Rent increase triggers protest at high-rise

Max Rust

Few, if any, residents usually show up for the Chateau’s board of directors’ meetings.
But Sunday, more than 20 people packed the Dinkytown high-rise’s meeting room and voiced complaints about a recent board decision to raise rent $11 per person.
The decision raised tensions between residents and resulted in what some of the Chateau’s longtime tenants called one of the biggest conflicts in the cooperative’s 26-year existence.
The stir originated in a September board of directors’ vote to fund the installation and operation of an Ethernet network, a high-speed Internet link.
Since then, a protest movement has developed within the 127-unit Chateau. Angry residents charge the 16-member board with working undemocratically while deciding to raise rent.
Board members say complaints rose too late and that residents should have levied grievances before the issue was voted on in September.
Central to the debate is an August building-wide survey gauging opinions about the Ethernet line.
Only 47 of the 300 residents responded. Of those, 32 rejected the proposal and 15 supported it: evidence, say opponents, that the board is operating undemocratically by superseding the wishes of the residents.
“From the survey, only 15 people agreed to the Ethernet. Why do they consider that the majority of the people?” asked Shizu Mochizuki, a University junior in nursing and Chateau resident.
Board President Peter Easterlund said the survey did not weigh heavily into the decision.
“Because it was such a low turnout … it was seen as a neutral reaction,” he said.
Soon after Ethernet angst started simmering in October, residents conducted two of their own surveys. Each documented 70 to 100 opponents, but less than 10 in the pro-Ethernet camp.
Board members fired back, calling the surveys “biased” and “judgmental.”
“If they were to make any input into this process, they should have participated before,” said board member Alex Volinsky. “What they are saying is that the decision of the board is wrong, but they elected the board to make decisions for them.”
The Chateau board is elected annually. Because the Chateau is a co-op, the board votes on decisions that otherwise a landlord might make, such as capital improvements and policy issues. Meetings are sparsely attended and, until recently, Easterlund said, not enough people have been interested in Chateau government to fill the board.
Resident Alec Smith, a second-year College of Liberal Arts student, was drawn to Sunday’s meeting by a flyer, one of several ways residents can learn about the board’s actions.
“As far as I can see it, the board is kind of a formal voice of the Chateau members,” Smith said. But “I don’t see that in this case. I see it as the board operating on its own.”
Some fired-up residents have taken their cause out of the boardroom and pointed their anger at other residents.
A group of anti-Ethernet residents received a hostile note under there door earlier this month.
Part of the note read: “Get a clue. The board has already voted! You can’t do anything to change it! Get a life, and stop giving us this stupid shit. No one cares!”
But William Dane said he does care.
Dane, a University Student Legal Service attorney, was contacted by residents challenging the Ethernet decision.
The group said it had two legal qualms about the violation of Chateau bylaws: first, the board of directors didn’t respond to complaints. Second, the board didn’t respond to a request for a special meeting.
Board President Easterlund said the claims are groundless.
Dane said he is uncertain whether bylaws were broken but will watch for further developments and might represent the students if legal action is needed.
“It seems to me that the real basis for challenging on behalf of Chateau residents is when (the Chateau board) tries to charge additional amounts,” Dane said. “The residents probably aren’t really inconvenienced until that happens, and then it becomes a question of whether they followed their bylaws.”
Those charges are likely to come in February when the Ethernet wiring is installed.
Opponents said they would like the board to break a recently signed contract with the installation company, an action board members say is unlikely to occur.
Building-wide board elections will take place next month.

Max Rust covers the community and welcomes comments at [email protected]