By Julia Brouillette (File Photo)
As Hunting Point residents grapple with looming rent hikes and unexpected utility costs, City Hall struggles with mending the rocky relationship between tenants and their new landlord, Laramar Group.
Residents of the shoreline complex in south Old Town turned to city staff last month for help pressuring Laramar into delaying rent and utility fee increases until necessary repairs were completed. Many tenants worried about the broken heating system, in particular, which may not be up and running before winter.
In an effort to alleviate concerns, Mayor Bill Euille arranged a conference call with city staff and Laramar officials. The mayor told company President Jeffrey Elowe that “a healing process was necessary” and that he “did not think Laramar would want negative press to distract from their desire to maintain [Hunting Point] as affordable and livable.”
Hunting Point residents received a less-than-satisfactory memo about the call from city officials July 10. While Laramar said major plumbing work and elevator repairs would be underway soon, the company gave no indication of keeping leases low for residents who enjoyed frozen rents under the previous landlord, the Virginia Department of Transportation.
“We are pleased to see that steps are being taken to fix some of these infrastructure problems,” said attorney Harry Kelly, who represents several residents. “But it’s important for Laramar to see that there are bigger issues.”
For 110 long-term residents, rents will increase incrementally over a three-year period, Laramar officials said. As a result, many fear being forced to relocate.
“The city should have made it clear that that is not an acceptable outcome,” Kelly said.
City officials were unable to negotiate with Laramar on evictions, utility charges or rent increases, according to residents familiar with discussions.
“I am disappointed that we were not invited to be on the call … residents should be part of that conversation,” Kelly said.
Ted Vawter — a resident who’s now planning to leave Hunting Point — was equally disappointed.
“I guess I’m not truly shocked by it. … I kind of expected that the city would go along with the business,” he said. “I’m disappointed, because a lot of people that might otherwise enjoy living in this area will not be able to do so.”
A group of renters met with Delegate Rob Krupicka (D-45) on July 3 to discuss whether VDOT had any outstanding obligations to Hunting Point or its residents. But neither has heard back from the state agency.
Though Laramar promised better communication with residents and agreed to meet with their legal representatives, no meetings have been scheduled.