Tenant Organization

Taken from Organizing a Tenant Association
by Kate Kemp

You may live in a great apartment under not-so-great circumstances. Whether you're dealing with an unprofessional landlord, a disruptive tenant, parking or security problems, tenant associations can help you out. If your apartment complex does not have a tenant association already, you may consider organizing one on your own.

Ask yourself...are you:

* a leader?
* outgoing?
* organized?
* patient?
* willing to listen to others?
* willing to sacrifice time and energy to improve your living conditions?
* willing to risk being the focus of retaliation by your landlord?

If you answered yes to these questions, you should consider starting a tenant's association.

To begin, you'll need to advertise your idea. Talk to people you see in your complex. When you see someone at the mailboxes, take the opportunity to talk to them. Ask them if they've had similar problems, or if they're experiencing problems of their own. Get a feel for the people around you and what they're looking for. Bring up your idea of starting a tenant's association in order to get changes made, and find out when is the most convenient time for other tenants to meet.

You might find that people are glad to gripe your ear off, but the second that approaching the landlord comes up, they shy away. Make sure they know that under landlord-tenant laws, tenants cannot be legally evicted for organizing or attending tenant association meetings (but you should all be caught up on your rent). See Retaliation. In your conversations with other tenants, get a feel for whether you think these people are willing to unite and organize a plan of action, or if they just want to sit around and complain. If you feel these people are doers instead of gripers, you should continue organizing the tenant association.

Notify the other tenants of the meeting about two weeks in advance by way of a flyer posted on tenants' doors or in a common area (mailboxes, elevator, laundry room). The flyer should include the agenda and the date, time and location of the meeting. The meeting can be held in your apartment. If you would rather meet away from the building, see if a nearby recreation center, church or school would be willing to let you hold the meeting there. You should try to have the meeting where you can control who can attend. If you have the meeting in the community room of the apartment complex, you might find the landlord siting in the room watching the meeting which will intimidate everyone that comes to the meeting.

If your complex is a public housing project or a complex subsidized by the government, you may have additional legal rights to organize a tenant association. For more information you should contact your local legal aid organization.

It's a good idea to have copies of some of the landlord-tenant laws available for all people attending the meeting. Feel free to print copies of this website to distribute to the persons attending the meeting. You should also try to contact a tenant organization in your city. For example, there are tenant organizations in: Austin, and Dallas. If a portion of the tenants are very low income, you might contact your local legal aid organization to see if one of their attorneys will attend the meeting and provide information about your rights.

Have the sign in sheet right next to the door. Provide pens and paper for the attending tenants. On the signup sheet, ask for the tenants to print their names, apartment numbers and phone numbers so that they can be contacted directly for future meetings. If the tenants feel unfortable, explain that a landlord cannot legally retaliate for going to a meeting, and the signup sheet will prove who was there in case the landlord decides to take improper action.

The first meeting should be relatively casual. Let everyone introduce him or herself and find out a little more about the problems at hand. Find out who is interested in leading the group. Ask questions. Take notes. Once you've determined what the main problems are, you can determine what action should be taken.

Get the tenants to vote on what they feel should be done about the problems and do it! After the first few meetings, you should know everyone well enough to be able to elect leaders (president, vice president, treasurer, and secretary).

Meetings should take place at least once a month. It is a good idea to be consistent with the meeting dates and times. For example, hold a meeting at 3pm the first Sunday of every month. It is also a good idea to set the agenda for the next meeting at the end of the present meeting. Keep meetings consistent and you will have consistent attendees.

Don't feel that moving away from the problem is your only option. If you're having troubles with an unreasonable landlord, chances are you aren't the only one. Think about organizing a tenant's association, or talk to someone that could handle the responsibility in order to solve any problems you're having in your apartment complex.

Once the association has obtained credibility, demand improvements and changes in unreasonable policies of the landlord. If the landlord refuses don't be afraid to take action. Call in the press. Ask local elected officials for help. The more people at your meeting, the more these people will be interested in helping. Together you have a lot more power than separate. If the landlord is violating the law, then all of the tenants could join in one lawsuit and divide the costs. You could also attempt to locate other properties of the landlord and try to get the tenants of these properties to join your organization. The more people, the more power you will have.