Graham Kilmer

Tenants Union Protests Berrada Properties

Landlord may be city's biggest evictor. Union calls for halt, demands Berrada negotiate with them on behalf of tenants.

By - Sep 1st, 2020 07:34 pm
Protest at Berrada Properties. Photo taken September 1st, 2020 by Graham Kilmer.

Protest at Berrada Properties. Photo taken September 1st, 2020 by Graham Kilmer.

Members of the Milwaukee Autonomous Tenants Union (MATU) picketed the headquarters for Berrada Properties Tuesday, one of the biggest landlords in the City of Milwaukee.

The company is owned by Youssef “Joe” Berrada, who has amassed thousands of rental properties in the city and around the country. His buildings are known for their trademark line of boulders placed along the front of the property, and for their high eviction rates. Berrada is likely the biggest evictor in the city. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in 2018, that Berrada was behind one out of every 10 evictions in the city.

The COVID-19 pandemic knocked many people out of their jobs, imperiling their ability to pay their rent. The tenants union said their picket was an attempt to put public pressure on Berrada. The union wants him to stop all evictions during the pandemic. State Circuit Court records show that Berrada Properties has filed well over 100 evictions since July 27. It also wants Berrada to work with them and tenants to negotiate a payment, or payment plan, before evictions are filed.

They also slammed Berrada for the state of his rental properties and a track record of poor maintenance at the hundreds of buildings he owns. For this reason, the union also demands that Berrada keep rental units clean and make timely repairs.

When MATU picketers showed up to the headquarters at 9049 N. 76th St. Tuesday, there was yellow caution tape and orange traffic cones sealing off the perimeter of the property. And there were armed security guards stationed around the property. The union said this was the first time they’ve seen the caution tape or this level of security. But one security guard told Urban Milwaukee there are always at least four security guards on the property.

It was the first of the month Tuesday. And Berrada’s headquarters has a three-lane drive-through where tenants can pay their rent. During the hour or so that Urban Milwaukee was covering the picket, there was an endless stream of cars coming into the lot to pay rent.

The tenants union represents a couple dozen Berrada tenants, said MATU member Robert Penner. Many of the Berrada tenants were reluctant to join the picket Tuesday, Penner said, out of fear of intimidation.

In recent weeks the union has attempted to deliver demands to Berrada on behalf of the tenants, which includes an end to Berrada’s eviction practices, so that he may respond and they can negotiate, Penner said. They’ve been met with complete silence. “We’ve tried to mediate with Berrada, we’ve tried to be nice,” Penner said.

In its 2018 story, the Journal Sentinel reported that housing advocates noticed Berrada appears to use “small claims court as a collection agency.” Penner said Berrada is a “Class A example of a predatory corporate landlord.”

Tenants union leaders aren’t the only ones who believe this. Cynthia “CeCe” Brown was at the picket on 76th street Tuesday with a client. Brown works with disabled and special needs people providing daily living skills-training. This could mean helping them find a job or independent housing. She was at the picket to show one of her clients, a young man, what to avoid when he’s looking for an apartment. One thing to avoid, she was telling him, is Berrada Properties.

Brown said she’s had disabled tenants and special needs clients that lived in Berrada properties that were “not up to par.” And, she said, “It made it a little more difficult for them to trust a landlord.” Brown said she’s had four clients that were evicted by Berrada.

When employment was wiped away by the pandemic, housing became one of the biggest challenges for renters and local officials. County Executive David Crowley committed $15 million to eviction prevention and rental assistance. And agencies processing applications for rental assistance have seen waves of thousands of applications for rental assistance.

The union chanted for Berrada to stop filing evictions and called him a slumlord. Several stood at the entrance to the rent payment drive-thru and handed out flyers to tenants. Some that pulled through the lot to make payments held their fist out of the window, bouncing along with the picketers’ chants.

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Categories: Real Estate, Weekly

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