Highbridge tenants prepare for court battle

Disgruntled tenants at 1380 University Avenue in Highbridge rallied outside the 17-story apartment building ahead of a January court date against landlord Martin Carlin. Photo by Walter Pofeldt

A Highbridge Avenue apartment building is headed for a battle royal in court. On Tuesday, November 17, tenants at 1380 University Avenue announced a lawsuit against landlord Martin Carlin, who has allegedly failed to repair apartments and keep elevators in order.

Months ago, tenant leaders at the building discovered that Carlin had allegedly accepted millions of dollars in Mitchell-Lama tax credits although 1380 University Avenue is no longer a Mitchell-Lama development. Tenant leaders also believe that Carlin has breached rent regulation rules.

“There are still rats,” tenant leader Victoria Lassiter said. “There is mold. There are broken terraces. The elevators are out of order more often than not.”

There are 278 open city Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) violations at 1380 University Avenue, a 17-story, 139-unit building. The violations range from mold to broken locks on the building’s front door, broken windows and doors, damaged walls, leaks and vermin.

Lassiter and tenant leader Barbara Williamson began to organize at 1380 University Avenue in the spring. In May, tenants bused to City Hall to protest conditions at the building. In June, representatives for Councilwoman Helen Diane Foster and Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. toured 1380 University Avenue.

Meanwhile, Carlin had sued Lassiter and Williamson for back rent, and in a June interview with the Bronx Times, blamed tenant leaders for the trouble. Lassiter, Williamson and a handful of other tenants are still in court, as Carlin has sued for back rent; the Legal Aid Society helped persuade a judge to try the tenants’ cases together. Carlin and his lawyer, Eric Wughalter, chose not to comment for this story.

The dispute at 1380 University Avenue eventually attracted lawyers from the Urban Justice Center and advocates from the Community Association for Safe Apartments (CASA), who helped Lassiter, Williamson and 55 additional tenants sue Carlin for repairs. The first court date is Monday, January 4, Tamara Czyzyk of CASA said.

Carlin opted out of the Mitchell-Lama affordable housing program in 1997 but continued to accept Mitchell-Lama tax breaks and failed to re-register the building as rent-regulated, Czyzyk alleged. The landlord has completed a number of illegal apartment conversions at 1380 University Avenue, Lassiter said. Her apartment was converted from a two to a three bedroom, she stated.

Lawyers are in the process of computing the appropriate rent for tenants at the building.

HPD agents offered Carlin 90 days to explain the Mitchell-Lama tax breaks but the landlord failed to respond, Williamson alleged. She hopes the Department of Finance goes after Carlin. In June, an HPD spokesman stated that the city had never encountered a situation like Carlin’s before.

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