EVERETT — In the past few months, tenants at the Grand Apartments on Rockefeller Avenue say their lives have become “a nightmare of epic proportions.”
Stephen Teixeira, 52, said he never knows when his new landlord will turn off the building’s water. He’s started keeping a spare water jug in his bathroom in case he needs to flush the toilet. Teixeira, who works as a caregiver, is even more concerned for his neighbors. They’re older adults and some live with disabilities.
The Grand Apartments, a three-story apartment building constructed in 1928, is no longer the home Teixeira and his neighbors have loved. Most of the tenants moved in more than a decade ago. One has lived at the Grand for more than 30 years.
Since August, however, residents have lived in fear of their new landlord.
“We just never envisioned it was going to be this way,” Teixeira said. “I just don’t see how this can be legal.”
Residents believe the new owners are attempting to bully them out of the building. Teixeira began documenting issues at the Grand Apartments and posting the videos to YouTube about a month ago. He said he began doing so, because he is afraid someone will burn down the building. After posting the first video, Teixeira started finding nails near his tires.
“I’m losing sleep,” Teixeira said. “I’m afraid for our safety.”
Dimension Townhouses, which operates under the names Dimension Properties and Dimension Property Management, bought the building for $2.1 million in July. The Renton-based real estate company’s website lists available rental properties from Seattle to Olympia. Since 2015, Dimension Townhouses has purchased five other properties in Edmonds, Lynnwood and Monroe.
A Daily Herald reporter has attempted to contact the company several times, with little response.
The previous owners of the Grand Apartments, Manfred and Tomme Bleisteiner, told tenants they were ready to retire.
“We have enjoyed having you all as our tenants and are thankful for your care and concern for our apartment community,” the Bleisteiners wrote in a letter to tenants. “We understand this sale will cause some changes for you and we trust this will be a smooth transition going forward.”
Residents said the Bleisteiners rarely raised the rent. Some were paying as little as $400 per month when the building sold. Many of the tenants are older adults, who rely on Social Security payments. Tenants could afford the rent, even though Social Security is typically barely enough to cover expenses.
A few tenants struggle to run errands or leave the building at all. Dan Brisboy, a 69-year-old Navy veteran, doesn’t own a car and said getting a haircut can take a full day. Ron Groves needs at least 10 minutes to leave the building and reach the disabled parking spot out front. The neighbors have grown close over the years and have come to rely on each other.
When Dimension Townhouses announced it was raising the monthly rent to $895, plus $95 for water, residents planned to stay and pay the new rate. But then their relationship with Dimension took a turn.
Dimension emailed one resident that the company plans to rent out the rest of the apartments. The tenants worry that the 1928 building can’t support more people. While only a handful of the apartments are occupied, the circuit breaker trips fairly regularly. The residents are used to resetting the breakers themselves, and didn’t mind doing so in exchange for affordable rent. Brisboy gave up on using his microwave years ago.
Contractors began renovating the other apartments. Tenants saw them working on the building seven days a week, typically from 7:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. Children helped with construction for a few days in August, two residents said.
Brisboy said the work didn’t seem dangerous, and the children were helping their parents. Teixeira said no one was wearing safety gear and he considered it a serious safety concern.
Some residents have not interacted at all with Dimension employees at the Grand. Others described a female site manager and a male maintenance worker who were extremely aggressive toward the residents. The building has one disabled parking spot in front of it, which the other residents leave for Groves.
Residents said the site manager knocked on their doors in early August and told them they couldn’t park in the spot. A neighbor moved the car for Groves.
Teixeira said the site manager and the maintenance worker, who they know as “James,” both told him Dimension is getting rid of the disabled parking spot. At one point, the maintenance worker shook the sign and tried to pull it out of the ground, Teixera said.
“I was telling him that that was Ron’s parking spot since before I even got here,” Teixeira said. “And they’re just saying, ‘Well, it ain’t going to be that way for long.’ … He was like, ‘Look, I can pull this out right now.’”
Toward the end of August, Dimension put a lock on the door to the building’s laundry room and circuit breakers without telling the residents. When resident Pam Magnuson, 70, emailed the company to ask why, they responded it was closed until further notice but didn’t offer an explanation.
Magnuson, who has lived in the building for 14 years, works full-time as a registered nurse. Her son, Cory, has Autism Spectrum Disorder and visits on weekends. One of Cory’s favorite things to do when he visits is the laundry.
“It’s important, because it’s something he does independently,” Magnuson said. “Then we go down there and we can’t get into the laundry room.”
The lock is no longer on the door, but residents said they still aren’t allowed to use the laundry room.
Residents began calling the Everett Fire Department in early August about potential fire hazards and code violations. As tension grew with the new landlord, the residents became more concerned about their safety. Teixeira met with a fire inspector on Aug. 30.
On Sept. 2, the tenants found notices on their doors. The company informed them it was ending their tenancies and they had to leave by Nov. 30. It’s unclear if the notices are actually legal or enforceable. The tenants rented month-to-month with the previous owner and the new company never gave them leases. Teixeira, the youngest person in the building, is trying to help his neighbors move.
A few days later, the building’s fire alarms began sounding off without warning. One resident who struggles to walk nearly fell on the stairs, while trying to leave the building. Magnuson’s son, Cory, was home alone when the alarm went off. Neighbors knew he was there and could tell him it was just a test, but it was still jarring, Magnuson said.
“He can’t talk very well, so he can’t just go ask somebody what’s going on,” Magnuson said.
Teixeira saw the property manager when the alarms started. He asked if they were testing them, or if something was actually wrong.
“She looked at me, turned around and kept on walking,” Teixeira said.
Teixeira called the previous owner for help and learned a temporary fix to silence the alarms. The alarms started sounding off on Thursday, but Dimension told its tenants that it couldn’t turn them off until Monday. Finally, the fire department disabled the entire system and Teixeira acted as the fire watch for two nights.
“We were here for I don’t know how many weeks without a fire alarm,” Brisboy said. “They turned off the main breaker and took them off the ceiling. … I wasn’t very happy about it. Nobody wants to be put in danger like that.”
Dimension shuts off the tenants’ water, often without notice, about once a week, Teixeira said. Some received texts, but others didn’t.
“This joke of a company shuts our water off without any notice whatsoever,” Teixeira said Thursday in a video he posted to YouTube. “… You have disabled people upstairs. How are they going to go to the bathroom? How are they going to use the toilet?”
The Herald contacted Dimension Properties on Friday, requesting comment from founder Suneet Diwan. The Herald also emailed Diwan, but did not receive a response.
The Herald also called a number the maintenance worker previously used to contact residents. The person who answered said they were a “tech for Dimension Properties,” but would not confirm if they performed work on the Grand Apartments on Rockefeller, before ending the call.
A few minutes later, someone who said they were an attorney for Dimension Properties called The Herald and said “I’m warning you to stop calling” Dimension employees but would not give their name.
The residents have considered taking legal action, but some are too scared or tired to continue living in the building. Magnuson has already found a new apartment.
“I would love to get in some legal battle with them, because I think they’re wrong, but I don’t have the time, or energy, or money to go up against some big company,” Magnuson said. “… I shouldn’t have to go through this in the place I live.”
The others are still searching. Mark Wiggen found a small room he can rent temporarily for $700 per month, but he would share a kitchen and bathroom. Wiggen relies on Social Security Disability, which makes moving financially difficult.
“If they allowed us to stay, I would stay,” Wiggen said.
Brisboy, who also relies on Social Security, receives $1,300 per month. Dimension Property Management’s new rate meant he would spend 75% of his monthly income on housing, but he would have stayed. He now has to sell the large saltwater tanks he owns, and fish he has loved for years, to afford the move.
“It’s pretty damn devastating, to be honest with you,” Brisboy said. “… I’ve been here 14 years. I thought this would be my home until they carried me feet first out the door.”
Katie Hayes: email@example.com; Twitter: @misskatiehayes.
Katie Hayes is a Report for America corps member and writes about issues that affect the working class for The Daily Herald.