Tenants of one of America’s largest corporate landlords briefly occupied the San Francisco offices of the chairman of its board Thursday, delivering a petition signed by 1,400 people demanding a rent freeze in all of the company’s rental properties.
The protest took place in the lobby of the Starwood Capital Group, whose chairman and CEO, Barry Sternlicht, is also chairman of the board of trustees of Starwood Waypoint Homes.
“They have a right to make money, but there’s got to be some ethical moral limits, especially when it’s causing other people harm,” said Merika Reagan, 42, a professional dog walker who pays about $1,800 a month to rent a two-bedroom home in East Oakland.
Reagan, raised in San Francisco, said she might have to leave the state if the company raises her rent again. In its most recent corporate filing, the company bragged about its rent increases, including an average spike of 13.3 percent on new leases in Northern California.
The firm controls 35,000 single-family homes and recently announced it was purchasing 3,000 more. It was founded in 2012 by Tom Barrack, one of President Donald Trump’s oldest and closest friends. Barrack quit the company last month, a day after a Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting exposé detailed poor maintenance and rising rents at the company’s properties. Tenants were struggling without heat and coping with leaky roofs. They faced peeling tile, a collapsing ceiling, even a snake infestation.
After Barrack’s departure, the company, which had been called Colony Starwood Homes, announced it would be rebranding itself Starwood Waypoint Homes and that Sternlicht, the chief executive of Starwood Capital, would become the sole chairman of of its board of trustees.
Justin Tombolesi, an organizer with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment said a delegation of tenants met briefly with Mark Deason, managing director for Starwood Capital, who committed to fax the petition to Sternlicht.
Deason declined to comment for this story, directing Reveal’s inquiry to an outside public relations firm, which did not respond to a phone call or emailed inquiry.
Tenant organizations across California are taking aim at corporate landlords this week as part of a campaign to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, a 1995 law that bars rent control on single-family homes.
The bill is bitterly opposed by real estate interests, but activist groups say the housing bust has dramatically changed the composition of single-family rentals, from mom-and-pop landlords to large corporations.
Nationally, Starwood Waypoint is the third-largest corporate landlord of single-family homes. Invitation Homes, founded by the private equity firm Blackstone, and American Homes for Rent, founded by Public Storage magnate B. Wayne Hughes, both own approximately 50,000 homes.