Jazmel Ramirez, living in an apartment on 130 w 228 street in Marble Hill Manhattan, just got her apartment fixed after going on a personal rent strike and suing her landlord for maintenance failure. The leaks in the ceiling of her bathroom and bedroom have now been covered up with plaster and paint and the moldy walls have been whitewashed. But within a few months, she knows, she’ll be back at square one, for the renovations are of no permanent quality.
Though Marble Hill is geographically located in the Bronx, just above the Harlem river, it is politically part of the Manhattan Borough, belonging to Manhattan district 10 along with Washington Heights and Inwood.
“In the winter the mould gets so bad that my cousin with asthma can’t even sleep here,” says Jazmel, who lives on the building’s second floor. She discovered electrical issues galore after plugging in an iron that caught on fire. She spends cold months with little heating.
Jazmel is frustrated. “A leak in the roof ruined my computer,” she says. It happened months ago, but she still hasn’t been able to collect money for damages.
But Jazmel Ramirez is not alone. Though landlords are obligated to fix damages and keep away infestations such as rats, mice and bedbugs, Steve Goldberg, supervisor at the Manhattan Housing court says “many of them don’t do this to save money or to force tenants out of the apartment.” Once they move out, the landlord is able to increase rent for the next tenant. According to Goldberg, “every year thousands of tenants take an ‘HP action’ by which they sue their landlords for maintenance issues.”
According to Ken Rosenfeld, legal advisor at the Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation (NMIC), landlords often fail to conduct repairs even after a court order. In that case, he says “it is very hard for an unrepresented tenant to take steps against the landlord for not obeying a court order.”
Rosenfeld says the most effective method to get repairs done is for tenants to go on building wide rent strikes and to form tenants associations, “but I understand that people don’t want to go on rent strikes for fear of their affecting their credit rating,” he says.
Other tenants in the building complained of leaky ceilings and human waste seeping out of the bathtub. Resident Benita Jimenez, a neighbor of Jazmel Ramirez says “Nothing is good in this building” and some tenants were charged for making their own changes to their apartments.
Close to two-thirds of Marble Hill’s residents are Hispanic and many don’t speak English. “There is no Spanish speaker at the landlord’s office,” says Jazmel, “so most Hispanics just leave it.” They give up.
Jazmel’s landlord office, CHAMP 228 CO., was unavailable for comment.