Residents accuse landlords of ‘nightmare’ living conditions
And you thought your landlord was bad.
Residents around the city are battling their landlords in court cases, from alleging purposely awful conditions to refusing to fix things. In some cases, landlords are even accused of violence.
One recent lawsuit began this month in the Lower East Side, where residents are suing the developer of their building, saying he is trying to force them out by creating horrible living conditions.
Residents of 143 Ludlow Street filed a lawsuit against the building’s developer this month, citing 145 housing-code violations like collapsed ceilings and worrisome walls.
The suit, which was filed by the Urban Justice Center’s Community Development Project, accuses the developer, Samy Mahfar, of trying to drive out eight remaining rent-stabilized residents by hazardous conditions.
Mahfar told Metro he was not trying to drive out tenants.
“That allegation is absolutely false,” he said.
Mahfar said all problems they know about have been fixed, including upgrades to the building like a new boiler and roof.
But residents cited collapsed ceilings, electrical fires and flooding that left soft apartment walls.
“The worst of the worst landlords don’t respond to anything but court cases,” said Brandon Kielbasa, an organizer with the Cooper Square Committee, which co-filed the lawsuit.
And Kielbasa said this happens often on the Lower East Side, as builders start constructing new spaces even as rent-stabilized people refuse to leave.
The construction seems purposely chaotic, he said.
“It’s run amok in this awful way that we see often down here,” Kielbasa said. “It’s hard to imagine the construction could unintentionally get this bad.”
Mary Ellen Bizzarri, 32, a special education teacher who has lived in the Ludlow building for eight years, described a hole in her wall as “soft” after a construction incident soaked it.
“It became really clear that they did not care about us as tenants,” she said.
Carine Montbertrand, 46, an actress who has lived in her apartment for 20 years, said they did not have heat from October to February during the construction of a new heating system. Then, as they were renovating the apartment above hers, the ceiling collapsed.
“[My boyfriend] heard this crash and he went into the bathroom, and there was a guy looking down on him from above,” she said.
Most New Yorkers are unaware they can sue their landlord, said Sunny Noh, supervising attorney in New York Legal Assistance Group’s Storm Response Unit.
“A lot of them just haven’t known that’s an option for them or are scared to do it or are traumatized,” she said.
And many might be nervous about suing someone that controls the building where they sleep at night.
“Landlords have ways of retaliating that are very scary,” said Stephanie Rudolph, a staff attorney at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.
Other landlord lawsuits
Kielbasa’s group was also involved in a lawsuit regarding an East 4th Street building where the landlord was sued about a year ago. The building’s landlord was taken to court when fire alarms, the intercom and front doors were broken, he said. By the time they made it to court, some of the violations were taken care of: “They pay attention” to court orders, he said.
In January, the city’s worst landlord as ranked by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio got rid of three buildings it owned. College Management, which owned three buildings on College Avenue, was ranked No. 1 on de Blasio’s Worst Landlords Watch List. The company had more than 700 infractions under its belt, including toxic mold, rats and holes in the walls.
Many landlords still have not fixed apartments wrecked during Hurricane Sandy, Noh said. In many cases, problems were present before the storm, and the hurricane exacerbated them or added new issues. Landlords are slow to fix them, and they often argue that they were not caused by the storm, Noh said. In one Far Rockaway case now in court, the family’s ceiling collapsed in two rooms because of wind and water damage to the roof. But the landlord said the storm did not cause those conditions. “It’s not much of a stretch to assume that water coming through the roof would affect the ground of the apartment that has access to the roof,” Noh said.
Garrett Wright at the Urban Justice Center recounted a Bronx landlord they sued. In this case, the super made death threats against tenants, and one tenant said relatives of the super stabbed him. The lawsuit argued that the landlord was liable for the super’s conduct. Conditions in the building were also awful, residents said. The court eventually appointed an independent administrator to take over the building, which is trying to evict the super more than a year after the case was filed.
Bronx residents struggle in housing court
A new report released last Friday by the Community Action for Safe Apartments and the Urban Justice Center’s Community Development Project reveals that Bronx tenants face hurdles to avoid eviction. The report charges that housing court is too confusing for most tenants to navigate on their own, without an attorney. About 83 percent of tenants did not have a lawyer, according to the report. “Navigating the Bronx Housing Court system has been the most confusing, humiliating and challenging experience,” tenant Carmen Vega-Rivera said in the report.