It's a warm afternoon inside the apartment of Nkumba Fesseru and, as she talks about what's been going on in her building between the new managers and her children in the past month, it gets warmer. One by one, mothers with babies slung on their breasts and toddlers in tow knock on Fesseru's door and enter the apartment. They and their children have come to tell their stories. Sometime around June 10, just after a new couple took over managing what Fesseru and other longtime tenants call The Flintstone, a 35-unit apartment building located at 18th and Union Street in Seattle's Central District, the tenants say the managers started yelling at their children that they couldn't play outside.
Fesseru says the manager's wife told her 10-year-old daughter to get inside while she was carrying clothes to the laundry room. Another tenant, Rose Relda, says her son was told he couldn't take his bike out and, when she went to the manager's door to ask why, "She started screaming, 'Nobody can play outside,'" Relda says.
In May, resident KL Shannon got a 10-Day Notice to Comply or Vacate because her 3-year-old nephew, Jakwaun, was "playing, screaming, [and] riding skateboards and bikes on the walkways and stairwells," the notice states. In June, tenants say, some kids were throwing orange peels off a balcony and the managers called the police.
Like Fesseru and Shannon, many of the residents are people of color who have lived 10 or 15 years at The Flintstone, letting their children play in the three-story building's small courtyard and the open-air hallways that overlook it. Managers Jesse and Chelsea O'Dell are white and bark at them like overseers, the tenants say, making them feel like they're suddenly living in a prison -- one in which no one knew about any rule that kids can't play outside: It's not in their rental agreements, they say, and -- though management says written rules were sent out -- no one remembers getting them.
Even if they did, says Eric Dunn, a housing attorney with Columbia Legal Services, if a landlord's rule is unreasonable or it's being used to discriminate against families with children, it would not be legal under fair housing law.
For her part, Fesseru says it's unreasonable to expect children to play indoors all summer, especially when small children -- hers are ages 1, 4, 8, and 10 -- could stay close in the building's courtyard. Diane Castanes, vice president at Phillips Real Estate Services, which manages the building, says being in the courtyard is fine: The rule about play, she says, only pertains to hallways and stairwells for safety purposes, and all rules are applied equally to everyone -- in part, she says, to help clean up a building known for its drug and gang activity.
"We can't tell the drug dealers to stay out of the parking lot and not tell kids to. We have to tell everyone," Castanes says. "That's a way to avoid loitering that also avoids drug activity."
All the tenants, she says, were mailed a set of new rules last year when Phillips took over The Flintstone and four other Central District buildings owned by the Veco family. The tenants of a sister building across the street took to the rules just fine, she says. But at "Veco-C"