Ellie Park, Photo Editor

Sixteen fake “Notices to Quit” hung from the glass doors of the mega-landlord company Ocean Management’s offices Wednesday evening — the culmination of a march from city hall protesting what tenants see as retaliation against the Blake Street Tenants Union. 

The fake notices, which demanded the company “end union-busting evictions” are signed by “The Ocean 16,” which refers to the 16 renters at the Elizabeth Apartments at 311 Blake St. who were served notices to quit by Ocean Management on Aug. 19. Ocean issued the notices three days after representatives from Blake Street Tenants Union and Ocean Management failed to reach agreements amid negotiations over issues including rent increases, timely repairs and union protections. 

Dozens of protestors gathered on the steps of city hall before marching to Ocean’s offices at 101 Whalley Ave. Protesters were joined by state and city legislators, including Senator Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 and the New Haven state delegation. 

Attendees raised hand-painted signs supporting the union and broader housing reform, including messages such as “New Haven is a Tenants Union Town,” “Rentas Justas Ahora” and “Ocean Makes Me Seasick: No Retaliatory Evictions.” 

At the rally, Sarah Giovanniello ’16, vice president of the union, described feeling “depressed, unsettled and uncertain” when notices to quit appeared on neighbors’ doors two weeks ago. 

“The Blake Street Tenants Union is here to tell every tenant in this city that even when your landlord tries to threaten you, make your children sick or make you feel powerless, you have the power when you organize with your neighbors,” Giovanniello said to loud cheers. 

The Blake Street tenants union is the first legally recognized tenant union in New Haven. In September 2022, New Haven passed an ordinance officially recognizing tenants unions, and in November, residents of 31 of the 45 total occupied units at Elizabeth Apartments voted to unionize. 

According to union leaders, the union’s collective bargaining with Ocean is unprecedented in the state of Connecticut.

Among the topics of negotiation were rent increases that Ocean first announced to some tenants in June. According to the application for temporary injunction that the union filed against Ocean Management two days ago, Ocean told 10 tenants that their rent would increase between 23 to 30 percent, or by $220 to $280 per month. The 10 tenants filed complaints with the Fair Rent Commission in response. 

Three days after the Aug. 16 negotiations, 16 renters at Elizabeth Apartments found notices to quit taped to their doors, which stated that if the renters did not vacate their apartments by Sept. 1, Ocean would evict them. Such notices to quit are classified as “lapse of time evictions” — where a landlord chooses not to renew a lease after it expires usually without citing a specific reason. 

“[Ocean] didn’t like the proposal, and they thought they could start evicting folks,” Hannah Srajer GRD ’25, president of the Connecticut Tenants Union, told the News. “But the message we’re trying to send is: you actually can’t do that, the union won’t stand for that.” 

After finding the eviction notices, the Blake Street tenants union sprung into action, filing a petition against Ocean Management for mass eviction on Aug. 23 and protesting outside the Ocean offices the following day. On Monday, the union moved the fight to the courts, filing for a temporary injunction to pause the eviction process and rental increases. 

Giovanniello told the News that the union will not resume negotiations with Ocean until the landlord rescinds the notices to quit and agrees not to reissue the notices again. 

Amy Eppler-Epstein, one of the attorneys representing the union, said that the notices to quit were a clear move to undercut the union. 

“Who’s going to join a union if they think: ‘I may be a victim and have to go to court and defend myself?’” Eppler-Epstein said. “When you get served an eviction notice, it’s an immensely stressful situation … most people can’t risk homelessness.” 

The court did not issue the requested injunctions on Monday, but did call Ocean Management to court in a hearing scheduled for Sept. 12. Ocean will also appear in front of the Fair Rent Commission on Sept. 11. 

Ocean Management is one of the largest landlord companies in New Haven, owning over 1,000 mostly low-income units across the city. Tenants renting with Ocean have spoken to the News about poor living conditions, including rodent infestations, fire safety issues and mold, which were neglected by Ocean despite repeated complaints. Last February, the city fined Ocean $1,500 for six housing code violations, the most recent in a series of fines levied against the company. 

“Ocean Management is one of many,” tenant organizer Luke Melonakos-Harrison DIV ’23 told the News. “I hope this is sending a message and setting a precedent for what’s possible to pull off, even against a mega-landlord like Ocean Management.” 

Ocean representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Melonakos-Harrison emphasized the historic nature of the union’s negotiation and the importance of partnership between tenant and labor unions. According to Melonakos-Harrison, over the summer, Connecticut Tenants Union became affiliated with the labor union Service Employees International Union. 

“As far as we know it’s unprecedented for a labor union to consider a tenant union one of its locals,” Melonakos-Harrison said. 

Since the Blake Street Tenants Union formed, several more unions have appeared in New Haven.

Jacqueline Bayas had traveled from Waterbury to attend Wednesday’s protest, bringing a sign that read “Come back to the table! Negotiate!” 

“For us, what New Haven is doing is an inspiration,” Bayas said. “We are trying to do the same in Waterbury too, because this situation is everywhere.” 

Out of the 70 rental units at Elizabeth Apartments, 45 are currently occupied.

Maggie Grether covers housing and homelessness for city desk. Originally from Pasadena, California, she is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles college.