PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A Portland man has taken his landlord and the property’s owner to court over what he says are unsafe living conditions at his apartment in Northwest Portland.
Brian Jackson started with his first lawsuit against his landlord seeking a couple of months’ rent but a second lawsuit against the president of the company is seeking up to $2.5 million damages.
Now Jackson has filed a third lawsuit against the housing authority that owns the property, seeking up to $2.5 million in damages.
The lawsuits claim the president of the management company targeted Jackson for eviction and accuse Multnomah County’s housing authority of allowing unsafe conditions to exist.
Jackson—who is a retired veteran with PTSD—lives at The Yards apartments in Portland’s Old Town neighborhood next to the Broadway Bridge at 945 NW Naito Parkway.
The Yards is a low-income housing option. It’s also marketed toward seniors, veterans and people with disabilities. Income Property Management Corporation manages the apartment complex. It’s contracted through HomeForward—the public housing authority serving Multnomah County—and is funded by tax dollars.
“They have the manpower to outmaneuver most people,” Jackson said. “Little to nobody will fight back because they’re afraid of losing their housing.”
He’s suing Jeff Reingold, the president of Income Property Management, for up to $2.5 million for intentional infliction of emotional harm and invasion of privacy. Jackson has a third lawsuit against both Income Property Management and HomeForward for up to another $2.5 million for allowing unsafe and unsecure conditions to go on the past two years. But let’s rewind to explain how this situation escalated.
Dangerous living conditions: How low-income tenants protested their landlords
KOIN 6 News reported on a shooting just outside The Yards apartments in the spring of 2018, which Jackson refers to as his breaking point. Tenants were fed up and decided to unionize, calling on their landlord to address what they believed were dangerous living conditions.
Jackson’s lawsuits against IPM and HomeForward state homeless people were urinating in stairwells and injecting drugs in the hallways. Jackson said there were also assaults.
“They’d be wielding knives and one came after me with a bat,” he recalled. “A guy popped up and stuck a gun right between my eyes.”
Crime data obtained by KOIN 6 News shows residents at The Yards called 911 a total of 962 times between 2016 and 2018. Callers reported 36 assaults, 16 burglaries, 19 instances of harassment, 115 disturbances, 56 suspicious subjects and 76 unwanted persons.
On top of the criminal activity, Jackson’s complaint against IPM and HomeForward states health and safety concerns were going unanswered by both entities.
“Our expectations with property management companies is that, for the most part, they’re addressing those issues as they come up and that we’re not needing to hear about them,” said HomeForward Executive Director Michael Buonocore.
Buonocore said HomeForward owns the property and sets the yearly budget and they contract out IPM to handle the day-to-day upkeep and maintenance requests.
However, the federal government requires HomeForward to conduct annual Health Quality Standard inspections. Through a public records request, KOIN 6 News obtained documents from 2017 to 2019 showing The Yards received an overall primary status of “fail” more than 20% of the time. The failed inspections showed issues from bed bugs to broken windows to defective smoke detectors, a need for general cleaning and more.
Inspection Report #1, Inspection Report #2, Inspection Report #3, Inspection Report #4
Inspection Report #5, Inspection Report #6, Inspection Report #7, Inspection Report #8
Inspection Report #9, Inspection Report #10, Inspection Report #11, Inspection Report #12
Inspection Report #13, Inspection Report #14, Inspection Report #15, Inspection Report #16
Inspection Report #17
“They demand and insist that you email them on everything and then I did and that made me a target,” Jackson said. “I became the problem which their solution to that is just get rid of the problem.”
Since 2018, Jackson has filed more than 300 complaints because he is the leader of the tenants’ union. Over the past year-and-a-half, we covered the union as they protested their landlord.
“The way we approach our work is that we never want tenants to feel like they have to organize to get our attention,” Buonocore said. “The reality is sometimes that is impactful and necessary.”
Following KOIN 6 News coverage of their complaints, Buonocore said management added security cameras, trimmed bushes to reduce transients sleeping around the building, installed windows on trash rooms to reduce mugging, updated the electronic entry system and constructed a fence to keep out intruders. Tenants said this has improved security, making a difference in their lives.
However, as residents saw these improvements, Jackson was served with a threat of an eviction notice on his door. According to the notice, IPM said Jackson violated his lease when he misrepresented himself as an IPM employee to a firefighter when a fire broke out at the apartment last summer, which Jackson denies. So, he decided to sue.
“I think they underestimated Mr. Jackson,” said Michael Fuller, Jackson’s attorney. “I don’t think they understood the power of the tenants union and I don’t think they understood that as a community we’re not just going to sit by and let them abuse the poorest among us.”
Fuller is with OlsenDaines. He’s known as the Underdog Lawyer and took on Jackson’s case for free.
Jackson’s initial suit against IPM accuses IPM of retaliating against a union organizer and operating The Yards as a “slumlord.” The lawsuit says the corporation profits by taking in as much government assistance as possible while spending as little money as possible to make needed repairs to The Yards apartments. The lawsuit details things like drug dealing, cockroaches, assaults, homeless people openly urinating in the hallways, flooding and leaking, hypodermic needles, squatters and broken lights.
In our previous coverage in June 2019, an attorney for Income Property Management named Leah Sykes said the company could not comment because her clients had not yet seen the lawsuit. However, she did state, “It will become clear that the suit is without merit.”
IPM submitted its answer to court, denying all of the dangerous living conditions.
During deposition testimony with IPM Property Manager at The Yards Trisha Harlan, Jackson’s attorney, Michael Fuller, asked her the following questions about each of the accusations. Here is how she answered:
Q: You started at The Yards — or you started at the apartment complex that Mr. Jackson lives at in May 8 of 2018?
Q: Did you ever hear someone talk about a shooting at The Yards apartments?
A: There have been a couple of chatters about a shooting in the area.
Q: Did you ever hear about drug dealing at The Yards apartments?
Q: Were you ever aware of a cockroach issue at The Yards apartments?
Q: Were you ever aware of assaults at The Yards apartments?
Q: Were you ever aware of homeless people openly urinating in a hallway at The Yards apartments?
Q: Were you ever aware of flooding and leaking at The Yards apartments?
Q: Were you ever aware of hypodermic needles in The Yards apartments?
Q: Were you ever aware of squatters at The Yards apartments?
Q: Were you ever aware of broken lights at The Yards apartments?
Q: Were you ever aware of graffiti at The Yards apartments?
Q: Were you ever aware of garbage where it shouldn’t have been at The Yards apartments?
Q: Were you ever aware of fighting at The Yards apartments?
Q: Had you ever heard that homeless people were smoking crack in the stairwells at The Yards apartments?
Q: That sounds like a lot of serious issues that could get someone very upset, doesn’t it?
A: It could be, yes.
The second lawsuit, which is against Jeff Reingold (and not Income Property Management), states he organized an illegal conspiracy between his corporation’s attorneys and management.
Following five hours of testimony and hundreds of emails, Jackson’s lawyer said he uncovered emails showing Reingold had his employee, Angie Henry, try to find anything “shady” on Brian Jackson.
Jackson’s lawyer highlighted how Henry—who is IPM’s Affordable Housing director—responded in an email to IPM’s attorneys. It reads:
“I just went through all of his emails and the emails he sent by way of the yards tenant union and while some are rude and condescending – none would be classified as shady,” Henry wrote.
Fuller asked Henry the following questions during her deposition:
Q: Why would you be spending time and money to look through old emails of Mr. Jackson that could be considered shady in April 2019?
A: I was told to.
Q: By who?
A: Jeff Reingold.
Q: You didn’t like that he brought up complaints.
A: I mean I wasn’t a fan of them.
Q: You didn’t like that he was in a tenants’ union.
A: Actually, I didn’t mind.
In emails KOIN 6 News obtained through the lawsuit, Henry is found writing the following in response to Jackson’s security complaints:
“I hate him so much” and “God, what a bitter bitter man.”
Then, three days after our first news report on this IPM housing issue, Henry emailed her boss, IPM President Jeff Reingold, writing:
“Just a flavor of what an asshole this resident is at the Yards (this is the resident that has pretty much single handedly created the current vitriol at the building and brought in the PTU).”
Reingold responded with the following email:
“I feel your pain Angie. But in a funny way, this might help.
It seems to me when individual tenants like this overreach, which seems to be the case here, there’s a pretty good chance that Tim and HomeForward will take a little bit harsher stance.
Most people don’t like to be threatened and at some point HomeForward will take offense and change their approach to somewhat less accommodating.
Know that other than very few tenant activists aided by a few overzealous union members. To my knowledge, no one else is complaining. This will be a fact not lost on the newsies that are covering this. The argument that there’s other residents who are afraid to complain will start to wear thin.
I also had a good talk with Molly on Friday and I think that HomeForward will be watching our back on this without saying anything directly to her. She’s very well aware of my feelings on this situation.
Thanks for sending and try not to let this idiot get to you. There will be a resolution of some sort and we will move on. -J”
KOIN 6 News wanted to talk to IPM and its president but he declined because of Jackson’s lawsuit. We pressed the leader of HomeForward, asking if he felt like IPM was doing a satisfactory job.
Since that interview, Jackson has filed a third lawsuit against both Income Property Management and HomeForward for up to another $2.5 million for allowing unsafe and unsecure conditions to go on the past two years.
“We’ve continued to just work on this issue with IPM and be really clear about where we’re trying to get to in the relationship with the residents and with the, you know, the conditions at the building,” said Buonocore.
Tenants said that, after unionizing and going public with their problems, management made several health, safety and security improvements. But they added that management has taken a step back by scaling down private security patrols.
Originally, HomeForward and IPM had hired security to be on-site 40 hours a week, plus a desk monitor. As of March, the security company does three to five random foot patrols each night but remains available to take calls from residents. Plus, an IPM staff person is on shift five nights a week to help with security.
“This is about protecting the tenants from any company that thinks it’s appropriate to just belittle or barrage low income tenants to their advantage,” Jackson said.
He said he’s not about to give up his legal battle.
“We started this fight almost two years ago and I see to finish it one way or another,” Jackson said. “I’m not going to walk away from it.”
Jackson’s lawyer said in depositions he discovered the eviction notice was flawed because it included the wrong date of the alleged incident. Since then Jackson said they’ve made no further attempts to evict him. Jackson is still at The Yards and continuing the union’s fight.