Former Tiki tenants celebrate passage of renters protections in Tacoma

Former Tiki residents rally outside Tacoma City Hall. (KOMO photo)

TACOMA, Wash. -- The former tenants of Tacoma's Tiki Apartments say it is time to celebrate. The Tacoma City Council has unanimously approved a huge change in the way low income renters are treated.

"It's been approximately seven months and what's happening today is a huge win for us," said former Tiki tenant Donna Seay. Her beaming smile is a long way from the tears and down-trodden faces of the Tiki tenants last April, who were being given 20 days to get out as the entire place of 60 apartments was being renovated..

"Every time I think about it I want to cry," said Mary Young back then. But those first stories touched a lot of people. "Hopefully what this will bring people out to help people here," said Seay last April. It did bring people out and more importantly it brought the tenants together. They became a force at City Hall demanding fairer treatment for those facing eviction.

"I've got nothing but the highest praise for the folks at the Tiki that have not just come forward, but stuck with it week after week," said Tacoma City Council Member Catherine Ushka.

The result is a breakthrough in tenants rights. An ordinance was written which states instead of 20 days, there will be a 60-day notice to terminate tenancy. There would be a 120-day notice for renovation, demolition or change of use. There would be $2,000 tenant relocation assistance and 60-day notice of rent increases. Plus, retaliation would be prohibited when tenants exercise their rights.

"Balancing those two things to ensure we retain a healthy and affordable market while protecting people is actually quite a feat," said Ushka.

"Today is huge," said Seay. "Today is history."

"I am so happy," said former Tiki tenant Sarah Howe. "I can't say it enough, I'm happy. I'm satisfied. I'm relaxed." Howe is blind and was one of the last Tiki tenants to find a new home.

She became a fixture at city council meetings. "It's a delight seeing Sarah every week," said Ushka.

"That I'm a success story,"said Howe. "But I want everybody to be a success story."

Her's is a story that started small, but their plight touched everyone. "Gee, Keith, I don't know. You put me on TV, like, how many times?"

"We thank you for one," said Seay. "You've been a big big part of this. A huge part of this."

The new owner of the Tiki apartments gave them the legally allowed number of days to get out and then greatly extended it with relocation money. The apartments have been repainted, remodeled and renamed the Highland Flats.

The former tenants still look at it as the birthplace of their tenants rights movement. "It's amazing," said Seay. "It just goes to show you what can happen when people actually come together."

They now plan to take what they have accomplished in Tacoma to the state legislature to voice their support for increased tenants rights statewide.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off