Tenants at a west Bronx apartment building are turning up the heat on a landlord that left them without cooking gas for seven months.
A fire on Aug. 6, 2011 left 14 apartment units in the Mt. Eden building at 1520 Sheridan condemned, and the remaining 58 with no gas service.
Thirty tenants are now suing their landlord Chestnut Holdings in small claims court for rent abatement.
“We just want to live in safe and peaceful homes,” said tenant leader Jamira Correa. “I don’t understand how our landlord, Chestnut Holdings, who has the money to buy so many buildings in the Bronx, doesn’t have the money to compensate tenants for the lack of cooking gas.”
Carmela Moreno, another tenant, said during the time she didn’t have gas, she would have to go to her family’s house almost every day so that her children could get a hot meal.
“The hot plates they gave us didn’t work at all. On days when I couldn’t go to my family’s house, I had to spend extra money to buy dinner outside,” Moreno said.
Although all of the tenants that were ordered to vacate have now returned to their apartments, and gas service was restored in February 2012, the landlord still refuses to offer tenants compensation.
“The tenants wrote a letter to the landlord for rental abatement – not 100% – but a portion for the time they were living there without essential services,” said Stephanie Rudolph, New York Lawyers Public Interest group attorney working with the tenants. “The landlord responded that they would refuse to provide any abatement, so the tenants decided to take their case to small claims court.”
The average abatement sought is $1,500, according to Rudolph.
Tenants rallied outside of their building on Friday, Jan. 18, demanding safe, clean and affordable housing, as well as abatement for months of lack of services.
They were joined by State Assemblywoman Vanessa Gibson and members of the community organization CASA-New Settlement Apartments.
Rudolph said the tenants are just asking for what is rightfully theirs — compensation.
“Tenants are standing up for their rights,” she said. “They’ve tried to negotiate and they’ve gotten nowhere. I’m inspired by the tenants’ commitment to not only the safety of their individual apartments but to the wellbeing of their neighbors, their building, and their larger community.”
Assemblywoman Gibson said Chestnut Holding has failed to meet the basic needs of its tenants.
“This legal action is an important step in finally getting justice for the families that suffered so long and sends a clear message that we will not tolerate the actions of unscrupulous landlords,” Gibson said.
Kirsten Sanchez can be reach via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 742-3394