Ellie Park, Multimedia Managing Editor

In September 2022, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker signed an ordinance that recognized tenants’ rights to unionize. In a surge of tenant activism in subsequent months, five tenants unions have since formed throughout the city. 

On Nov. 23, 2022, the city’s first tenants union formed at 311 Blake St. against Ocean Management, a mega-landlord and property management company in the city. In the following months, three more tenants unions formed at Ocean-owned properties, with an additional tenants union being formed at a property owned by a smaller landlord. Tenants unions across the city have complained of poor communication with their landlords, inadequate living conditions and neglect of tenants’ concerns.

Mark Washington, co-vice president of the Blake Street Tenants Union, gathered support from residents to unionize within six weeks. The union was also the first in Connecticut to successfully engage in collective bargaining negotiations with Ocean Management, who rescinded previous eviction notices. 

“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,” Washington said in September 2023.

On Aug. 30, 2023, tenants at 1275-1291 Quinnipiac Ave. formed the city’s third tenants union against Ocean Management. Residents complained of several issues, including cockroach infestations, mold buildup and sewage problems.

Just a few months after the union at Quinnipiac Avenue, the city’s fourth tenant union formed at 195 and 199 Lenox St. in Fair Haven Heights after Ocean Management announced that it planned to sell the two properties. Given that most of the properties’ tenants were on month-to-month leases, residents feared mass eviction or rent increases. 

Echoing past complaints about Ocean’s lack of communication, tenants said they received no notice about renewing their leases. Lenox Street Tenants Union member Alisha Moore said that two tenants signed new leases before discovering that the dates on the leases in Ocean Management’s online portal for rent payment were different from the dates on the lease they had signed earlier. Tenants also had concerns about a mouse infestation, a fire escape in disrepair, nighttime lighting issues, broken locks on doors and leaky showers.

Both Ocean Management and Mandy Management — another one of the city’s mega-landlords — have steadily been selling their properties in the Newhallville and Dixwell neighborhoods since summer of 2022. 

The following year marked a period of increased action from the city’s tenants unions.

On Feb. 6, 2024, the Lenox Street Union gathered outside Ocean Management’s office on Whitney Avenue with a petition urging their landlord to begin collective bargaining. Union members complained of mold and water damage as well as Ocean’s failure to perform maintenance and collect garbage regularly. 

Requesting that the mega-landlord respond by Feb. 13, union members gave the company a week to respond. After not receiving a response, tenants returned to Ocean Management’s office in the afternoon of March 20, according to an article published in the New Haven Independent. The protest’s attendees included members of various Connecticut tenants unions — New Haven Rising, UNITE HERE, the People’s Center and Democratic Socialists of America. 

At the protest, Mayor Justin Elicker expressed his support for the Lenox Street Union members, acknowledging Ocean Management’s failure to maintain safe living standards within their properties. 

“The expectation and the requirement of landlords is to keep their properties at that level so that tenants have a good place to live,” he said.

Protestors took turns speaking at a microphone, expressing concerns about Ocean Management’s failure to address their earlier complaints about safety and maintenance. A press release distributed by the Connecticut Tenants Union underscored the importance of collective bargaining and called attention to a Feb. 29 agreement Ocean Management signed with the Blake Street Union.

On Feb. 23, the city’s fifth tenant union formed at the Emerson Apartments on Orange Street — the first instance of a New Haven tenants union organizing against a small landlord. When a pipe burst in the apartment of union leader Alexander Kolokotronis’ GRD ’23, water damage made his apartment — along with the apartment of his downstairs neighbor James Blau — unlivable. The property’s landlord, a pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church next door, failed to address the issue in a timely manner, and the pair was asked to continue paying rent for their apartments despite having to relocate to a hotel.

In response, Kolokotronis and Blau communicated with other renters in the Emerson Apartments about unionizing, gaining support from 13 out of the apartment’s 18 occupied units within 27 hours.

On April 13, the Emerson Tenants Union rallied outside city hall, urging their landlord to begin negotiations, and for New Haven’s Livable City Initiative to enforce New Haven’s Housing Code Ordinance, which establishes the minimum standards for conditions and maintenance of housing. 

Highlighting their landlord’s failure to respond to the union’s efforts or personal messages from Kolokotronis and Blau, attendees called for a response from both their landlord and New Haven’s local government. 

Lenny Speiller, New Haven’s director of communications, wrote to the News that the city is conducting a joint inspection of the water-damaged apartments.

City Hall is located at 165 Church St. 

Kamini Purushothaman covers Arts and New Haven. A first-year student in Trumbull College, she is majoring in History.