University Ave. tenants fight for better housing

A group of Morris Heights renters rallied on University Avenue Monday to demand their landlord improve living conditions in the building.
Photo by Edwin Soto

Residents of a University Avenue apartment building are fighting for better living conditions and less landlord harassment.

On Monday, April 17, tenants of 1841-1847 University Avenue, along with members of the Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition, Councilman Fernando Cabrera and other elected officials, held a press conference to focus on the their living conditions.

Following the conference, many of the tenants opened the doors to their apartments to show examples of their poor living conditions.

The list of the building’s deficiencies seemed endless.

For more than six months, tenants of the 6-story, pre-war building have been faced with a lack of heat and hot water, water leaks, mold, broken appliances, collapsing ceilings, a non-working intercom, poor hallway lighting, broken mailboxes ands rodent and roach infestations.

Tenants have also been faced with a lack of essential repairs, such as broken plumbing and holes in the floors and walls.

The residents claim they have also been persistently harassed by the building management company, Universal Heights 18 LLC, as well as landlord Robert Khomari, while their rent has either increased or been overcharged without merit.

Many of the residents have received threatening letters from the landlord and management company demanding that they pay money which they do not owe, while others have been told that they have days to move out, even though they are up to date on their rent payments, according to the complaints.

“My rent has skyrocketed, and for an apartment with roaches, mice and no repairs – that’s not right,” said tenant Chastity Pagan, whose rent increased to $1,600 in a month, which is $200 more than she used to pay. “I’m worried that I am going to be homeless if this continues.”

“The landlord is trying to bully us – especially the elderly residents,” said another resident who has lived in the building for the last 47 years but wished to remain anonymous, and who has also experienced what she believes are illegal rent increases. “I know I’m paying my rent because I certify everything and get a notice every month, but he (the landlord) still sends me letters saying I owe him money.”

“These tenants are standing up for their right to live in decent conditions and not be harassed by landlords when they have paid their rent and met all of their responsibilities,” said Councilman Fernando Cabrera, who also said that more than 70% of the cases handled by his office are related to housing issues.

Cabrera recently called for legislation requiring NYC Housing Preservation and Development to implement a zero tolerance policy against landlord harassment and poor building conditions.

“I am a strong advocate for tenants – and I stand with these residents to call for an immediate end to deplorable conditions of their homes as well as landlord harassment,” he added.

Last month, the tenants sent a letter to the management company asking them for a meeting to address the housing deficiencies, but they did not get a reply.

However, with the assistance of the NWCCC and the Support of Legal Service, the tenants recently filed a case in the NYC Housing Court. NWBCCC has also assisted the tenants in strategizing a response to the extensive incidents of harassment.

The building currently has ten open violations with the NYC Department of Buildings, according to the Building Information System.

Khomari, as well as Universal Heights 18 LLC, did not return requests for comment.

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