Tenant union members tape a letter to Ocean Management on the door to their office building. Over 50 tenants signed the letter. Shahrzad Rasekh / CT Mirror

A management company in New Haven has entered official negotiations with residents of one of its properties, marking the first time in Connecticut a landlord has signed documents promising to work with a tenant union.

According to a memorandum of understanding between Ocean Management and the Blake Street Tenant Union, the company has promised to rescind eviction notices sent to 16 residents in the apartment building last month, letting the people stay in their homes. The agreement also states neither side will take certain legal action for a three month “cooling off” period while negotiations are ongoing.

“On August 19, 16 members of the Blake Street Tenant Union were served ‘notices to quit’ by their landlord company, Ocean Management, in retaliation for Union organizing,” a Wednesday press release from the tenant union states. “On Friday, September 1 — the date by which tenants were supposed to have moved out of their homes or face eviction proceedings — Ocean Management and the BSTU reached a historic deal.”

Tenant union members from around the state had gathered in New Haven last week to protest the evictions.

State lawmakers such as Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven, and U.S. Congressman Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., as well as New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker had joined protesters, according to reporting from the New Haven Independent.

In addition to the rally, tenant union members had filed for injunctive relief in court, an action that has now been withdrawn as part of the agreement.

The tenant union also agreed to withdraw a fair rent commission complaint. “Today was an important first step in developing a productive relationship,” the contract between the tenants and landlord reads.

Ocean Management did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday afternoon.

The agreement marks a momentous step for the state’s tenant union movement, which has been growing for the past couple of years.

Earlier this summer, the Connecticut Tenants Union officially voted in officers and implemented a constitution. The moves will allow it to potentially gain more political power and work with labor unions to achieve their goals.

About 10 tenant unions have formed in Connecticut since 2021. They function similarly to labor unions and draw their strength from numbers. Tenant organizing has a long history in the United States, and the movement gained more attention in places such as New York City when tenants went on rent strikes during the pandemic.

Connecticut residents who join unions are shielded from landlord retaliation for six months after the union forms, according to a law passed in the 1970s. The recent movement is leading to other potential protections. 

In New Haven, unions can issue complaints to the city’s fair rent commission as a collective, one recent example of government recognition of tenant unions in the state. The union that brought the request was formed in opposition to alleged poor conditions at the Quinnipiac Gardens complex.

The ability to complain as a union to the fair rent commission — which has the authority to curb unfair rent increases — means that tenants can complain with less fear of retaliation.

Negotiations will include discussion over rent increases, lease terms, apartment maintenance and communication standards, according to the union’s press release.

Tenant union members pushed for limits on annual rent increases during the legislative session. Public hearings for the measure drew large crowds, but the measure didn’t pass the Housing Committee.

Ginny is CT Mirror's children's issues and housing reporter and a Report for America corps member. She covers a variety of topics ranging from child welfare to affordable housing and zoning. Ginny grew up in Arkansas and graduated from the University of Arkansas' Lemke School of Journalism in 2017. She began her career at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette where she covered housing, homelessness, and juvenile justice on the investigations team. Along the way Ginny was awarded a 2019 Data Fellowship through the Annenberg Center for Health Journalism at the University of Southern California. She moved to Connecticut in 2021.