Tenants of four apartment buildings in Malden and Medford voted Sunday to authorize a rent strike if upcoming negotiations with the new landlord sour, a step it will reserve as a last resort, tenants said.
The vote came after a tense weekend of talks between Medford/Malden Tenants United and Allston-based Alpha Management, which purchased the buildings in April and demanded hundreds of dollars more per unit in rent, giving tenants in more than 200 units a month's notice to pay up or move out.
Last week, Malden Mayor Gary Christenson met with tenants and Alpha's owner, Anwar Faisal, who agreed to cease using Alpha employees to solicit signatures for new rental applications from current residents, a tactic they found invasive.
The increases range from 20 to 30 percent. One resident of a studio apartment at 17-19 Washington St. in Malden got a notice raising her rent from $650 to $950.
Christenson said the landlord also is considering a proposal to extend the deadline for the increases to take effect.
"I think there was some willingness for him to see what can be done, but [Faisal] did make it clear that he bought the buildings for $23.5 million," Christenson said. "Bills have to be paid."
Alpha's April 26 purchase included the four large apartment buildings -- located at 17-19 Washington St.; 349 Pleasant St.; and 86-96 Maple St., in Malden, and 53-63 Fellsway West in Medford -- and one smaller property, a duplex, at 40 Cedar St. in Malden.
Faisal has said previously that he is amenable to negotiating rent on a case by case basis, and he would make special allowances for the handicapped, elderly, and low-income residents, but tenants are seeking to bargain collectively,
Reached by phone Monday, Faisal said he will likely decline to negotiate with the tenants collectively, saying the individual rental applications he has requested are necessary to properly assess each tenant's credit history and ability to pay -- standard procedure in the rental industry, he said.
"If we do not have this information it is impossible to open dialogue with these people," Faisal said. "What we want to do is to be sure we have applications, we have information, and we're meeting with tenants with an open heart."
Now the sides are hashing out plans to meet later this week, with Christenson as a mediator.
"What the mayor wants to do .. is to provide a forum in which these two groups of people can come together," said Kathleen Manning Hall, a Christenson staffer who has worked closely on the rent increases. "Unfortunately the rents will rise," she said. "The question of how much is what has to be figured out."
Robert Smith, a tenant and attorney who is helping to represent the union during the talks, said the rent strike should signal to Faisal that residents are willing to stand up for their rights.
"He's certainly holding all the cards, but we're holding the money," Smith said. "If he's willing to deal fairly with us, we're willing to deal fairly with him. If he wants to evict 150 people, he's certainly free to do that. We're happy to drag this out as long as possible."
In the upcoming negotiations, Smith said the tenant's union is expected to demand reasonable and gradual rent increases as well as pledges to address maintenance issues.
Smith also contested the appraisal of each apartment's value, saying that Faisal's rental demands are inflated, and that he does not account for the condition of apartments, many of which have not been substantially updated or remodeled in decades, he said.
"I feel like we're asking him, 'how much is the apartment, Mr. Faisal?'" Smith said. "And he's saying, 'How much you got?'"