Sewage coming up from kitchen sinks and floors, extreme wait times and deleted requests for simple repairs, arbitrarily skyrocketing rates of water and sewage, consistently inoperative laundry machines — these are just some of the many areas of neglect that tenants renting from Ascott Place Apartments in Tampa, Florida, have to regularly deal with.
Ascott Place Apartments is owned by Maxx Properties, which consists of multifamily housing, commercial and cooperatives. Maxx Properties has been owned and operated by the Wiener family since 1936. The company’s current portfolio consists of 37 communities with 8,980 multifamily housing apartments in six states across the country and 2,344 cooperative apartments in New York. (Source: National Apartment Association)
Maxx Properties, on their website, brags that they are known for operating the “best communities in the neighborhood,” but tenants in Tampa tell a very different story.
Members of the Tampa Bay branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, including two members who live at Ascott Place Apartments, began canvassing the complex in April with the goal of organizing a tenants’ association.
While canvassing, organizers learned that most residents were facing the same main issues: plumbing, unreasonable fee increases and unaddressed maintenance requests. The plumbing issue is so well known that workers have told some tenants to not bother putting in maintenance requests because Maxx Properties will not fix the known source of the issue, which is a large fault in the underground pipework. The faulty pipes have not been updated since the complex was built in 1970.
Organizers spoke with one tenant, Ashley Simpson, who has resided at Ascott Place Apartments for only seven months. She has already dealt with a slew of plumbing issues, which has resulted in her unit flooding multiple times. She has had little luck in getting the property management to address, let alone respond to her issues. Just to get a plumber sent out to her unit, she has had to call code enforcement, the City of Tampa, and eventually the State of Florida.
The plumber “only halfway fixed the issue,” Simpson said. A plumber can only do so much when the entire piping system has to be replaced.
We interviewed a former maintenance worker, who only wanted to be identified as Sal, who said that Ascott Place Apartments is “one of the worst properties [he’s] ever worked for.”
He described an issue that we heard from a number of tenants while canvassing: the overcharging of water and sewage. None of the buildings in the complex have water meters, meaning that there is no way to track how much water a building has used. Yet, the price of water and sewage for tenants is ever increasing.
He told us that they often cancel requests simply because Maxx Properties doesn’t want to pay for them. If they didn’t want to fix something, they would tell the tenant that “corporate is looking into it,” and the tenant wouldn’t hear back.
“Some of these people are living in squalor because they don’t have good credit. Maxx Properties takes advantage of their tenants. They have the money to fix everything. I don’t want to work for a company that screws over renters for their profit,” Sal explained, “I want to help people.”
We spoke with another tenant, Finn Cole, who has rented with the apartment complex since August of 2019.
According to Cole, living there has been “a living hell.” While living there, they have dealt with a constantly leaking AC unit, a regularly backed up bathroom sink and flooding in the bathroom on a number of occasions. In April, Cole contacted Hillsborough County Code Enforcement, which sent an inspector. The inspector found six violations, none of which were in the original complaint.
Cole wrote a letter to Maxx Properties regarding all the issues and days later was told that they could no longer renew Cole’s lease. Since then, they have dealt with many more issues. On Memorial Day, their bathroom floor flooded with sewage. After calling the emergency maintenance line multiple times, it took three hours for a plumber to be sent out. The plumber further confirmed that the pipes had never been updated or maintained and that decades of grease had accumulated in them. The very next day, Cole’s bathroom was flooded all over again.
On multiple occasions, Cole’s air conditioning was broken for days on end in the middle of the summer. In a hot, humid place like Florida, this type of negligence is violence.
“My MS symptoms worsen when I get overheated,” Cole told us.
Cole has since set up a GoFundMe to help pay for their moving expenses. No one should have to set up a GoFundMe to get their basic needs met. This is the reality for many people in our country where housing is not guaranteed as a human right.
Cole’s story is a common story at Ascott Place Apartments, which is why this complex is ripe for unionization.
The first tenants association meeting was May 19. The most common complaints were summarized, and a list of demands were created.
At the next meeting on June 22, Garrett Camffermann, a PSL organizer and a resident of Ascott Place Apartments, posted the letter to the office door with 99 signatures from tenants.
While there was no formal response within the three-day deadline that was set, two of the demands were addressed in other ways, which were major material wins for the tenants.
As the letter demanded, more maintenance workers were hired, and posted in the laundry room were flyers apologizing about the dysfunction of the washers and dryers claiming that they would be working on it.
Things were quiet for awhile until Creative Loafing published a story regarding the situation. A response was instantly produced by Maxx Properties, in which they clearly did not consult their legal team.
The whole letter is an attempt from Maxx Properties to absolve itself of any type of responsibility, despite residents paying a majority of their income to live there. They also used the common union-busting tactic of trying to divide the tenants by saying tenants can talk about their issues individually with Maxx Properties. This is an attempt to get tenants to fight back individually, so Maxx can shut them down.
The end of the letter contained a blatant threat to the organizers of the union. While they may think their tactics will work, they are only further empowering tenants to continue organizing.
Tenants have little to no protections in the Tampa Bay Area. Residents are seeing an increase in rent prices and rapid gentrification. The actual working people of the community have been struggling to afford to live here, and are actively being displaced. Why? Because it’s more profitable for a small group of people to continue to gentrify the city.
Corporations like Maxx Properties should not exist. Housing should not be a commodity — it is a human right. This is exactly why we must fight back. We need to work towards socialism, a society that operates based on the needs of the people. We are hopeful to lay the groundwork for eventually putting people in control of their own lives.