Tenant activist group forms to educate renters on their rights
By Graig Graziosi
Rayana McGuire has a mold problem.
She needs her window screens replaced – especially in her bathroom – to provide better ventilation and stop the mold growth.
Unfortunately for McGuire, her landlord isn’t responsive to her frequent pleas for repairs and, until recently, she didn’t know what to do.
“This is the first apartment I’ve had where I’ve had these issues,” McGuire said. “I don’t have a lot of money, and I’m not really educated on my rights as a tenant, so I don’t feel empowered at all to tell my landlord, ‘Hey, you need to fix this,’” McGuire said.
That lack of education is what motivated McGuire to join the newly formed Youngstown Tenant’s Council, a group of city residents that say they’re working toward a better quality of life for renters.
The group was founded by Mary Krupa, Elisa Hosey and Cosetta McMillan and grew out of ongoing activist efforts by the Alliance for Congregational Transformation of Our Neighborhoods (ACTION).
“With the pushes from ACTION and the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. over the last year, we’ve seen a lot of tenants getting involved again,” Krupa said. “Seeing them taking action – like the South Carolina bus trip we took a year ago [to protest at a landlord’s home] – and getting concrete results is very motivating.”
Krupa said the group has 10 members and is still in its infancy, but hopes to grow its ranks soon.
“We decided to do a pilot project in the Taft Promise neighborhood because Taft Promise already has a working plan in place with multiple agencies and neighbors and schools. So, they already have something established,” she said. “So we’re going to try to get the tenants in that area to come to an initial meeting.”
Krupa said educating both tenants and landlords to their rights and responsibilities is the group’s first priority.
“We want to start with the basics and want to emphasize that landlords have rights just like tenants do. We’re not attacking every landlord, there’s good landlords out there,” Krupa said. “We want to correct wrongs where there are landlords not doing their side of the work.”
Atty. Patricia Dougan of Community Legal Aid has been invited to speak at the group’s first meeting to explain what tenants can do if their landlords aren’t responding to their repair requests. She said it made sense for tenants to organize for the purposes of education.
“Tenant groups are fairly common, from housing authority buildings to gated communities,” Dougan said. “Landlords have a group so why shouldn’t tenants?”