenant they were not responsible for the damages. “He just fingerpoints somewhere else,” said the tenant.

The complex was cited by the Houston Health Department Environmental Health Special Waste Section, after the broken underground pipe was not repaired as tenants stayed in the flooded apartments for two weeks. Sewell seemed to carry out repair work following the citation, sending tenants to a motel for three days, however repairs were still not completed when they returned. Conditions continue to worsen at the complex, kitchens and bathrooms remain unusable more than two weeks after the repairs were made, while tenants are expected to continue paying rent.

“They’re trying to raise the rent but they haven’t fixed a damn thing! I don’t wanna leave but I might have to. I’ve been here for seven years, but this place is getting unlivable. They shouldn’t be raising the rent and they should let us break the lease. If we get the other tenants together they’ll have to give us that,” one tenant told Tribune.

Tribune encourages readers to donate to the fundraiser for the tenants.


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