Lenox Street Tenants Union demands landlord enter negotiations
Union members and activists gathered outside the office of Ocean Management with a petition alleging landlord neglect.
Natasha Khazzam, Contributing Photographer
New Haven’s newest tenant union gathered outside Ocean Management’s Whitney Avenue office Tuesday afternoon, demanding that the mega-landlord engage in collective bargaining negotiations over living conditions and union protections.
Residents of the Lenox Street Tenant Union, leaders of the Connecticut Tenants Union and Mayor Justin Elicker spoke about the importance of tenants unions in checking landlord power. Organizers then stuck a printed petition to Ocean’s window after borrowing tape from the thrift shop next door, Witch Bitch Thrift.
“We want Ocean Management to be able to sit down with us and have a real conversation so that we can have real things happen,” said Alisha Moore, an organizer of the newly formed union.
The Lenox Street Tenants Union, the city’s fourth tenants union, formed in November at 195 and 199 Lenox St. in the Fair Haven Heights neighborhood. Residents organized after discovering that Ocean Management was looking to sell the two properties and that the majority of residents were on month-to-month leases. Fearing eviction or significant rent increases if the building changed ownership, residents from all 11 units voted to unionize.
The petition alleged that Ocean has not addressed mold and water damage, failed to perform regular maintenance and did not regularly collect garbage.
Hannah Srajer GRD ’25, president of the CT Tenants Union, said that Lenox Street Tenants Union members had spent hundreds of dollars of their own money on maintenance after Ocean failed to respond to multiple calls and emails. Srajer said that one union member had been injured after a porch collapsed beneath her.
“Do we need members of our community to break their bones and pay for lawyers for the landlords of the city of New Haven to follow our housing laws?” Srajer said.
Last September, the Blake Street Tenants Union — the city’s first tenants union — made history as the first tenants union in Connecticut to enter collective bargaining negotiations with their landlord, Ocean Management.
Srajer expressed a desire to engage in similar negotiations between Ocean and the union at Lenox Street. She explained that future negotiations with Ocean will ultimately look to secure leases that provide tenants with safe conditions, stable rent, improved communication with Ocean and protection from retaliation against union members.
“The families at the Lenox Street Tenants Union don’t just deserve an actual lease — which many of them don’t have,” Srajer said. “They deserve a multi-year lease with terms and conditions that they negotiate based on what they know they need and deserve.”
Union leaders demanded that Ocean respond to the petition within one week, asking for a reply before Tuesday, Feb. 13. Srajer noted that establishing this deadline will help keep Ocean accountable and establish a timeline for negotiations to begin. She also noted that if Ocean does not respond to the petition, representatives of the union will continue to push for negotiations.
New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker shared that he “stand[s] in solidarity” with Lenox Street Tenants Union, noting the influence of 2022 legislation that enabled the formation of tenants unions in the city.
“Ocean Management is not keeping these properties at a level that is healthy and safe and humane for the tenants, and whether it’s flooding or mold, rodents or just general maintenance,” Elicker said. “The expectation and the requirement of landlords is to keep their properties at that level so that tenants have a good place to live.”
Elicker also noted that the Liveable City Initiative, a government agency that enforces housing codes across the city, currently has two open cases at the 195 and 199 Lenox St. properties.
Other tenants affiliated with the union also spoke about their past experiences with Ocean Management.
Ocean Management did not respond to a request for comment.
Cruz Vasquez said that in her four years living at the Lenox Street property, Ocean Management never removed snow from the ground or salted the road outside her home, which made for “very dangerous winters.” According to Vazquez, Ocean’s responses to tenant inquiries have either been ignored or delayed.
Another tenant, Claudia Figueira, said that rainfall often floods her first-floor apartment, and that Ocean has failed to answer her maintenance requests.
“That’s why we’re asking that someone from management is there to pick up the phone when we call,” Vasquez said in Spanish.
All four of New Haven’s tenants unions formed at Ocean-owned properties.