New Haven’s third tenants union forms at 1275-1291 Quinnipiac Ave.
The building’s residents unionized this past August against their landlord Ocean Management in order to address unsafe living conditions.
Ellie Park, Photography Editor
A third Ocean Management building has formed a tenants union following complaints of unsafe living conditions.
On Aug. 30, the residents of 1275-1291 Quinnipiac Ave., an apartment complex of 20 households in Quinnipiac Gardens, officially unionized against Ocean Management in order to advocate for better living conditions. The union was led by representatives from the Connecticut Tenants Union as well as residents of the building on Quinnipiac Ave. The three active tenants unions in New Haven are all unionized against Ocean Management.
“People were tired of their living conditions; of subjecting their kids, their family, their loved ones to these conditions, and they want[ed] to do something,” Mark Washington, one of the union’s primary organizers and co-vice president of the Blake Street Tenants Union, told the News.
Residents at 1275-1291 Quinnipiac Ave. experienced rodent and cockroach infestations, mold buildup and major sewage problems in the basement of the building. According to the New Haven Independent, the building failed a Livable City Initiative inspection for 11 housing code violations. However, tenants say that Ocean, the building’s landlord, took little action to address the problems, prompting residents to form the union.
Tenants were not merely frustrated with the hazardous living conditions at Quinnipiac Ave. — Washington said that they were also upset by Ocean’s lack of communication, noting that the company rarely answered tenant phone calls.
“Organizing was pretty easy,” Washington said. “Most people were truly fed up with Ocean Management.”
Although residents had previously attempted to petition for Ocean to address issues within the building, particularly the ongoing sewage buildup in the basement, they say Ocean did little to help. The company agreed to drain the sewage from the building and temporarily moved residents into a hotel. However, according to Washington, the solution was left incomplete as no steps were taken to address the source of the sewage accumulation, which remains unknown.
Ocean Management did not respond to a request for comment.
Washington gathered support for the union by “going to the complex, knocking on doors,” and conversing with tenants about their daily lives within the building. He asked them about their general living conditions as well as attitudes toward their landlord.
Although the tenants union formed within six weeks, becoming the fastest of New Haven’s three tenants unions to form, Washington explained that it was initially difficult to convince residents to sign onto the union.
“People are skeptical of new things,” he said. “Not everyone joined all at once.”
However, according to Washington, the precedent set by Blake Street Tenants Union when it formed in December 2022 helped make tenants feel “more comfortable” to be a part of the union at Quinnipiac Ave.
The union was certified in August by the director of the city’s Fair Rent Commission Wildaliz Bermúdez. They can now collectively bring complaints to the city due to an ordinance enacted last September that recognizes tenants’ rights to unionize.
Tenant organizers emphasized their desire to avoid facing challenges with Ocean Management, given that previous efforts to form a tenants union at Blake Street were met with opposition from Ocean.
“We’re optimistic that Ocean will come to the negotiating table sooner rather than later,” said Luke Melonakos-Harrison DIV ’23, the vice president of the Connecticut Tenants Union.
The formation of tenants unions, along with fining landlords who violate city housing codes with more frequency, provides tenants with stronger footing to raise their needs without fear of eviction, explained Karen DuBois-Walton ’89, the executive director of the city’s housing authority. She said that tenants unions help hold property owners responsible for unjust policies, in turn encouraging the involved landlords, as well as other property owners in New Haven, to follow housing codes.
Washington told the News that he believes the union allows residents to “have power collectively,” and he explained that turning tenants’ frustrations into “something productive” would ultimately fulfill a collective desire among the building’s residents to improve their living conditions.
DuBois-Walton told the News that given the various factors — low vacancy rates, escalating costs of housing and limited housing code enforcement — that harm tenants, the importance of tenants unions continues to grow.
“Anything that draws attention to landlord behavior that maybe needs a closer look, whether that’s about the tactics that are being used or about living conditions, is a good thing,” DuBois-Walton said.
Ocean Management’s offices are located at 101 Whitney Ave.