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Know Your Rights
Source: New York Daily News
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

She Strikes Back: Bushwick Tenant, Fed up with Squalor, Sues Landlord, Sez His Girl Smacked Her

When this tenant says her landlord smacks of evil, she means it quite literally.

Bushwick residentMaria Quintanilla is set to file a lawsuit today in State Supreme Court, charging her landlord, his girlfriend, and his girlfriend’s mother tried "to drive [her] from her home with a campaign of harassment, intimidation, and violence."

"When I asked for a new lease, [the landlord’s girlfriend] said, ‘Here’s your new lease’ and hit me in the face," alleged Quintanilla, 48, a mother of three.

Her landlord, David Melendez, already is infamous as one of the city’s worst property owners, and has been sued by the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development over the condition of four of his five buildings, agency spokesman Neill Coleman said.

Melendez has an average of 16.9 violations per unit, up from 12.6 last May, when his buildings made a list of the city’s worst.

"I’m tired of these humiliations," Quintanilla said yesterday through a translator, adding that when she complained about bedbugs, Melendez allegedly told her to "get rid of them by putting them I tortillas and feeding them to [her] family."

Melendez defended himself yesterday outside his building, where advocates held a rally.

"The’re all lies," he said of the allegations.

A woman whom Quintanilla identified as his girlfriend’s mother grabbed his hand and whisked him away before he could say anything else.

Quintanilla said she hasn’t had a working shower during her 16 years in the red brick, four-story building at 198 Knickerboxer Ave. Her bathroom has holes in the ceilings and walls.

She said she had to fix the lock at her front door herself, and that Melendez hasn’t used an exterminator in years even though her apartment is infested with rodents.

Melendez isn’t the only landlord harassing Bushwick tenants, said Irene Tung, the lead organizer for Make the Road by Walking, a nonprofit group representing Quintanilla in court.

The group has recently been consulted in another case of a landlord assaulting tenants.

A booming real estate market has created added incentives or landlords to kick out tenants in rent-regulated housing, Tung said.

The number of affordable housing units in Bushwick has declined dramatically – down 27% from 2002 to 2005 – according to figures compiled by New York Is Our Home, a coalition of housing advocates.

"This is the front lines of gentrification," Tung said.