Several student tenants are holding what they’re calling a “rent strike” against a university-area landlord over ongoing unsafe and unsanitary conditions in their apartments. They accuse Syracuse Quality Living, or SQL, of failing to address infestation, structural problems, lack of heat, and numerous other habitability issues. WAER News caught up with the latest group of tenants who recently marched with supporters to the rental office to demand action.
Rising Syracuse University senior Eddie Salinas says the apartments appear to be very nice on-line, but he was a bit taken aback when arrived in Syracuse last summer for a tour of 1322 Madison St.
"They opened the door, and my room was kind of a disaster. There were bags of garbage on the floor, it was really dusty, there were stains on the floor. I have a balcony in my room, so when she opened the door, there was broken furniture and more garbage. It wasn't really a good first impression."
Salinas says the balcony also slopes dangerously downward, posting a serious hazard. He says their wifi was also shutoff randomly, and the washer and dryer didn't work. There was a large crack in the wall, and mold growing in the bathroom.
That was only the beginning. Roomate Isaiah Nins is also a rising SU senior who was surprised when they returned from winter break in mid-January.
"There was no heat in the house. That would last for about a month. It was at least a couple weeks before they came to adjust it. And they didn't turn on the heat. The brought two space heaters for our entire house. When they plugged the space heaters in, the power went out."
"It was really cold," Salinas said. "At one point, I brought a [thermometer], and it was 45 degrees in our house, where I could see my breath. I had to sleep in a winter coat for a week and a half."
SU graduate student Emily Kraft has also rented from SQL since August. She and her roommate Lynn Smith first made their complaints public in April.
"The issues we have been facing that led us to this rent strike were the rodents that live in our walls and attic," Kraft said. "The situation has stayed the same, and to remedy it, the company simply sealed up the holes in the exterior trim, and put rodent traps in the attic. This is not going to catch birds, nor will it catch the mice that are living in our stove and leaving droppings on our counter where we prepare food."
"During my 10 months of living with SQL, I have experience anything from five different types of pests, to the smell of sewage coming up from the shower drain, to a cabinet falling off the wall," Smith said.
So the tenants decided drastic action was needed to get the attention of SQL management. They're withholding their rent for May and June, they want their security deposits refunded, and they don't want to pay a cleaning fee because of all the cleaning they've had to do themselves. Rising SUNY ESF senior Chris Bodie says the company has not been responsive.
"We've started withholding our rent, hoping that will make them come over and actually fix some of the problems. They tried to patch the crack in our wall. And, they would scrub the mold in our bathroom, but that would come back right away. We had to constantly ask about it, instead of just having the bathroom ventilated."
"We want to withhold our rent until they agree to void our lease because we don't want to keep paying for this apartment," Salinas said. "We're not living here anymore...we have no intention of living in [that apartment] anymore."
In the past, SQL owner Ravi Saluja has declined an interview, but did tell WAER News he believes a handful of tenants are exaggerating their complaints in order to get out of their leases. He's also said he's hired more maintenance personnel and are staying top of tenant concerns. Syracuse Quality Living owns about 50 properties with more than 400 tenants.