En EspaƱol Know Your Rights
Source: Daily News
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Landlord's Workers Rip out Walls & Toilets to 'Fix' Rent-Control Apartments

The Washington
Heights tenement
87-year-old Anna Reyneso calls home has become a special kind of hell.

When
Reyneso needs to use the bathroom at night, she must wake her daughter, reach
for a flashlight and trek down a dark hall to a vacant unit.

"There
are no lights in there, she can’t go by herself," Reyneso’s daughter
Rosealba Almanzar, 50, said.

This is
life at 452 Fort Washington Ave.,
where tenants have waged a three-year battle with slumlord Dorothea Levine over
remarkably decrepit conditions.

As of this
week, the 54-unit building had more than 400 open code violations, more than 60
deemed "immediately hazardous," ranking it among the city’s worst,
Department of Housing Preservation and Development records show.

Again and
again landlord Levine has been cited for lead paint, rats, mice and roaches,
exposed wires, broken smoke detectors and moldy ceilings, the records show.

Conditions
hit a new low in January when contractors arrived at Almanzar’s apartment and
claimed they needed to make repairs in her bathroom. They tore out her toilet,
tub, floors and walls.

"They
said they were going to fix it, but they never came back," Almanzar said.
"How are we supposed to live like this?"

The
building code gives landlords 24 hours to repair unusable bathrooms. Three
families at the building have lived for six months without sinks, showers or
toilets.

Records
show that nearly 60 of the violations building management claimed to have
repaired in 2007 and 2008 still existed when inspectors returned.

City
records show Levine owns the building as head officer of the Tyvan Hill Co. A
man who answered a phone at the company said "no comment" before
hanging up.

Housing
activist Irene Tung said similar
stories are playing out across the city as landlords try to get more money for
rent-subsidized units. "We see this everyday," said Tung, who works for the nonprofit Make the Road by Walking. "They do
anything and everything to get the tenants out."

HPD tried
to make emergency repairs at the building but contractors were turned away,
agency spokesman Seth Donlin said.

"The
super and the landlord deny us access to the building," Donlin said.

Three
times his agency asked a Housing
Court judge to issue warrants, but management has
used "various delaying tactics," Donlin said.

In June,
the city took the unusual step of suing to take over the building. The city
took the step in just 37 cases in fiscal 2008.

Tenant
leader Gladys Salva, 73, was at her wits’ end over conditions at her home of 35
years. Salva, who pays $715 a month for a three-bedroom unit, said the elevator
recently stopped working, stranding her wheelchair-bound daughter, Tina Marie,
inside. The 40-year-old has cerebral palsy.

"I
have a problem with my heart and this is killing me," Salva said.
"This is like the story that never ends."