Residents of 314 MacDougal Street, joined by lawyers from Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A and advocacy group Churches United for Fair Housing, rallied in front of the Kings County Civil Court in downtown Brooklyn last Thursday. They described the conditions they have lived through for the last three years.
“We’ve had severe leaks in every apartment,” said Reena Brown, who has lived at 314 MacDougal Street for three years. “My apartment is on the first floor and it has very bad leaks and black mold.”
Tenants said they’ve also lived with bedbugs, mice and roaches in the building for years. Brown, who is currently nine-months pregnant, said their landlord, Jacob Leifer, has refused to make any permanent fixes, just temporary ones. According to residents, the building has racked up more than 117 documented Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) violations.
Advocates for the residents also claimed that the landlord has been doing illegal construction work on empty apartments, causing constant dust, noise and cracked walls. Despite being issued a Stop Work Order from the Department of Buildings (DOB), Leifer has continued with the illegal work, residents said.
“We’ve all been going through this, every single tenant, for about two years now,” Brown said. “It’s affected me greatly with my health, with stress, especially with us going back and forth to court.”
The rally was staged hours before the housing court battle between the two parties. The tenants, along with their legal allies, decided to bring a 7-A proceeding against the landlord. If the court finds conditions hazardous to health and safety or harassment, the landlord would be removed from the building and a court-appointed administrator would be asked to step in.
In this role, the administrator would collect the rent from tenants and make necessary repairs.
Jerry Dickens, a tenant organizer with Churches United for Fair Housing, said when he first walked into 314 MacDougal Street earlier this year, he felt disappointed, sad and even angry.
“When I walked in, there was debris and dust all over the hallway,” Dickens said. “The smell of rodents was strong. The roof had holes, you could see the sky. It was out of control.”
According to Brown, the landlord had offered the tenants of the rent-stabilized units a buyout for $10,000, but they refused. That’s when she said the harassment began to heat up.
Judith Garcia, a 14-year resident of the building, said she was putting up with the bad conditions and didn’t make a fuss about their living situation. That was until the day the ceiling collapsed on her son’s bed, narrowly missing her child.
“My son at that moment was on his bed,” Garcia said. “Because of his reflexes, he jumped off the bed in time before all of that fell on his head.”
Although no one was hurt, the accident broke her son’s only bed. When Garcia reached out to the landlord by phone and text message, he initially didn’t respond. When he later returned her calls, the first thing he asked was if the plumber came to fix the pipes, she said.
“No concern if anyone got hurt,” Garcia said, “if everybody was all right. None.”
She blamed these actions on a negligent landlord who puts “the mighty dollar” before his tenants.
“My main concern is living in an environment that’s safe for me and my kids,” Garcia said. “My kids and myself feel disgusting every year, between the bed bugs, the rats, the roaches, everything is disgusting.
“I see my kids, how disgusted and frustrated they are, and it’s not fair,” she added, tears welling up in her eyes. “I feel like I failed as a mother because I can’t give them what is required to give them as a mother, and that’s a clean and safe environment.”
Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, who is also a resident of the Ocean Hill community, said legislators in Albany have to do more about the state’s housing laws. She joined the tenants in asking the courts to appoint a 7-A administrator.
“We don’t ask for much, all we ask for is a safe place to live,” Walker said. “Why do people have to live like this?”
She said like anyone else, when landlords break the law, they should be held accountable. Whether it’s the bad conditions, illegal construction or harassment, the tenants have had enough, she said.
“There’s no reason why a nine-month pregnant woman should be living in a home with black mold,” Walker said. “When baby Reena is born, she should be able to come to a home she can smile in, where her mom is comfortable with her crawling around the house, and where all of the other babies in the community are born in communities that are safe for them.”