The following story about her fight was written by Wendy and reposted with her permission here.
Working Class Nobody Scares Starbucks Somebody
My partner & I, both longtime SeaSol members and organizers, moved into our apartment in the Central District in June of last year. After about a month of living there I started to notice substantial mold growth in the apartment, something that was particularly concerning considering I am allergic to mold. I emailed my landlord (a top executive at Starbucks) who suggested leaving the window open when we took a shower and cleaning it using bleach. The mold continued to spread despite this “treatment.” Every time we cleaned the mold it would grow back right away, and with renewed intensity. Worse than that, I was experiencing light-headedness, dizziness and low energy, especially after I cleaned the mold. This, combined with a few random respiratory and gland infections was affecting my life both inside and outside the apartment.
When I contacted our landlord again in December she came to the apartment but refused to have the mold tested for toxicity and claimed that our beta fish bowl or dishwasher were probably causing the problem. She skirted the fact that our apartment had no bathroom fan, no kitchen fan, and absolutely zero ventilation outside of open windows with swift, executive-like deftness. She was demanding and rude, telling me at one point I “had no life” for looking up the relevant laws regarding mold growth and tenant safety.
As the mold infestation continued to worsen, my partner and our adorable dog also began experiencing mold related health problems. My partner developed a seemingly random low-grade fever, his tongue turned white, and his doctor recommended in writing that he move out of the apartment as soon as possible. Our dog developed allergies that caused open sores on his legs and giving him ear infections and requiring (to his extreme dismay) several trips to the vet. At this point, we decided it was no longer safe to live in this apartment and went to live with extremely generous friends. After being out of the apartment for just a few days all of our symptoms, even our dog’s allergies, began to clear up. Back at our apartment the landlord purchased a dehumidifier for the apartment and had the apartment cleaned with bleach (the same treatment we had already tried unsuccessfully for months). She refused to consult mold specialists or make any serious attempt to get rid of the mold.
We told our landlord that our apartment was uninhabitable and moved all our possessions out on Dec.18th even though we had already paid rent for the entire month. In response, she insisted we were breaking the lease and threatened to sue us for “waste.” She refused to give back more than $400 of our $1000 deposit. Meanwhile, we were seriously struggling to get the money together to get moved into a new place. My partner and I have been a part of the Seattle Solidarity Network for almost four years and so we did what we suggest to anyone else in that situation: called SeaSol. Our call was returned within a day, and we set up a meeting with a couple of awesome organizers later that week. That next Monday evening we were in a strange and new position. We waited together at a coffee shop while the rest of the meeting voted on whether or not to take on our fight. SeaSol voted to support us in a direct action campaign demanding our former landlord return the missing $600 of our deposit and an hour later we were planning the demand delivery.
My partner and I have participated in more than 25 different demand deliveries and countless actions. Before every single one we experience some level of “pre-action anxiety”. If I could somehow combine all of it I doubt it would amount to the severity of anxiety we felt in anticipation of our February 2nd demand delivery. At the suggestion of (and thanks to their amazing coordination) several members and organizers we were going to meet our former landlord at a showing of another one of her properties. It was tricky, we’d have to walk for about 6 or 7 minutes as a group of forty people, and meet her at the prearranged corner without tipping her off or completely missing her. As my partner described the plan during the pre-action huddle I was in a completely surreal state. Standing around me, with me, supporting me, were about forty people. These included SeaSolers I had just met the night before at an unforgettable picket at Bourbon Jack’s (Admiral Pub fight) and others who I have known for four years. There were some people there whose demand delivery I had even helped plan and attend. The pre-action huddle included both folks for whom this must’ve been their fiftieth SeaSol action, and others who were about to attend their first.
We headed toward the corner where our former landlord was expecting to meet “Sarah”, a fake name for the fake showing. We stopped as we got close, regrouped, called and confirmed her location, and began to silently walk together toward our landlord. There were close to forty of us marching down the middle of the street. As we approached we noticed she was showing the vacant property to a couple of potential tenants. She tried to skirt the large, silent group with the two visitors but I stepped toward her, letter in my hand and said her name. Quickly, and while the tenants were still listening I explained to her that the letter was “in regards to the $600 of our security deposit that was taken”. At this point she was surrounded by all forty, intensely quiet and serious-looking SeaSolers. She took the letter, said as professionally as she could that she was going to read it later, and scurried off to get in her BMW. Unfortunately for her she was parked on a dead-end street, so the experience was not over until she had started her car, turned around and slowly driven past all of us while we watched and filmed her. As soon as she was out of view we erupted into applause and whooping. I felt an unprecedented surge of empowerment.
During the post-action huddle I could not help but cry. I listened to family members, old friends, new friends, old Seasolers and new Seasolers explain why they had just taken a substantial amount of time out of their Saturday morning to support my partner, my dog (present at the action) and me. Not only did they understand what we had been through and support us in demanding justice from our former landlord, but they seemed to enjoy the process.
The demand letter stated that our former landlord had two weeks to consider whether or not to return the missing $600 of our deposit before SeaSol would take further action. Five days before those two weeks expired she sent us an email stating she would pay back the $600 “not because I am wrong, or behaved in an irresponsible, immoral, or illegal way, but because I am frightened, and want to put this situation behind me”. With the prospect of that same group of forty people seeking out her current and prospective tenants instead of just handing her a letter, I am not surprised she was afraid. I suspect she was much less afraid for herself than she was for her potential loss of profits. It’s funny how the bosses and landlords we fight are never sorry and always view themselves as the victim. She remains convinced that she had the right to force us to live in a mold infested apartment and steal our money. Whatever her motivations, this experience has greatly deepened my understanding of the power of mutual aid and direction action. Thank you so much to everyone who supported us! Solidarity forever!
Wendy’s adorable dog.