Three families who have lived at 196 Huron Street, a three-story rent-controlled building, for more than two decades say they’ve been living with mold, constant leaks and vermin infestations for years.
Last Tuesday, they rallied with community organizations, legal services providers and elected officials to demand safer living conditions.
Denisse Miramon, who has lived her entire life in Greenpoint, said her family often has no hot water in the winter and that the pipes freeze.
The mold grew so “uncontrollably” that her parents had to throw away many of her possessions because of the unsanitary conditions.
“Now my family is suffering the consequences of living with mold,” she said. “My brother, he’s so little, and he has respiratory issues.”
Other tenants, like Leonardo Gonzalez, say the landlord, Rogelio Domenech from Queens Village, does not make proper repairs to their apartments. Gonzalez said in the 22 years he’s been living in the building, the landlord has only visited his apartment for fixes four times.
Like Miramon’s family, Gonzalez often has to make the repairs himself, he said.
Maria Galicia, who has lived in her apartment for 21 years, even recalled a day when the bathroom ceiling fell down when her husband was brushing his teeth.
“The landlord ignored my calls,” she said.
According to the building profile on the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD)’s database, 196 Huron Street has 104 open violations, including 17 under “Class C,” which are defined as “immediately hazardous.”
To make matters worse, the tenants learned that Domenech put the six-unit building up for sale for $3.5 million. The initial description in the listing said that the “building will be delivered vacant.”
“There are implications when you promise a building to be delivered vacant,” said Yadira Dumet, a community organizer with St. Nicks Alliance who has been working with the tenants. “There can be a lot of harassment and a lack of services, and that’s what they’ve been doing.”
Miramon said when she learned about the listing, she told her mom, “that’s enough.” The tenants, who all rejected buyouts from the Domenech, decided to band together to take the landlord to housing court.
“Honestly, that’s one of my biggest concerns,” Miramon said. “He saw us as profit instead of human beings.”
At the rally last week, local elected officials rallied to the tenants’ cause. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney said that the tenants clearly were not living in safe and sanitary conditions, which is “plain wrong.”
She pledged, along with Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, Councilman Stephen Levin and Councilman Antonio Reynoso, to support the tenants in their case.
“We want to protect them from any further abuse of illegal or criminal behavior,” Maloney said.
“These families will stay here,” Reynoso added, “and we will ensure that through our organizing and with our lawyers.”
The tenants, through attorney Rachel Nager from the new legal services organization Communities Resist, have filed a 7A case, which would appoint a third-party administrator to conduct necessary repairs at the building.
Nager said the residents are demanding not only quality repairs, but also regular exterminations and a working front door that will shut and lock properly.
“The demand for these repairs are not just necessary, but required by law,” she said, “and required to keep these families safe.”
The 7A case is backed by HPD. AnnMarie Santiago, deputy commissioner of Enforcement and Neighborhood Services, said in a statement that since the building owner “failed to fulfill” his responsibilities, the building is in “significant need of substantial rehabilitation” to correct the mold, broken plaster and other poor conditions.
“HPD will be ready and willing to financially support the renovation work needed to improve living conditions and protect the health and safety of the tenants in this building,” Santiago said.
The tenants went to housing court on August 28, where a judge adjourned the 7A case for trial starting October 8, Nager said.
For their “housing part” case, the landlord signed a consent order to make all the repairs, according to Nager. They have also begun trial on a tenant harassment claim.
“We’re here to ask that housing court hold unscrupulous landlords accountable,” Nager said at the rally, “and that justice be served to that tenants can remain in their homes without fear of having to vacate.”