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Problematic landlord called out for retaliation against unionization efforts

Pioneer Tenants United claims that Anurag Sureka has issued retaliatory evictions and terminations of tenancy against five Pioneer tenant households for speaking out against horrific and dangerous conditions pervasive across the company’s 60-plus buildings in Rhode Island.

February 6, 2023, 4:49 pm

By Steve Ahlquist

Pioneer Tenants United, a tenant union supported by Reclaim RI, was in West Warwick on Monday afternoon to speak out on a wave of retaliatory evictions and terminations against tenants who have filed code violations, written letters of complaint, or protested outside the home of Pioneer Investments landlord Anurag Sureka. Pioneer Tenants United claims that Sureka has issued retaliatory evictions and terminations of tenancy against four Pioneer tenant households for signing a complaint and a fifth tenant for protesting outside his house. All have called out the horrific and dangerous conditions pervasive across the company’s 60-plus buildings in Rhode Island.

Tenants of Pioneer Investments have been living with rats, bugs, mold, leaks, lack of heat and hot water, raw sewage an lead paint – all detailed in two stories from reporter Amy Russo (here and here). Uprise RI has reported on Pioneer Tenants United protests here, and here.

Melissa Grussi has lived in a Pioneer Investments property in West Warwick with her three children since 2017. From the beginning of her tenancy, she has reported problems. “I literally have a hole, the size of a basketball, in my bathroom, that is growing mold… I am living in a rat infested home,” said Grussi, fighting back tears.

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Melissa Grussi

“I have flooring that is dipping. I have paint that’s been chipping. I have plumbing that’s been wrong. We have been sick… I was being evicted in July of 2022, due to seven days of being late on my rent and I was getting COVID relief. The state had notified me that they needed files from Mr. Anurag. He was not giving them properly. He went through the eviction process. He went to court. That is how I met Reclaim,” continued Grussi.

“I am now part of Reclaim RI and Pioneer Tenants United as a leader because we need to stand up against him,” continued Grussi. She added that due to her being a member and signing a letter detailing the problems in her apartment that need to be fixed, she has been given 60 days to get out of her apartment.

“Here’s my problem,” continued Grussi. Sureka “has put an eviction on my name. [He has] blocked me from two rentals, telling them I’m not a good tenant. How can I get out?

“And now that I am a part of Reclaim and we can fight together as a group, now he is coming after all of us and he admits to it… This isn’t right, and we have to do something to protect our families.”

For Mary, the issues in her apartment have gone on for two years now. “Anurag bought my building in 2021,” said Mary. “We have mice issues, water damage, mold issues… I have a one year old who’s now crawling – I don’t want to start crying – but I’m done. I can’t. I was quiet for so long. I haven’t even talked to Reclaim yet. I’m just done. I am ready to fight for you all. I am ready to fight for ourselves. I kept my mouth shut for so long – I never wanted to get kicked out – but now I just got an eviction notice for not doing anything and I’m paying every month… I need my kid safe. I don’t like pulling into that street knowing I have to go back into that building. My basement is flooding. Water everywhere and I wasn’t even home this weekend… I’m ready to stand with you all.”

Also speaking out was pioneer tenant Danielle and former Pioneer tenant Renee Horne.

“We are here today to talk about the tenants of the slumlord Pioneer Investments,” said Miguel Youngs, Organizing Director at Reclaim RI. The story of Pioneer Tenants is sort of a microcosm of the lack of tenants rights and the desperate need to update the rights that we have on the books.”

Youngs noted that retaliating against tenants for unionizing is against the law, noting that protections for tenant unions were passed in the Rhode Island General Assembly in 1986. “We believe this law has never been tried or tested,” said Youngs. “Because what’s happening here with Pioneer Tenants is probably the most comprehensive tenant organizing that’s happened in this state in a very long time.”

Reclaim provided a list of ways people can help their efforts.

  • Contribute to the Pioneer Tenant Support Fund. Our goal is to raise $50,000 over the next few weeks, enough to cover each impacted household’s first and last month’s rent and security deposit—with some left over in the quite possible case that other tenants are hit with evictions.
  • Join the Pioneer Tenant Support Committee and help raise money for the Support Fund. We especially need you if you have resources or have access to people or entities with resources.
  • Provide emergency housing for impacted households. We will not let these tenants end up on the street. If you have a large home, an extra room, or an empty home or apartment: please contribute your space should impacted tenants need housing fast.
  • Help us find affordable and safe homes for impacted tenants. If you are a landlord or know someone renting properties in Rhode Island please let us know. We are particularly on the look out for homes for rent in West Warwick, Johnston, and Woonsocket. But please email us regardless of where in Rhode Island the home is located.

Reclaim and impacted Pioneer tenants are aggressively pursuing legal remedies. But to our knowledge, this would be the first time ever that tenants’ legal right to organize has ever been tested in Rhode Island court—at least in memory. Pioneer Investments “is trying to break our union by forcing these tenants from their homes. We must ensure that this is instead the first major tenant victory against a Rhode Island slumlord,” writes Reclaim RI in a statement. “A victory that lays the groundwork for a mass movement of tenants in this state that puts an end to slumlord exploitation and abuse.”

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West Warwick