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New legal changes are giving tenants a dog in the fight agaisnt harassment

Tenants sue landlord in groundbreaking harassment case

Exposed lighting and wiring in the lobby of 1058 Southern Blvd.
Bronx Times
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An apartment building in the south Bronx is the first to sue its landlord under the city’s new definition for harrassment.

Long winter days and nights spent in the freezing cold have pushed Foxhurst tenants into legal action.

Complaints concerning no heat nor hot water, rats, roaches, a faulty elevator, and exposed wiring are yet to be addressed by management at 1054-1058 Southern Boulevard.

The six floor, 55-unit building currently faces 128 different NYC Housing and Preservation Department violations, garnering 21 complaints for no heat and hot water since last December.

“It appears that the landlord has been stonewalling our clients’ requests for reasonable repairs for years, forcing them to live in steadily deteriorating conditions” said Jessica Bellinder, the tenants’ attorney on behalf of the Legal Aid Council.

The lawsuit targets the property’s ownership, Southern 634 LLC, which shares an address with a law office in Flushing, Queens.

The property’s management firm, Midas Property Management, is constantly criticized by tenants for not maintaining the building and failing to communicate with its residents.

“The biggest problem is the roaches and rats,” said Abigail Acevedo, who lives on the 6th floor. “The rats are in the courtyard and running all over the place,” she added.

“There’s been many days with no heat nor hot water,” said Lisa Ortega who’s called her apartment overlooking the Simpson Street IRT train line home for 23 years. “I was sent a threatening letter for calling 311 too much,” she added.

Ortega also holds the role of tenant association leader for her building.

“We conducted home visits and saw that the conditions were terrible,” said Zoe Kheyman, who is working with Bellinder on the case. “I’ve had tenants call me from a Dunkin’ Donuts because their apartments were just too cold,” she added.

This case is the first of its kind.

The recently expanded legal definition of harassment within the Housing Maintenance Code was introduced in the closing days of 2017 to include the failure of providing essential services, such as heat and hot water.

While services to the older tenants in the building are shaky, its empty units are undergoing major renovations.

One recently redone 3-bedroom unit is listed on the market for $2,150 per month.

“This utter disregard for tenants’ living conditions and protracted denial of essential services is often calculated to force tenants out of their otherwise affordable rent-regulated apartments,” said Bellinder.

“Before this definition of harassment was expanded, it was much more difficult to prove that cutting off such services constituted harassment,” said Kheyman. “Once tenants show the landlord has not provided essential services, this new law shifts the burden onto the landlord to show that cutting off such services is not harassment,” she added.

Now, these tenants have more legal power to hold landlords accountable for the violations and lack of necessities provided.

Complaints have fallen on deaf ears because most residents aren’t sure who to call.

“They don’t give us the landlord’s contact information and the property management never addresses our issues,” said Ortega.

“We have written to the landlord and received no response,” said Kheyman.

The building’s boiler was replaced after the new year. However, the latest ‘heat’ complaint was filed on Friday, February 2.

“This is exactly the kind of behavior that the recent amendments to the definition of harassment in the Housing Maintenance Code are intended to address,” said Bellinder.

The first court date is Friday, February 16. Kheyman explained that the main aspect of the hearing is to fix the property first and then focus on client damages.

Kheyman expressed concern about facing an ‘uphill battle’ due to the lack of correspondence from the property’s management and ownership.

“We are hopeful that through this case and others like it, tenants can get the repairs they need and get their landlords to treat them with greater respect,” said Bellinder.

Bronx Times reached out to Midas Property Management, but did not receive a response by press time.

Updated 5:13 pm, July 9, 2018
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