In a quickly gentrifying neighborhood in northwest Bend, just a few blocks from Newport Avenue Market, the 44 people who call the Fireside Lodge Condominiums home will soon be without a basic human need: shelter. Bend's affordable housing crisis is no longer down the road somewhere in the distant future for them. As market values soar and rental vacancy rates approach zero, the recent sale of the multifamily property, followed by notices to vacate, make their housing prospects uncertain at best.
Located along Newport Avenue and Knoxville, within one mile from downtown Bend, the tenants of 20 units say they were assured last year that a sale would not affect them. Units were rented to new tenants as late as January 2016.
However, in February, one owner sold 10 units for $1,275,000. Soon, another owner sold 10 units. That left only two units in the Fireside Condos untouched.
In a letter dated April 27, 2016, from Chris Thelan, Manager of SUNDOG KNOXVILLE, LLC, with a Bend P.O. Box, tenants of the sold units received the following information:
Due to an extensive remodel and construction plans for the property, it is necessary for SUNDOG KNOXVILLE, LLC to vacate all units. SUNDOG KNOXVILLE, LLC will be terminating all existing rental agreements."
The letter cites Oregon Landlord-Tenant laws, requiring tenants to vacate in accordance with the official posting of notice. It includes instructions about returning keys, apartment inspections, and leaving a forwarding address for the return of security deposits, ("less any damages noted"). The letter closes:
"Thank you for your cooperation. We appreciate your tenancy and understand that relocating under any circumstance can be stressful."
On the following day, April 28, 2016, a notice of termination was delivered to the occupant of #305, Thomas Niedzwiedcki, a father of three and Newport Avenue Market meat cutter. His notice is for 60 days, the legal minimum, because he has lived in the unit for more than one year. In fact, June will mark six years.
"This is to notify you that your tenancy will be terminated and you must vacate the premises you now occupy no later than 11:59 p.m. (end of day) on 6/30/16."
Shanna Stevenson, who lives next door in unit #304, moved into the Fireside Condos seven years ago. Stevenson, 58, previously worked in construction, but now suffers from rheumatoid arthritis. Her son takes care of her, and like Niedzwiedcki, she is proud to say she has never been late paying the rent. Unfortunately, that has no bearing on the owner's right to deliver what are often referred to as "no-cause eviction" notices, which are legal in Oregon.
Stevenson pays $775 per month for a two-bedroom apartment. She is disabled and living on a fixed income. "We will be living in a homeless camp," she says, when asked where she will go. The home of Neidzweicki, 50, and Nicole McGarry, 48, includes family photos on the wall and many keepsakes. A couch and a recliner fill the living room and a dining table doubles as a home office, where McGarry reviews the paperwork. She hasn't slept in three days. Like several others in the building, she says she feels helpless, understanding that what is happening to them is legal, but not knowing what to do. She focuses her attention on the security deposit, hopeful that a careful list of damage that came with the apartment, but was never repaired, will be honored. There is extensive deferred maintenance at the Fireside Condominiums, including a community recreation room that has been closed for years.
Redfin lists the median price per square foot in this neighborhood (zip code 97701) as $243, compared to $229 for Bend, and $205 for Deschutes County. The Fireside Lodge Condominiums at 754 to 816 square feet each, sold for far below the median market price per square foot.
The Fireside Association of Unit Owners previously included several owners, but eventually as few as four. Other than two condos owned individually, McGarry tells the story of "a husband and wife who divorced, splitting 20 units."
Across the parking lot, Sabino "Sal" Torres lives in unit #201. A veteran, he has resided at the Fireside Condos for more than seven years. He, too, is worried his deposit won't be returned to him in time to use it to move. Several other residents voice the same concern.
Landlords are required to return security deposits within 30 days after tenants depart (or provide an accounting for why the deposit was not returned). However, many tenants say they need the funds to help with a move. Torres, 65, has lost hope. "Even as old as I am, I feel trapped now. I have to get the money to get out of here," he says. A stained glass artist, he has held on to the last of the glass from his former shop. Recently, he donated much of his art to help raise money for children with leukemia. "I enjoy helping people," he says. He has trouble finding work, except as a laborer, and doesn't drive, which will make relocating to a new neighborhood more difficult. "We were told no changes would be made, then we all get evicted," he says. He estimates that he needs $3,000 to move.
Leia Carneado, 40, lives in unit #103 and pays $650 per month for her apartment. She has lived there for seven years and fears, like the others, that she will have nowhere but the streets to go. She says, "SunDog, LLC, is just another investor with no heart." She adds, "[The new owner] has deep pockets and lied to all of us." She imagines him "flying high in his airplane, looking down at his expensive life." She describes the situation as oppressive and disruptive.
The online listing for 10 units of the Fireside Lodge Condos, located at 1302 NW Knoxville, Bend, built in 1982, was reduced to $1,395,000 last year. The property sold for $1,275,000, on Feb. 29, 2016. The photos featured with the listing are of Torres' very clean apartment, recognizable by the stained glass art that he makes hanging in the window.
Torres says he paid his rent on time for more than seven years and tries to keep the area clean and safe. "To get booted out seems wrong, even if it's within the confines of the law," he says. The displaced tenants, several on fixed incomes, need assistance with finding affordable housing and help with being relocated.