Iowa City Tenants Union to change tenant representation in Iowa City, Johnson County

The Iowa City Tenants Union (ICTU) held their first meeting in efforts to connect tenants and renters on Tuesday at at the Mercer Park Aquatic Center.


Emily Wangen

Graphic by Emily Wangen

Sabrina Shearer, Arts Reporter

A new organization has formed in Iowa City to combat renters’ discrepancies with their landlords.

The Iowa City Tenants Union has collected signatures from Iowa City and Johnson County renters since November 2018 to identify reports of landlord abuse and gain the support of tenants, according to the group’s press release.

“The tenant-led organization seeks to connect renters and provide them with the resources they need to fight for their rights,” the release said.

Tenant Union member Matt Drabek said the organization started as a project of the Iowa City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. The group members decided that housing justice was a major area they wanted to focus on.

“The group is about building tenant power,” Drabek said.

The Tenants Union set out to collect responses monthly from renters to gauge interest; a majority of the time, tenants respond with issues dealing with their landlords, he said.

According to the press release, issues include maintenance neglect, security-deposit theft, sexual harassment, and increases in rent.

The idea of the organization formed roughly a year ago, and while the group is still in the early stages of development, the next stages include appointing board members, creating a solidified staff, and implementing bylaws to officially launch, Drabek said.

The Tenants Union serves a dense student population, but while there were a number of students interested in taking action with the organization, most people were nonstudent residents of Iowa City, Drabek said.

Drabek said he has had experience with tenant-living conditions for students after working in Bloomington, Indiana, the home of Indiana University.

“There are certain similarities there, but I think broadly speaking, there is a culture where it is normal and expected for landlords to rip people off,” Drabek said.

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Tenants Union member Andrea Truitt has spent most of her time canvassing in student neighborhoods, gathering information regarding renters’ living conditions. She was not shocked by the overall response of tenants, she said, considering the conditions of the properties for the students.

“It’s a transient population, and you’ll be here four years, but you won’t be renting from that same person during those years,” Truitt said, “There’s not the same level of investment in the community.”

The Tenants Union believes that every person deserves a safe, affordable place to call home. The members are open to all renters and allies of tenants in Iowa City and Johnson County, according to the press release.

Truitt described the culture of tenant living in Iowa City and Johnson County as being overpriced, even for people who can afford it.

“Much of one’s budget goes toward monthly rent when it could be used for student or credit debt … even with a decent living situation you can afford, [landlords] take you for a ride by not keeping up with properties,” Truitt said, “There’s a certain amount of neglect, even if it’s benign.”

The organization will hold its next meeting at 6:30 p.m. June 25 at the Mercer Park Aquatic Center, 2701 Bradford Drive.