Lease prices more than doubling at former Walnut Tree Apartments, now 'Tigardville.'

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Tigardville Apartments resident Chris Mckenzie has been fighting the mass termination of tenants' leases at the complex.Chris and Tanya Mckenzie are paying $625 per month for their two-bedroom apartment off Southwest Greenburg Road in Tigard. For her family's unit, Kelli Hill said she has been paying $675.

As housing prices boom and vacancies plummet throughout the Portland area, the rents at their Walnut Tree Apartments seem like an incredible deal — which might explain why a Los Angeles-based company bought the complex this year, renamed it the Tigardville Apartments, and served all of its residents with notice that their leases will be terminated and they must move out. The complex's new website features a sleek new logo and advertises two-bedroom units starting at $1,300 per month, telling visitors to the site: “Apply now!”

It's not clear what Trion Properties, the new landlord, plans to do with the buildings, but Hill said she was told by the new apartment manager that if they wanted to return, they could submit a new application and might be able to move in again in a few months — at the new monthly rate.

“Just like we never existed there, ever,” Hill said.

Chris Mckenzie showed a copy of the 90-day notice of the landlord's intent to terminate tenancy that he said he and all of his neighbors had received around late July. He said he has been living at Walnut Tree, now Tigardville, for eight years. Hill said she actually lived at the apartments as a little girl before returning as an adult.

“This has been home for — my best friend lived here, you know,” Hill said. “I remember always coming over here from just across the street.”

There is no law in Oregon barring landlords from terminating the residency of tenants without cause, provided they give proper notice. In fact, as property values in the Portland area rise, Cristina Palacios with the Community Alliance of Tenants said she has been seeing it happen more and more.

“In the last two years … we're hearing that there is building-wide, no-cause evictions with the purpose of flipping over the apartment and charging for more rent,” Palacios said.

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Residents of the Tigardville Apartments are getting kicked out, and the new landlord is planning to raise rents.

Palacios is working with Tigardville residents who are facing an unwanted move. So is the city of Tigard, although city staff said there isn't much they can do. The city hosted a forum for the residents on Sept. 14, which Palacios led, to help connect them with resources like CAT, attorneys who specialize in landlord-tenant disputes, and available housing in the area.

“We're trying to understand what's happening,” explained Kenny Asher, director of the Tigard Community Development Department. “We're trying to support members of our community who are potentially at risk of being displaced.”

Outside his apartment building, Mckenzie showed off the stumps where the once-titular walnut trees had been cut down. He greeted neighbors by name, some milling about and talking in the complex's outdoor commons space — something that hardly ever happened before, he said. A few children played make-believe together, while off-leash dogs and a couple of cats roved over the worn grass.

Hill and Mckenzie pointed out a few apartments at the complex that have already been vacated. Other residents, including the Mckenzies, plan to remain as long as they can, or at least until they are sure their remaining neighbors have somewhere to go. Their last day is Oct. 31, Mckenzie said.

“Technically, my wife and I, we can get out of here, but I have to think about all the people who just left in a hurry,” Mckenzie said. “And it's not like I want to do this. I've, like, morphed into this superhero … trying to chase the rainbow of nonsense.”

When Trion Properties bought the Walnut Tree Apartments, they brought in a new manager, Mckenzie said. He recalled what she said when he and his wife confronted her about the termination notices and planned rent hikes.

“She said it will be a better community in here,” Mckenzie said, shaking his head in disbelief.

The apartment manager, Pauline Ravellette, referred questions for this story to Trion Properties in Los Angeles. Inquiries with Trion were directed to a company representative, who did not respond to The Times' request for an interview.

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Chris Mckenzie checks out the 90-day notice given to him from the new management of the Tigardville Apartments.

Mckenzie worked with his neighbors to organize a community picnic last month, a few weeks after everyone received their 90-day notices. Local businesses donated food for the picnic when they heard about the situation, he said, while some residents got to know each other for the first time after months or years of living in the same buildings.

Last week, Hill shared a couple of rental listings she has been looking at as she tries to find a new place for her family to live. There was a three-bedroom house listed for rent a few miles away, she noted — but there, the monthly rent is close to $1,000 more than what she said she is paying now.

Karen Barker said she and her brother were homeless — he lost his foot to frostbite from living outside early this year, she added — before they moved into the Walnut Tree, not long before the termination notices were sent out.

“Now we're going to be homeless again,” she said.

At the tenants' meeting last week at Tigard City Hall, more than half of the people in attendance relied on a Spanish translator. One woman cradled a baby as she listened to presentations by Palacios, Asher and his staff, and two attorneys who advised them of their legal rights. Small children scampered between the aisles, entertaining themselves during the two-hour meeting.

“What is happening to you is not unique,” Ellen Johnson, a lawyer from the nonprofit Oregon Law Center, told residents. “It is happening to everybody of your income level who needs what we call affordable housing in order to work, take care of your families, make sure your families are healthy, access the services that our city offers everyone and be good citizens of this city.”

Troy Pickard said his law firm, Portland Defender, specializes in cases involving what he described bluntly as “bad landlords.”

“The sad thing is, most big landlords, they don't see you as people,” said Pickard. “You are a product that they can use to make money.”

At the end of the meeting, tenants workshopped and ultimately signed a letter to Trion Properties asking that the termination notices be rescinded or else that they receive more time and assistance with relocation costs. Palacios said the Community Alliance hopes to receive a response within the next week.

For his part, Mckenzie acknowledged that the days of cheap living at the newly renamed Tigardville Apartments are coming to an end, and that the landlord needs to make over the weathered old apartment complex to charge a higher rent in order to make a profit. But he wants the landlord to do right by him and other tenants.

“This is a reasonable request for reasonable people for a reasonable outcome,” he said.

In the meantime, residents are making plans and trying to figure out what comes next.

Mckenzie, who works odd jobs as a handyman, said he isn't sure where he and his wife will end up.

“We don't know where we're going to be moving here next,” he said. “It could be Alaska.”

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - The children of Tigardville Apartments play with the cut-up remnants of a tree that used to stand in the middle of their commons.

By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor
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