Indianapolis tenants draw lessons from the fight against Reverie Estates and H-I Management

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Author’s note: The housing struggle is one front of the imperialist assault on the working class in the United States. As has been seen in cities across the country, the capitalist ruling class jumps at the opportunity to use the pandemic for its own ends: to divert attention from the New Economic Depression. Workers and their families are facing mass displacement in the cities, condemning thousands to homelessness and despair. Landlords capitalize on this crisis by raising rents and fees, ignoring essential maintenance, and evicting anyone who dares to confront them. They are able to do this because individual tenants aren’t politically organized. On our own, we are unable to fight against the full weight of organized landlords, the eviction courts and the state that defends it all. Therefore, the only way to combat these heinous abuses and ensure safe housing for all is to organize a militant united mass movement of workers and tenants.

We hope these notes on our struggle in Indianapolis can serve others in their fight for workers and tenants against parasitic landlords, developers and capitalists.

The Reverie Tenants Union’s (RTU) efforts have focused on properties owned by Reverie Estates and managed by H-I Management. The Reverie Estates “brand” is the conversion of historic buildings into “affordable” apartments. There are nine properties under their ownership, some over 100 years old and all facing serious disrepair from neglect. The conditions at the Indy Indie Artist Colony, the Courts of Monon, and the Suites of Irvington are especially deplorable. Cracks in the foundation, black mold, bedbugs and roaches, burst pipes, and ceiling collapses are just a few of the issues that tenants have exposed. These glaring problems have been present for years, but the situation has rapidly deteriorated in the past year.

In late March, every tenant of Reverie Estates received a notice taped to their door stating that a new management company was taking over: Vicinia Property Management. The online portal for paying rent and filing work orders was closed and new fees were added, including a $250 increase for month-to-month renters!

In April, tenants at multiple properties started agitating against the new management. But no one could get in contact with the office. Calls were going straight to voicemail of staff who either quit or got fired, and emails received no response. Pictures and notes against Vicinia started showing next to tenants’ mailboxes, and tenants started talking to each other. We shared pictures and documentation of our conditions and compiled a list of complaints. Bed bugs, cockroaches, black mold, water damage, and structural failures were common. The exterior wall of one property was falling away from the interior. So we discussed the possibility of a rent strike.

In early May, we received a notice that management was changing again, this time to H-I Management. We started flyering at more Reverie Estates properties and compiling complaints from tenants. We formed this into a list of demands over the following months and collected 56 signatures from Reverie Estates tenants. During this time we also contacted the Health Department and non-profit lawyers about filing a suit against Reverie Estates for neglect and unlivable conditions. Even though we knew the courts and state were on the side of the landlords, it would buy us time as we organized the tenants for more actions.

We delivered the letter and officially announced a rent strike in late July. We received no response from management. Less than one week later, neglected pipes burst at the Indy Indie Artist Colony. The flooding destroyed many units, the complete collapse of the lobby ceiling, and killed one tenant’s cat. The media began to take notice, and the Health Department claimed that they were filing a lawsuit against Reverie Estates for unlivable conditions (they would later drop their case against the property owning company).

When the eviction moratorium ended, however, everyone on rent strike or behind on rent was served an eviction notice. We were told by a legal advisor that there were no protections for tenants withholding rent. Under Indiana law, a tenant must hire an attorney to sue their landlord if they want livable homes. So far, Reverie Estates has filed evictions against 34 tenants.

The struggle so far has taught us valuable lessons. It is clear that the legal system is not going to help us. But nonetheless, we must thoroughly study the law in our area related to landlord-tenant relations. The legal route can buy tenants time as they develop the campaign further. But most importantly a lesson we’ve learned is that we must not rely on a small handful of activists but instead rely on the masses of tenants in the tasks of organization. We must have thorough discussion and planning before completing a task, with a united understanding of our goals.

So we are actively working to correct these errors. New leaders arise from any struggle and must be actively engaged in the organizing of others. We are reaching out to tenants who have been taken advantage of by other landlords in the city. We’re putting together a history of Reverie Estates to expose their years-long pattern of abuse.

We will never have safe housing for the workers under capitalism. Landlords, financiers, and developers thrive on the misery of the masses, stealing our earnings and condemning us to unlivable conditions. The only way to change this system is for the people to create a militant movement to seize power. Alone, dispersed, and unorganized we are weak. But together, workers and tenants united, under common understanding with shared goals, we can withstand any storm and come out on top. We must remain firmly committed to this truth, and we call on others to do the same!

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