About a dozen people approached the home of Anurag Sureka in an upscale neighborhood cul de sac in Walpole, Massachusetts on Sunday morning, holding signs that said, among other things, “Happy 20th Anniversary to Two of RI’s Top Slumlords” and “A Slumlord Lives Here.” They were there to deliver 25 or so letters, to Sureka from tenants, detailing the repairs their apartments need to meet the minimum acceptable requirements under the law. Anurag Sureka and his spouse are the owners of Pioneer Investments LLC, one of the leading evictors in Rhode Island. When organizers mailed the letters to the Walpole address, they were returned unopened.
Renee Horne is a former tenant of Sureka and an organizer with Pioneer Tenants United, a project of Reclaim RI. Though Reclaim RI is primarily known as a legislative and electoral policy group in the state, tenant organizing takes up the majority of the group’s time. Horne, wearing a jacket emblazoned with the hard to miss words “Captain Motherfucker,” knocked on the door of Sureka’s home and rang the bell.
“Anurag, stop being a coward,” said Horne through a bullhorn. “Show your face. None of your tenants have seen it.”
Approaching the home, the group had chanted, “Anurag poisons children!” Sureka did not answer the door.
Uprise RI joined these organizers back in October when they held a rally outside A Pioneer Investments property in West Warwick, Rhode Island. A series of pieces by Amy Russo in the Providence Journal had brought to light the dangerously subpar nature of many of Sureka’s rental properties.
The letters from tenants speak of living conditions no person should endure, especially someone paying “market value” rents. Broken windows, broken appliances, toilets that do not work, a lack of screens on windows, chipping paint, mold, and rats are just some of the complaints. Lead paint has been confirmed in many apartments, and at least three children, says Reclaim RI, have experienced lead poisoning as a direct result of living in an apartment owned by the Surekas.
“Anurag Poisons Children,” chanted the people outside Sureka’s home. In a text message a tenant spoke about the effect the lead poisoning has had on his children, who are experiencing developmental delays and require extra medical care. “He doesn’t care about our kids,” said the tenant. “He doesn’t care about our families.”
Fire alarms and smoke detectors are not working, in violation of state law. Multiple tenants claim rats and mice are present everywhere. A leaking basement destroyed a person’s property. And through all the complaints, a drumbeat of lead, vermin and mold exposure.
“All 60 of his buildings have common issues,” said Renee Horne to Uprise RI, after the action was over. “There’s lead. There’s mold. There’s rats. There’s broken windows. There’s plumbing and electrical problems – and the list continues. We’re asking for state minimum standards – and that’s a low bar that he’s not reaching at all.”
The letters delivered today were code violation letters, said Horne, and Sureka has 20 days, under the law, to make repairs. “He needs to fix this stuff,” said Horne. “He just raised everybody’s rents – he wants market value – well, so don’t we. If he wants ‘market value’ pricing, he needs to up his game.
“The tenants are scared,” said Horne. “He’s a bully. He will evict anybody. He doesn’t care. He thinks he’ll just get somebody else in there. There are three children we’ve confirmed got lead poisoning from his buildings… Individuals are getting sick. Their pets are being eaten by rats… It’s awful conditions, and it’s just not right.”