Renters aren’t roaches
Published: Saturday, May 29, 2010
Updated: Sunday, May 30, 2010 12:05
Renters aren’t roaches audio story:
NEW YORK CITY – The roaches, mold, mushrooms, and leaky, sunken corners of her apartment make up just part of the problem in Ingrid Hernandez' home on the 400th block of Audubon Avenue in Washington Heights.
"[The landlords] want to be very strict about us fulfilling our part of the contract – getting our payments in on time – but they don't give us the common courtesy to make sure their end is up to par," said Hernandez.
Hernandez, 29, pays $946 each month for her one-bedroom apartment, but everyone in the building pays a different amount mostly because older tenants have a set rent amount – some of which have not changed in the last thirty years. Steady rent amounts, also known as rent control, means tenants have a price ceiling to protect them from being taken advantage of. Some older tenants in Hernandez' complex pay $500 a month while new tenants pay $2000.
"Hence starts the issue – people are paying their rent and working very hard, but then they get poor service," said Angel Audiffred, the chief of staff for City Council member Ydanis Rodriguez in the 10th District of New York City.
According to Audiffred, because the landlords need to keep making money, they let tenants live in the disintegrating apartment buildings. Sometimes landowners clear out the apartment by turning off the hot water or heat in the winter leading tenants to leave. Meanwhile the landlords either sell out to a big corporation who will remodel or repair the apartments to raise the price and rent it out to wealthier people, said Audiffred.
Hernandez' apartment complex is slowly decaying, and the tenants cry out for help.
Hernandez sees how her landowner wouldn't have the biggest concern for a building full of older people who have been paying $500 in rent for the last 30 years, but she doesn't get why her landlords don't make renovations on a derelict building.
Tenants such as Hernandez are tied to the area for familial and financial reasons. She won't leave her mother and she's not in a financial position to move. She wants to hold out to prove to the management of her apartment that she won't give up.
In 2008, the third floor stairwell fell completely when a tenant was walking down, according to Hernandez. Last August, the gas line went out in Hernandez apartment complex, and she said the lines haven't been fully repaired. "At the most it should have taken 60 or even 90 days, but it's been ten months," said Hernandez.
Hernandez uses a portable mini electric stove on top of her non-working stove in her apartment. "It's traumatizing to live, day in and day out, without gas - and have to spend two hours cooking something that should only take half an hour," said Hernandez.
Hernandez contacted her manager to fix the problems, and maintenance came in to patch up the cracks in walls and exterminate the vermin that get in through the open wall the maintenance for.
The manager of Hernandez' apartment lives in California though. Hernandez doesn't know her manager's name or business number.
How do some landowners sleep at night?" said Yokarina Duarte, the community liaison for Council Memeber Rodriguez.
Audiffred said, "People don't want to stay in the building for six months. They don't want to fight the fight. And that's where the landowners beat the system."
"At the end of the day, New York City defends the tenant over the landlord. They have to live with some help," said Audiffred.
Although the tenants on the apartment complex on Audubon's 400th block started their own tenant group six months ago, Duarte said that the City Council offers a little boost to the people pursuing reform.
The tenants in Hernandez' complex are banning together for a rent strike now. None of them will pay their rent to the landlord, but they will put their rent into a joint bank account.
The tenants will pay their rents to the landowner after he makes the repairs on the building, according to Duarte.
Twenty-eight people from Hernandez' complex have signed on to boycott, according to Duarte. She went around on Thursday night, knocking on doors to ask if they would become a part of the group.
Ideally Duarte would like to get at least half of the tenants - 31 tenants - to sign up to be a part of the rent strike. She said it's very hard to convince a person that they are able to go against his landowner by not paying him the rent.
Many tenants think they will be evicted. The catch, according to Duarte, is that tenants could go to court and explain that they didn't pay their rent because of poor upkeep and maintenance in apartment complexes, which would secure them as trustworthy tenants.
Duarte is hopeful that the plan for tenant rent strike will work to bring justice for tenants.