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Know Your Rights
Source: Queens Ledger
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Will New Law Make The Road To Repairs Easier?

Tenants and community activists rallied in front of 531 Knickerbocker Avenue this past Monday, calling attention to poor living conditions as well as new legislation intended to protect the public from negligent landlords.

A crowd of more than 40 people chanted "Fight! Fight! Fight! Housing is a right!" alongside residents of the four-story building in Bushwick, who told horror stories about collapsing floors, winters without heat, and rat infestations.

Katherine Diaz, who lives with seven children in a ground-floor unit at 531 Knickerbocker, said ten fires have broken out since they moved in due to a malfunctioning boiler the landlord never replaced.

In addition, she said the building has 269 open housing code violations, including 78 "Class C," or immediately hazardous alerts. Meanwhile, despite thousands of dollars in fines levied by the city over the years, Diaz estimated the landlord has paid a total of $3.96 to rectify the problems.

As a result, she called on the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the agency that works to revitalize existing housing throughout New York City, to fix the buildings in accordance with the Safe Housing Act, and subsequently charge the landlord for the work. "Fix it now!" Diaz said to cheers.

Under the Safe Housing Act, which went into effect on Tuesday, the city would target 200 buildings with the most housing code violations each year, aggressively inspect them, and require their owners to make substantial repairs within four months.

Not complying results in HPD stepping in, alleviating the conditions themselves, and billing the landlord for the work.

A tenant of the neighboring building, which has the same owner and possibly worse problems, said there is currently no way to demand help from the landlord, since the phone number listed in the lobby was disconnected years ago.

As a result, Michelle Minthe, who lives on the fourth floor, appealed to HPD to invoke the Safe Housing Act and intervene immediately.

"We have children," she said. "We deserve the right to live like everyone else. Please help!"

According to tenants like Diaz, who had city workmen over repairing the hole caused by her bathroom collapsing the week before, relying on the city for support is nothing new.

The previous winter, after the landlord removed the broken boiler, she said the building was without heat or hot water for several months, until HPD provided an emergency truck.

"It was the city who supplied us with heat," she said.

Likewise, the city stepped in to fix her floor after inspectors determined the hole constituted an emergency situation.

"[The inspectors said] if they didn’t fix it, any day the bathrooms and the rest of the building could have fallen in," said Diaz, who has lived at 531 Knickerbocker for roughly six years.

Hopefully, with the new legislation in place, her family’s next six years will not be nearly as rough. As Elsa Jimenez of Make the Road By Walking pointed out, in the past, "landlords took a long time to fix problems."

"Now, instead of waiting years, they must immediately provide hot water and heat," said Jimenez, whose organization will continue reminding tenants they must call 311 to report unsafe living conditions.