The tenants at 567 Saint John’s Pl. said they are fed up with living in squalor and have had enough.
The group rallied outside their Crown Heights building Sunday afternoon along with members of the Crown Heights Tenant Union to call on a Brooklyn Housing Court judge to take urgent action addressing pests, plumbing issues and other dangerous conditions they say their landlord has failed to fix.
Tenants living in six of the property’s eight units said they filed what’s known as a 7A complaint in Brooklyn Housing Court back in June, asking the court to appoint an administrator to take over management of the building if certain dangerous conditions were allowed to persist for more than five days. In this case, tenants said they have dealt with a wide range of hazards for years.
Testimony in their case wrapped up in December, but a judge has yet to issue a decision.
Ayanna Dore said she moved into the building shortly before COVID-19 caused the city to shut down in March 2020. She said she noticed some issues at the time, but the landlord said he was unable to get supplies to make repairs because of the pandemic and would do so as soon as he could.
“I took the apartment, and within a few months of living here, everything started falling apart,” Dore said. “Bed bugs, mice, roaches. My ceiling was leaking, the floors were [coming] up.”
Dore said the conditions have exacerbated her asthma and made it harder for her to recover from COVID-19 after her recent bout with the virus. She also gave birth during the pandemic, and said her baby now “has scratches and stuff because he started crawling” on the jagged floorboards.
The building currently has 412 open violations, according to records from the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Other tenants there described living with lead paint, exposed pipes, rats and mold. Some of the building’s tenants also said they were refusing to pay rent until the situation is remedied.
Gerard Tema, the building’s landlord, told Gothamist Sunday that he has been making repairs, but was having trouble doing so without all the tenants paying rent.
“Most of the complaints are already fixed,” he said, adding, “If you don’t pay, how do you have money to fix?”
Tenants acknowledged Sunday that there have been some repairs, but that major issues remained unaddressed. For example, Dore said that management replaced a pipe after it came off of her sink, “but the severe problems, no, nothing has been done,” she said.
And if his tenants continued to withhold rent once his repairs were completed, the landlord told Gothamist he would have “no choice” but to take them to court.
Tema said that the building was scheduled for an inspection “soon,” with the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).
In a statement to Gothamist, the HPD said it is also looking forward to a ruling from the housing court judge.
“We have been strongly supporting the tenants in seeking a 7A Administrator for this building, and we are issuing appropriate violations for emergency repairs as needed,” William Fowler, deputy press secretary for the department, said Monday.
In the meantime, Fowler said that HPD is “working to perform emergency repairs to address any immediate hazards to the tenants’ health and safety, including lead-based paint and window guard conditions"
One tenant, Aron Siddo, said he had started staying with his mother because his apartment was unsuitable for his 18-month-old daughter.
“The city said I can't have the baby in that type of condition,” he said.
The Crown Heights Tenant Union launched in 2013, according to its website, to advocate for residents living in more than 40 buildings in the Brooklyn neighborhood.
Dore said that while she could rid herself of the woes by moving, it would only pass the problems onto another prospective resident of the building.
“If we don't fight, if we don't get things done, how is that going to fix the problem for anybody else who can't move or anybody else that they try to bring in after us?” she asked.
This story was updated to include comment from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.