It started with relationships, neighbors meeting in each other’s kitchens, sharing food and stories of what it was like to live with mold that triggers a baby’s asthma. They talked about the leaky windows that require the whole family to bundle up even as the energy bills get higher and higher. No one could fathom having to put up with pests, rodents, cockroaches and bedbugs the way they had.
When the community moved from kitchen table meetings to meeting with elected officials, demanding full rental license inspections and bravely calling for the attention of the owners of the property asking for improvements, many knew that they were risking retaliation, as the residents became tenant organizers in their own right, inspiring action and support from policy makers, nonprofit advocacy organizations, and ultimately a top law firm.
When Steve Frenz purchased the portfolio of Spiros Zorbalas in 2013 after his rental licenses were revoked for failure to comply with City regulations, there was a sense of relief in many communities that residents were not displaced. It turns out that according to attorneys, Frenz and Zorbalas conspired through the use of LLCs to maintain Zorbalas’ involvement in the ownership structure of the buildings, which may constitute fraud. And they kept making money while doing it. Frenz and Zorbalas have collected $4 Million in rent since 2013.
While the residents continue to pursue legal action in the form of receivership of the building and rent refunds, the City’s department of Regulatory Services has determined that they have grounds to move forward with revocation of all rental licenses held by Frenz and Zorbalas, their families, and associated LLCs. I want to stress that the City is focused first on ensuring that residents are safely housed in homes that are affordable for them. I foresee that this process will move forward slowly and intentionally and that Council Members and staff will work hard to protect renters, especially those who face the biggest threat of displacement.
The residents who rent from Frenz and Company have already received a letter from the City informing them about the process and steps. There will be a community meeting on Monday, November 28 at 7:00 p.m. at the Corcoran Park and Recreation Center to discuss the details of this letter and to have residents ask questions. I hope to see you there to continue to fight for high quality affordable housing for our neighborhoods.