Mr. Don’t-Fix-It

The Sisley landlords stay committed to low maintenance in Northeast Seattle.

When Amerberkiah Szczerba's landlord, John Sisley, showed up at her Lake City apartment a few weeks ago to fix her oven himself, she somewhat skeptically asked, "Where'd you learn to fix stoves?" "I kind of followed my dad around when I was little," Sisley replied, according to Szczerba.

Turns out, Szczerba knew exactly who papa Sisley was. Through a twist of fate, the 19-year-old Seattle Central Community College student ended up moving into a 19-unit, three-story building owned by Sisley, who had been a friend of her mother's years ago. And so Szczerba knew that her landlord's father was Drake Sisley, who along with his brother, Hugh, rank as two of the most notorious landlords in the city. The brothers own an empire of shabby buildings in the University District (see "He Won't Do Nothing for You," May 27, 1998), and ceded management of many of those to an even shadier figure, Keith Gilbert, a former Aryan Nation member convicted last year of illegally selling and possessing dozens of guns.

As far as the younger Sisley is concerned, Szczerba says that it took him more than two months to fix the oven, which she discovered on her first night was stuck on a high heat setting after it charred a roast chicken. She also says she found her $800-a-month, two-bedroom unit filthy when she and her roommate moved in. The carpets hadn't been cleaned, the walls hadn't been painted, and in the bathroom, "there were layers upon layers of mold," she claims. She and her roommate ended up having to repaint the bathroom themselves.

In a unit across the hall, Humberto Quintero points to a smattering of black dots around his windowsill—the telltale signs of mold—which compels him and his wife to clean the walls every few days. Quintero, who shares the apartment with his wife and three kids, says he's been complaining of a ceiling leak over the shower for months, but has gotten no response from Sisley. To top it off, he says, his landlord never replaced his carpets after a fire in the unit downstairs, leaving them still smelling of smoke.

Sisley, a lawyer, blames the smoky carpets on a poor job done by the company that was contracted to clean them, and on the failure of his insurance company to pay for new ones. He says he doesn't know about any leaky ceiling and can only fix the problems he knows about.

As for following in his father's infamous footsteps, Sisley says, "I'm trying really hard not to do that. I'm trying to do positive things." But Sisley says that he has had difficulties running the building on 33rd Avenue Northeast, which he bought six years ago for $1.8 million as his first and only rental property, located one door down from a health club he also owns, called Aqua Dive. He says tenants—including Szczerba and her roommate, who admit to bouncing one check—have failed to pay rent on time, and needed upgrades to the building often cost more than he has. Consequently, Sisley says, he's selling the building to someone who has promised to put money into it.

And while he says, "My wife and I aren't going to be running apartments anymore," Sisley is planning on keeping a finger in real estate by building new town homes—at a location he won't disclose.

 
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