“There’s Slumlords, and Then There’s Me and My Crew.”
This is what the notorious owner of Landmark Group and Dino’s Storage, Dave Paladino, proudly proclaims at the beginning of his reality TV series, “The Super” — a show which depicts Paladino and his henchmen gleefully evicting tenants from some of his many properties in Omaha. We wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Paladino — there are few slumlords in Omaha as ruthless and miserly as him and his “crew”.
It’s been long known to us and many others in Omaha that Dave Paladino is infamous for his seeming inability to make repairs in a timely manner, and the arbitrariness with which he hands his tenants exorbitant fees. Recently, Omaha Tenants United had a chance to experience this first hand. We are proud to announce that, last Friday, we were able to help a tenant score a victory over Mr. Paladino and Landmark group. But first, some background.
Like our previous win we discussed, we met this tenant through our friends at @Feed the People — Omaha. This man is on a very fixed income and is disabled. With struggling health, he’s had to go see a doctor at least once a week for several months. We’ve enjoyed a close relationship with this man for just over a year and have unfortunately seen him exploited and taken advantage of by Landmark Group repeatedly.
This last winter, the tenant was forced to go several weeks without heat and had to move in with a friend for some time before finally being given a space heater by Landmark in lieu of actually fixing the heat. Not only do these type of space heaters in such a small apartment represent very serious fire dangers, but also force tenants to pay marked up electrical bills in order to keep their units warm. While we are glad something was done to address the problem, at the end of the day this was a very lazy fix that could have had potentially dire consequences. At this time, the tenant was not yet prepared to organize around this issue and we left it at that.
Fast forward a few months. With almost no warning, the tenant received a letter left at his door stating that he was in “material noncompliance” with his lease and that he was expected to rectify the issues within 14 days, otherwise his lease would be terminated and he would be evicted. The violations were extraordinarily vague and offered no specific incidents regarding their violation. Even more confusingly, the tenant was told he could “voluntarily break his lease” and that he would get a great recommendation from them upon applying for a new apartment if he was gone in five days. There was no evidence that the tenant had been breaking any of the — again what were very vague — components of his lease, and this was all very unclear so we sought to have the tenant organize a meeting with Landmark as quickly possible to discuss what was going on. Given that four other units in the property had also strangely moved in the past four weeks, we felt something fishy was up. Our guess is that Landmark is attempting to bait tenants into leaving “willingly” in order to sell the apartment to a development company, or plans on making a few basic improvements so that they can attract wealthier tenants and jack up rent costs. But we can only speculate.
Before we could set up a meeting, Landmark decided to come to the tenant. One day, while hanging out at home, the tenant hears someone attempt to turn the knob and enter the apartment before knocking. Not expecting anyone, and being rightfully concerned, he asked who it was. The man responded “It’s Victor [the property manager]” and then attempted to open the door and enter the apartment. (For anyone who doesn’t know, the Nebraska Landlord-Tenant Act clearly states that landlords are legally required to provide at least 24 hours notice before attempting to enter an apartment. If a landlord or one of his employees violates this law, then they are obligated to pay the tenant at least the equivalent of one month’s rent.) Having made sure to educate the tenant thoroughly about the laws surrounding rentership, the tenant correctly refused to allow Victor into the unit and instead scheduled a time to meet with him at his office to discuss this strange, quasi-eviction notice he received. Fortunately, in his arrogance, Victor had given us the exact ammunition we needed in order to ensure that this tenant would be remaining in his apartment until the end of the agreed upon lease.
To Victor’s surprise, our tenant friend was accompanied not alone, but with two representatives from Omaha Tenants United to assist in negotiations regarding this joke of an eviction notice. This caught him quite off guard. They informed him that by attempting to enter the apartment without a 24 hour notice, he had violated the law, and explained what the resulting consequences of that could be, described above. He rather unconvincingly attempted to deny this, and one of his coworkers — seeing how poorly this was going for Victor — had to step in. She quickly tried to smooth things over, Victor was forced to admit that he had in fact attempted to enter the apartment illegally, and we were told that the puzzling eviction letter would be thrown away and that the tenant would be allowed to remain in the unit until the end of the lease. This was basically all the tenant wanted at this point so that he could focus on getting out of this slum of an apartment and find a new place to live. So, we chalked this up as a small victory and figured that was the last of it. We were wrong.
A few weeks later, after having already moved to a new apartment, our fellow tenant received a letter from Landmark Group listing out a number of charges that he was expected to pay in the next 14 days totalling $1,595 ($1,045 after the tenant’s deposit was taken out). For those of you who speculated that the bill we posted last week outlining these ridiculous charges came from Landmark, congratulations, you guessed right! This bill was nothing short of ludicrous. It stated that the tenant still owed over $600 in back rent despite the tenant having fully paid each month of the year that he lived there and having the receipts to prove it. It furthermore attempted to say that he owed $400 for cleaning the stove and fridge. We don’t think we have to state further how absurd these charges were.
We knew it was time to act, and act fast. An OTU member quickly set up a meeting with Landmark, stating that we would be objecting to all of the charges. We imagine Landmark expected it to be something similar as last time: we’d come in with a couple people and they’d give some small concession and things would be over. They were mistaken. At the scheduled meeting time, the tenant entered the office with 20 other people walking behind him to support. The appalled look of confusion on the staff’s face as we entered the building was priceless. It is always encouraging to see fear in your enemy’s eyes.
Unlike what we had been led to believe, however, Mr. Paladino was not in attendance. Apparently he thought he could pawn off his dirty work of attempting to charge over $1000 to a disabled man in ridiculous fees onto one of his employees; allowing him to continue preserving some of that Christ-like conscience he is oh so proud of. It took a few minutes for the lady we were set to negotiate with to gain her composure and actually sit down with us. Once she finally did, she attempted to run the conversation around in circles and stonewall us. Slumlords and their lackeys have greatly underestimated Omaha Tenant’s United and the tenants we help represent if they think we will be back down in the face of such weak attempts at derailing our missions. Eventually, we were able to get the conversation going. However, we could only get a few sentences in before Landmark’s representative would repeatedly try to cut us off and say how “uncomfortable” she was that there were so many people there and that people were recording the conversation. And as she should be! These slumlords and their supporters have every reason to be made uncomfortable and fear the righteous anger of the masses they ruthlessly exploit. It was clear she was shaken enough at this point however, and wanting to get more down to business, we opted to take a tactical retreat by having the crowd wait just outside the building. The tenant, two representatives from OTU, and a supporter who has a job as an apartment cleaner remained to negotiate. We had the tenant describe some of the problems he had had with Landmark over the past few months, the medical issues he had faced, and the resulting financial hardships this had brought upon him. We them attempted to once again go over each of the charges individually, but the Landmark employee insisted that we view the post-moveout pictures they had taken first. Which was fine, as this could only help our case. The apartment was, of course nearly spotless minus some normal wear and tear. We knew this was the case given that we had assisted the tenant in cleaning, touching up the walls with paint, and moving him out. We wish we had access to these photos so that you could see for yourselves just how comically evil somebody has to be in order to see those and decide there was $1,500 in damages and cleaning that needed to be done. But we’ll let the facts detailed here, and Landmark’s longstanding reputation speak for themselves.
Once we were done viewing the photos, our supporter who works for an apartment cleaning company produced a receipt of what they typically charge and went through the list to demonstrate how egregious the charges Landmark attempted to produce were. We really have to give a lot of credit to this supporter, as she spoke very pointedly with a great deal of confidence and drove her point home effectively. At this point, and after another courageous appeal by our fellow tenant in which he produced the receipts proving that he had paid all his due rent, the Landmark representative said she would waive the charges and grant him $300 back from his deposit. At this point, we were pretty ecstatic. Knowing how rare it is for slumlords to give back deposits, we were really expecting a best case scenario to be simply waiving enough fees that the deposit would cover them and we would simply walk away scot free. But the brave tenant did not find this satisfactory. He believed he was owed at least $500 of his $550 deposit. We cautioned him that it might be best to just take this better than expected deal and walk away. This was, admittedly, an error on our part. Despite our hesitancy, the tenant continued to negotiate impressively and courageously with the Landmark rep, and ended up convincing her to give him a $500 check for his deposit back. The masses are truly impressive and we were wrong to attempt to lag behind his initiative. Altogether, the tenant saved almost $1500 and now has $500 in his pocket. We got the agreement in writing, and left to celebrate the victory.
This was a truly impressive victory against one of Omaha’s most infamous slumlords. A massive amount of credit and thanks is due to our supporters who turned out and even more so to the tenant who was brave enough to go through with this action. It can be daunting for ordinary people to attempt to confront figures such as landlords who they have been told possess all the power, and we applaud our fellow tenant for possessing the courage to stand up to Landmark Group and Dave Paladino. We are proud to have been a part of this victory, but Omaha Tenants United recognizes that the real power lies in the exploited masses and their initiative. Through education and organization, we simply act as a cipher through which the masses can express the class power and unlimited potential they already possess. The masses truly are the real heroes. Without them, we are nothing.
This is certainly not the last Landmark has heard from us. Dave Paladino and his co-conspirators at Landmark Group have proven that, despite what they would like us to believe, they are not invincible. We hope this victory serves as an inspiration to all tenants exploited by Mr. Paladino and other parasitic slumlords to stand up, get organized, and wield the power possessed by the working class to take back what is rightfully owed to us.. Dave Paladino is not a boogeyman, he is simply a particularly notable example of the inherently exploitative nature of landlords. You can stand up to your landlord and take back what already belongs to you. If you’re having issues with a slumlord such as this, and would like assistance, please do not hesitate to reach out and we can do our best to help. Remember, your landlord works for YOU. Slumlords in Omaha, get scared. Your tenants are coming for you next.
BUILD TENANTS POWER, COMBAT SLUMLORDS