WARWICK, RI — Jeffrey Butler, Warwick property management businessman and landlord, sued by the the R.I. Center for Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union of RI, has agreed to drop retaliatory evictions against two tenants who contacted tenant organizers and local officials.
Butler, who left voicemails and notices threatening four tenants with retaliatory evictions for associating with non-profit tenant organizer Reclaim RI, agreed in an interim settlement not to proceed with any evictions based on the tenants’ meeting or talking to tenant organizers or reaching out to town health and safety officials, according to a statement on the lawsuit from the ACLU.
Butler emailed numerous Elmwood Realty tenants, including each of the plaintiffs, stating his opposition to Reclaim RI’s tenant organizing efforts and threatening eviction of any tenant associating with the tenant organization.
In a phone conversation with a tenant Oct. 19, Butler told her that he knew that she was working with Reclaim RI, which has also made headlines in the Providence Journal and UpriseRI for its efforts to help tenants of Pioneer Investments, LLC, which owns at least 60 properties in the state. Tenants renting from the landlord have similarly been met with eviction notices upon organizing with Reclaim RI to address repairs and living condition improvements in their apartments.
In the settlement, the defendants also agreed to defer action on evictions for any other reason against the two tenants, Jordan Towns and Krystie Wood, until the matter is heard on the merits. (Two of the other original plaintiffs in the suit have withdrawn from the case.) Under the agreement, the defendants also “acknowledge that it is legal and within their rights for tenants to speak with organizers from a tenants’ union or similar organization, and that it is legal and within their rights for tenants to invite organizers from a tenants’ union or similar organization into their homes.”
The agreement leaves unresolved the lawsuit’s request for damages for the plaintiffs and attorneys’ fees. A hearing has been set for February 29th if those issues cannot be resolved.
The lawsuit pointed out the chilling effect that the landlord’s threats had against tenants who talked to the Reclaim RI organizers: they were “presented with an illegal and impermissible ultimatum by their landlord: either forego exercising a right guaranteed to them by state law, or face eviction.”
The suit was filed in R.I. District Court in Providence by Center for Justice attorneys Jennifer Wood, Samuel Cramer and John Karwashan, and ACLU cooperating attorney Lynette Labinger.
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