Tenants sue landlord for neglecting repairs, maintenance

A fire in a Kingsbridge apartment building in September 2017 is still wrecking havoc on the lives of its tenants eight months later.

And now the residents of 1920 Walton Avenue are taking legal action against landlords Manny Stein and Jacob Finkelstein for delaying essential repairs to the building and neglecting tenant needs.

The Legal Aid Society’s Bronx Tenant Rights Coalition filed the housing lawsuit just days ago.

When the massive five-alarm fire ravaged the top floor of the six-story, 84-unit pre war building, it left many residents out in the cold after vacate orders were issued by the city. Some tenants were forced to live in homeless shelters.

The building has 135 open violations, 62 of which are immediately hazardous, according to The Legal Aid Society.

“The landlord of 1920 Walton Avenue has been ignoring our clients’ requests for reasonable repairs for years, forcing them to live in steadily deteriorating conditions,” said Zoe Kheyman, staff attorney at The Legal Aid Society. “Since the September 2017 fire, the landlord has refused to make timely repairs, cutting off cooking gas and elevator service, while leaving dust, holes, and construction materials throughout the building for months,” she added.

Kyra Santiago and her three children have been living nomadically around the Bronx since the fire.

While her fourth floor unit wasn’t directly in the path of the flames, the apartment still needed to undergo renovation, which still has not begun.

“The landlord said we had to leave, we were told to leave all of our belongings in the middle of the unit and they would take care of getting it all out, we came back to see our things damaged and covered with dust and dirt residue,” said Santiago. “It’s June now and we still can’t move back in,” she vented.

Before the fire, systemic conditions have plagued 1920 Walton Avenue for years, The Legal Aid Society reports.

Conditions such as: dirty common areas; periodic lack of elevator services, which has impacted elderly and disabled tenants rendering them frequently homebound; and vermin infestations.

All of the problems were repeatedly brought to the attention of management and routinely ignored, residents say.

Tenants also report ongoing mice and roach infestations, broken windows, gaping holes in walls and ceilings from unfinished gas pipe work, and a refusal from management to address these problems.

Their court case seeks to require the landlord to make the necessary repairs so that residents can return to their homes and have habitable living conditions.

Petitioners are also asking the court to award monetary damages for the harassment they have experienced from the landlord depriving them of essential services.

“The ongoing terrible conditions in 1920 Walton have caused some families to abandon their otherwise affordable rent stabilized homes, while others who have been forced out because of unresolved vacate orders are staying in shelters or with family and friends but still hope to return after the repairs are made. 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 Jessica Bellinder, supervising attorney of the Bronx Tenants Rights Coalition of The Legal Aid Society.

The Bronx Times Reporter reached out to the property’s management but did not receive an answer by press time.