Alleging years of neglect, Flatbush residents form tenant coalition
by Holly Bieler
Mar 25, 2015 | 3827 views | 0 0 comments | 58 58 recommendations | email to a friend | print
410 E. 17th St. resident Josefina Fernandez's bathroom
410 E. 17th St. resident Josefina Fernandez's bathroom
Residents of 410 E. 17th St. in Flatbush are taking action against a landlord whom they allege has left their building in disrepair for years.

“The landlord should be held accountable and needs to make structural repairs to this building,” said Susanne Saldarriage, a 31-year resident of the building who established a new group under the direction of the Flatbush Tenant Coalition in February.

Residents claimed a long and troubling list of infractions during a tour of some apartment units last Thursday, saying they had been completely without heat for many weekends during the coldest months of the years, that the building had mice, and that their landlord, Sholom Rubashkin, had failed to fix glaring structural and cosmetic defects throughout the building.

“We had no heat or hot water for 25 days, and we still have a problem,” said Bill Roberson, who has lived in the building for 31 years. “The heat would go off completely for two, three days on the coldest days of winter.

“He said it was a maintenance issue, but it would go off every Thursday at the same time,” Roberson added. “We have seniors and babies that live here.”

Numerous tenants said they believed these conditions were a concerted effort by the landlord to drive older tenants in rent-stabilized apartments from the building.

“This neighborhood is gentrifying, so the majority of these buildings are having a problem with the landlords trying to get us out,” said Saldarriage. “He’s trying to harass us to get us to move, so he can keep flipping the apartments over and over to get the rent up to $2500.”

Under the Rent Act of 2011, a unit can be deregulated once rent reaches $2500.

A search of Department of Buildings records indicates a history of complaints and violations, and just this year the building was included in the Alternative Enforcement Program, a list compiled by the Department of Housing Preparation and Development (HPD) that designates 200 buildings annually with the city’s highest number of housing maintenance violations.

If the landlord fails to rectify the violations by May, he could be subject to emergency repair charges, liens, and significant fees, according to the HPD website.

In a phone interview on Tuesday, Rubashkin said that a maintenance crew had already finished many repairs in the building, and that he would work to address any issues tenants had with the building.

“This isn’t a situation where someone says they have a leak and I couldn’t care less,” he said. “There should be no leaks, everything should be fine. Whatever concerns people have, we’ll deal with it.”

He said that claims that management had intentionally shut down heat in the winter or was trying to coerce tenants into moving out were false.

“I personally take offense to that,” he said. “Whoever’s there should stay, I give everyone a renewal lease. I’m not a person who would do anything like that, not at all.”

He said his maintenance crew was currently working to rectify HPD violations to get out of the Alternative Enforcement Program, and that a number had already been removed.

However residents on Thursday said that the majority of repairs Rubashkin has finished were superficial.

“He started doing little patchwork, painting, fixing cosmetic problems,” said Saldarriage. “But he’s not fixing big problems.”

It’s the big problems that tenants like Astrid Fernandez, who has lived in the apartment for 11 years with her three daughters, are afraid of. She has a leak in her roof, and her mother, who lives in a unit downstairs, has a piece of her bathroom floor missing, exposing dirty pipes.

Her children sleep in a room with a broken window, and she said that her youngest daughter has cut herself on exposed, rusty metal that juts from the door frame. She said she had come to Rubashkin, but had yet to see the problems fixed.

“It’s frustrating,” she said. “[Rubashkin] keeps promising, but that’s all he does.”

Rubashkin said that his maintenance crew was going apartment to apartment making repairs, and that many apartments had no issues and had already undergone extensive renovations. He said that he would work to make sure repairs brought to his attention were rectified.

“Whatever concerns people have, they can write, e-mail, we’ll deal with it,” he said. “The repairs that need to be made will be made.”

On Thursday, lawyers from the South Brooklyn Legal Services met with tenants of the coalition for the first time, touring apartments, taking down their stories, and assuring them they would work to help get repairs made.

“We are committed to making sure you are getting the repairs that you deserve,” said Deputy Director of Litigation Pavita Krishnaswamy. “We will do what it takes to make sure these conditions are fixed.”

Rachel Bash, a staff attorney with South Brooklyn Legal Services, said this week that the organization would continue meeting with tenants to hear their stories and gauge the best course of action.

“Right now, we have a pretty broad sense of what’s going on,” she said. “Some of [the apartments] are obviously pretty terrible. We’re gathering information, we need to keep meeting with tenants, and continue on whatever the road is to fix the conditions.”

Rubashkin said he was willing to work with South Brooklyn Legal Services.

“We’re willing to work with whoever wants to work with us,” he said.

Roberson said that with the establishment of the coalition and involvement of attorneys, he was hopeful that his building would change.

“The fact that everyone’s getting together is helpful,” he said. “If he knows everyone’s coming together, outside organizations are getting involved, yeah, that could make a difference.”

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