Last Tuesday, legal advocates stood with the residents of 1231 Broadway to ask the city to take action. They blasted the landlords, Hanny Chum Chang and Cheng Tin Chang, for not only failing to improve conditions for the tenants, but also harassing and discriminating against them.
Kevin Worthington, a legal advocate with Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A who has been working with the tenants, said the constant lack of repairs and interruption of services left the residents no choice but to fight back.
One of the residents, Veronica Damian, is nine months pregnant and expected to have her baby in the coming week.
“Those are untenable conditions for any family to live in,” Worthington said.
Damian, who lives on the third floor, said what’s most urgent for her is to get the heat and water back on. She hasn’t been able to cook or use the bathroom since the interruptions began on January 7, when temperatures outdoors reached single digits.
To adjust to the cold, she said she has been using an electric heater to stay warm. Her electric bill now comes in at $500 every month, Damian said through an interpreter.
Gabriel Martinez, who has lived in a first-floor apartment for five years, described his living conditions as “terrible.”
“They only put on the heat whenever they want to,” he said. “We only want them to fix it and respect from the landlord.”
Advocates also described a hostile living environment, where the landlord allegedly harassed, and at one time, even physically threatened the tenants.
Damian, who said one of the landlords “tried hitting” her when she complained about the lack of hot water, also said he threatened to “call immigration” on her.
“He has treated us very badly,” Damian said. “We tried speaking with him, but he gets very aggressive.”
Worthington said advocates have already filed a complaint with the New York City Human Rights Commission, and will follow up with further litigation if necessary.
A spokesperson for the commission confirmed that the agency is investigating the matter after receiving a complaint from the tenants.
“Discrimination and harassment is not tolerated in New York City, and the Commission fights every day to hold violators accountable and get justice for victims,” a spokesperson said.
According to Juliet Pierre-Antoine, spokesperson for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), the agency has received 12 complaints about 1231 Broadway since October 1, including 10 for lack of heat.
The Bushwick building, which is not registered with HPD as required, also has 54 open violations listed for the property, including 12 that are classified as “immediately hazardous.” Twenty-seven of those open violations were issued since the launch of heat season, Pierre-Antoine said.
On Wednesday, HPD also performed a building-wide inspection. Pierre-Antoine said the property owners will be responsible for correcting the violations “within the equitable time frame.” If they do not, HPD’s Emergency Repair Program will “take appropriate actions,” she said.
“It is unacceptable for building owners to neglect their responsibilities and abandon their tenants,” she said. “HPD is open to pursuing legal action against owners to enforce compliance with the housing quality standards.”
Shekar Krishnan, an attorney with Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, said they will make sure the landlord is accountable in court. He urge the city to join them.
“We will not tolerate criminal behavior from criminal landlords,” he said. “We demand that the city stand with us, take action, do their job as government to make sure tenants’ rights are protected.”