Cantabridgians Protest Rent Hikes

Immigrant-Tenants, Citizens' Group Say Living Conditions Are Deplorable

Carrying large banners that read "Eviction Free Zone" and "Cambridge Tenants Union" (CTU), nearly 30 people stormed into last night's City Council meeting to demand an investigation into a recent wave of rent increases handed down by the Rent Control Board (RCB).

The citizens, all tenants of rent control properties on Market and Windsor Streets, protested what they considered steep and frequent rent hikes handed down by the RCB recently.

The increases have quadrupled rents on controlled properties in the past 10 years alone, protesters said. These hikes have brought rent prices to the market value for rents of nonrent control apartments, according to the protesters.

In addition, tenants charged that landlord Alex Steinbergh, the owner of the properties, lied to the city about property improvements in order to elicit rent increases. In reality, the living conditions of the apartments are "deplorable," protesters said.

"We are hoping that the council will order the city administration to investigate the practices of Alex Steinbergh in getting rent increases through the rent control system," said Olson Yancey, a member of the steering committee of CTU and a rent control tenant.


Yancey said that many landlords use capital improvements as a "loophole" to get the RCB to grant rent increases on their properties.

According to Yancey, Steinbergh used extensive false documentation at RCB hearings for rent increases and exploited the majority of non-English speaking immigrant tenants in his buildings. Steinbergh counted on the language barrier to prevent tenants from voicing complaints about illegitimate rent hikes, Yancey alleged.

Steinbergh, who was not present at the protest, said in a telephone interview yesterday that he has not filed for an increase based on capital im- provements since 1989. He added that the recentincreases are due to general adjustments--hikescaused by the rising cost of utilities andtaxes--and are soley dictated by the RCB.

"Everything we claimed we have done [to theapartments] has been done," Steinbergh said."Categorically we have not falsified anydocuments."

Steinbergh said he and other major rent controllandlords are scrutinized because they oftenchallenge rent control laws.

He said the tenants were likely complaining inan effort to prevent him from collecting rents. Hecited a rent control law which bars a rent controllandlord from collecting rent until all complaintshave been satisfied.

Steinbergh is the second largest owner of rentcontrol properties in Cambridge, according toYancey.

Council Vote

The council voted to have City Manager RobertW. Healy investigate the operations of the RCB.

"We came to City Hall because we don'tunderstand why the RCB repeatedly approves rentincreases," said Ehrl LaFontant, a staff organizerof the Eviction Free Zone. He said the tenantsstaged the protest because of the landlord's lackof response to complaints.

Based on the general pattern of rent increases,LaFontant predicted that there will be twoincreases this year, in addition to the mostrecent one implemented in January.

The protest at City Hall started with a rallyat the corner of Market and Windsor Streets. TheEviction Free Zone and the CTU cooperated with thetenants to stage the demonstration. Bothorganizations notified Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves '72and the council of the protest earlier, LaFontantsaid.

Councillors React

"We hear a lot about the problems with rentcontrol, but not a lot about rents that go throughthe ceiling and the conditions that these peoplehave to live with," Councillor Jonathan S. Myerssaid.

"I think it is necessary for the [Rent Control]committee to roll up their sleeves and examinewhat's wrong," Vice Mayor Edward N. Cyr said. Healso said the council should not tolerate renthikes based on capital improvements if they werenot done