By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
“Amateurish and unsophisticated.” This is how Sharon Lee describes the actions of the Seattle Solidarity Network (SeaSol). Lee, executive director of the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), a Seattle nonprofit, is being targeted by SeaSol, which is taking up a cause on behalf of a man claiming that LIHI unjustly took his $99 security deposit when he moved out of an LIHI-run apartment building.
LIHI develops, owns, and operates housing for the benefit of low-income, homeless, and formerly homeless people in Washington.
“Since June, this group has been picketing in front of my office, attacking me personally, and harassing our employees and tenants,” said Lee.
Not only has SeaSol picketed Lee’s office, it has picketed her home and says it will not relent until the $99 is repaid. Flyers with a picture of Lee have been placed in the neighborhood where she lives.
They are also being placed in the International District as a way to show that Lee is bad for Asians, according to a press release from LIHI. Lee is Chinese American.
SeaSol stated that the placement of the flyers in the International District was not racially motivated, but due to the proximity of the International District to the Frye Apartments, located on Yesler Way. The Frye Apartments is a 234-unit building.
The dispute concerns a former tenant, George Berumen, who, according to LIHI, is white. Berumen accused his next door tenant, who is Black, of using and manufacturing drugs. The Seattle Police searched the accused tenant’s apartment twice, finding no evidence of drugs.
In addition, LIHI investigators searched the accused tenant’s apartment three times, also finding nothing drug related.
According to its website, SeaSol states that Berumen is Latino, and SeaSol does not believe drugs are an issue in Berumen’s conflict with LIHI. LIHI’s lack of concern for his living conditions, however, is. Berumen claimed that conditions affected his health.
Tephra Brune, a representative for SeaSol, stated, “Management was not helping him and told him to get used to it (the conditions). The issue is that management never helped.”
However, LIHI has produced a letter from Berumen in which he gives notice for moving out, stating that he is leaving because the next door neighbor “has been cooking crack cocaine in huge quantities, affecting my health.” Berumen moved out of the apartment and into a homeless shelter.
“LIHI is putting a lot more emphasis on the drugs than the fact that they stole $99 from a man that moved to a shelter,” said Brune.
LIHI contends that when Berumen moved out, the apartment was not cleaned, and LIHI claims that it took nine hours to clean the apartment before the next tenant could occupy it.
As a result, LIHI kept the $99 security deposit Berumen had given LIHI when he moved in.
According to Lee, the total price for cleaning charged to Berumen was $139. LIHI has since offered to waive $40 of the $139 owed for cleaning. LIHI has produced photos of the apartment to show that cleaning was necessary.
Berumen claims that he cleaned the apartment and that the photos provided by Lee are fake.
SeaSol states that LIHI “stole” Berumen’s $99 and came after him for the $40 to cover the rest of the cleaning. Brune stated that SeaSol has obtained blueprints and drawings of the Frye Apartments from the City of Seattle and can prove that the photos produced are not of Berumen’s apartment.
In addition, she stated that the apartment was small (10 feet by 12 feet, according to Brune), and SeaSol does not believe it could have taken LIHI nine hours to clean it.
At this point, no legal action has been taken by either side. “SeaSol doesn’t rely on lawyers or professionals,” explained Brune. “It’s unnecessary, as we rely on people power.” There are instances in which SeaSol consults with an attorney but attempts to use other means.
Rather than seek legal remedies, Berumen sought the help of SeaSol. Established in 2007, the organization is made up primarily of volunteers that campaign for the rights of people it believes have been unjustly treated. SeaSol applies pressure against an organization, like LIHI, until it meets its demands.
In general, Washington state law requires a landlord to return a tenant’s security deposit upon termination of the rental agreement and vacating the premises. If the landlord keeps any portion of the security deposit, the specific reason must be explained.
SeaSol served a demand letter to LIHI requesting Berumen’s money back. Lee stated that she sent a letter to SeaSol requesting that the parties sit down and discuss the issue. But, Lee stated, when LIHI did not meet SeaSol’s demands, SeaSol began posting flyers with her face on it.
The personal attacks are a strategy for SeaSol. “For George, not having $99, it affects his life and where he lives,” Brune explained. “We don’t feel people should be immune. It’s more than just [a] 9 to 5 [job for us]. We are not a violent group. Sometimes, people are more motivated if [they are] embarrassed [in front of their] neighbors.”
SeaSol also recently protested a LIHI function at the downtown Seattle Hyatt commemorating 20 years of existence. The purpose was to carry on the protest for Berumen, as well as award Lee with a mock “Deposit Thief of the Year” award. (end)
Jason Cruz can be reached at email@example.com.