Hialeah tenants protest after investment company raises rent

Many tenants of an apartment complex in Hialeah could become homeless as soon as next month if their new landlord insists on increasing monthly rent by up to $650, the group said Wednesday evening at a protest in the building’s parking lot.

Residents have seen smaller increases before, but nothing this large, according to the tenants. That changed when Eco Landing Development LLC, representing Miami-based real estate company Eco Stone Group, purchased the building from an area doctor days before Jan. 1, government records show. The apartment building — located at 1501 W 42nd St. — is two stories with 20 two-bedroom units.

Hours before the protest, the Herald called and sent an email to Eco Stone Group — the building’s new owner. They could not be reached for comment.

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Rachel Rubi and Ana Sierra, 85, protest at the apartment building located at 1501 W 42nd St. in Hialeah on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. Many tenants of the building could become homeless as soon as next month if new landlord Eco Landing Development LLC, representing Eco Stone Group, insists on increasing their monthly rent by $650. David Santiago [email protected]

About 30 protesters, including tenants, demanded fair rent and better conditions while chanting in Spanish “Neighbors united, will never be defeated” and “Today is us, tomorrow it could be you,” among other phrases.

Some of the residents’ demands included a six-month transition period with no rent increases, the rent not surpassing $1,200 once the transition period ends and year-long leases to avert surprise rent hikes, according to the tenants.

The renters added that they are already dealing with an unsanitary living environment as the apartment’s trash bin was removed — forcing residents to leave trash where the bin used to be.

Ana Sierra, 85, one of the building’s tenants, said the rent of her two-bedroom unit would jump from $1,200 to $1,650 on Feb. 1, a 37.5% increase.

She’s lived in the apartment complex for the last two years with her grandson, Eldis Cabezas, a 33-year-old truck driver. Sierra and Cabezas said they signed a year-long lease with the previous owner in December, but never received a copy of the contract.

Cabezas added that he was offered his deposit back and an extra $1,000 if they chose to leave in February.

“They want to kick us out,” Cabezas added in Spanish.

Last year, Miami-Dade County’s fair market rent — which determines the eligibility of rental housing units for the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program — was $1,551 for a two-bedroom apartment, more than $100 less than Sierra’s new rent.

In the Miami Herald’s Priced Out of Paradise series, published in 2019, an analysis of Census data indicated that more than 60% of Miami-Dade renters spend more than 30% of their salary on housing.

Rachel Rubí, a 24-year-old graphic designer, said she has lived in the building her entire life with her mother, who immigrated from Nicaragua. She added that the rent of her two-bedroom apartment unit would also increase from $1,000 to $1,650, a 65% jump.

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Rachel Rubi is one of the residents of the Hialeah apartment building at 1501 W 42nd St. She’s holding a notice sent by the new administration on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. David Santiago [email protected]

“We have been living calmly in here. We never thought that gentrification would ever get to us,” Rubí said.

Yudet Pérez is a cosmetologist who lives with her husband and daughter. They are currently paying $1,050, according to the 46-year-old, who noted that they, too, would have to pay $1,650 starting Feb. 1.

Pérez added that she’s worried her family would temporarily face homelessness since they can’t afford the rent increase. On Dec. 30, she said they received a 15-day notice to vacate the premises.

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Tenant Judie Pérez said she received a 15-day notice to vacate the premises. Yudet Pérez

Who is Eco Stone Group?

Founded by two brothers in 2003, Eco Stone Group has been “looking for the best investment opportunities in real state,” according to the company’s website.

Eco Stone Group’s president, Juan Gómez, and its CEO, Javier Gómez, tout on the company’s website that “they have built more than one million residential and commercial square feet in Miami.”

They have worked in “recognized projects,” the website details, such as Jefferson Hotel, Miami River Inn, East River, Smart Brickell, Habitat Hotel, Habitat Residencial and Brickell City View.

When the brothers find an investment property, they purchase, repair and manage it before they “create sale exit strategies to start with new opportunities,” the website notes.

But long before the Gómez brothers find their exit strategy with the Hialeah apartment building, its tenants such as Pérez could be forced out of their apartments — potentially leaving them homeless.

“Javier and Juan Gómez have mistreated and intimidated us,” Pérez said. “This is abusive.”

This story was originally published January 12, 2022 9:49 PM.

Miami Herald Real Time Reporter Devoun Cetoute covers breaking news, Florida’s coronavirus pandemic and general assignment. He’s a graduate of the University of Florida and grew up in Miami. Theme parks, movies and cars are on his mind in and out of the office.

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