Last Wednesday, the tenants at 321 Harman Street, along with their attorneys from the legal services group Communities Resist, discussed their living conditions for the past several years, including regular stints without heat, gas or hot water.
Evangelista De Olmo, an 11-year tenant who lives with her husband, two kids and little sister, said the loss of essential services happens every year.
“Imagine spending Thanksgiving with no heat and no hot water,” she said. “It’s not a good thing.”
On November 20, city inspectors observed illegal piping in the basement.
According to the tenants’ attorney, the gas hookup likely took place years ago, but was done without a permit or supervision from agencies to ensure the safety of the tenants. Two of the units had their central heat system illegally converted into gas units as well.
Inspectors disconnected the gas, leaving the building without heat, gas or hot water. Hot water has since been restored, but not heat or gas, tenants said.
“We fear that they remain in danger because of the lack of permits and supervision,” said Kevin Worthington, a staff attorney with Communities Resist.
According to Worthington, the tenants have also faced verbal abuse from their landlord, identified in city documents as Lowy Lazar.
De Olmo said whenever she calls Lazar for repairs or other issues, he doesn’t respond. She said he comes to the building three or four times a year for a specific reason.
“He offers us money to leave the building,” she said.
Jennifer White, who has lived in the building for six years, said the numerous issues her apartment has faced includes mold, rusted-through pipes, broken appliances and roach and vermin infestations.
She said these unsafe conditions have been reported to the landlord multiple times, but never really addressed.
“The ones that have been addressed, the work has been more like a Band-Aid over a bullet wound,” White said.
For example, White said she reported mold in the bathroom. The response from Lazar was sending someone to paint over it.
Two weeks later, a substantial leak was discovered in the bathroom. While the leak was repaired, the bathroom work was never completed, leaving the ceiling unfinished since July.
“With the winter coming, we worry about us and our dogs getting too cold,” White said, “not to mention us not being able to prepare hot meals or take warm showers.”
According to the Department of Housing Development and Preservation’s (HPD) profile of the building, 321 Harman Street has 136 open violations. Forty-nine of them are class C violations, which are described as “immediately hazardous.”
Worthington said the tenants have already filed an Article 7A proceeding in housing court. If successful, a judge would appoint an independent administrator to run the building in place of the landlord.
The administrator would make the proper repairs and restore services to the tenants.
Worthington also called on HPD to step in to make emergency repairs at the building immediately, as well as support their 7A petition.
“We cannot have these families spend the holidays without essential services,” he said.
Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez said deferred maintenance is a tactic often used in Bushwick and Williamsburg to displace families.
“What we are seeing is an irresponsible, unscrupulous landlord putting the lives of these families at risk,” she said. “It is shameful, it is immoral.”
Velazquez also joined the call for HPD to support the case in housing court.
“We are not going away,” she said. “We’ll be back, and we will bring justice to these families.”