A Metro Boston photographer snapped a shot of a man at Brighton-based City Realty Group flipping off a group of Massachusetts tenants as they braved the rain today to protest the company for what they consider to be predatory rent spikes and unfair, no-fault evictions.
Chelsea City-Wide Tenants Association organized the protest outside the company's Chestnut Hill Avenue office. The event comes one day before a local couple's eviction hearing in Chelsea District Court.
Attempts to contact City Realty Group for comment have been unsuccessful.
Advocates argue that the Brighton-based company is using the foreclosure crisis to buy up homes at rock-bottom prices, then going back on its word to tenants and instituting predatory rent hikes that are well beyond original lease agreements.
"Investors like City Realty are preying on the foreclosure crisis, causing even more harm to communities that have already been hard-hit by the economic downturn," said Eliza Parad, who heads Chelsea Collaborative’s City-Wide Tenants Association. "In places like Chelsea, these predatory rent spikes and no-fault evictions are putting a huge strain on shelters, schools and other social services. City Realty must stop the unfair evictions immediately and bring rents back in line with fair value."
Of the photograph, which Metro has censored, Parad said she was "not surprised" to hear of the offensive gesture.
"They've treated people in insulting ways in the past," she said, adding that attempts to speak to Fred Starikov, a real estate agent with City Realty Group, were unsuccessful.
"I tried to talk to him, I approached him and asked to set up a meeting, but he told us not to come any closer. He wouldn't talk to us," she said.
Starikov is pictured holding a cell phone in the office's doorway.
Chelsea resident Rafael Abarca said he is now paying $1,000 rent, but the company wants to raise the price by 25 percent.
"Hopefully (the protest) helps. We're trying very hard," Abarca said. "The rents are just way too high."