WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Kenneth Ramkisson has lived in the same dim apartment for the past 30 years. It’s in decent shape, with most things tidily tucked away. But he said it has some persistent problems.
There’s a gash in the plaster behind his stove, which has become a gateway for rodents. His kitchen electrical socket does not work. And his sink produces water at a dribble because of problems with pressure.
Ramkisson, 71, is among the tenants in the 26 apartment units at 566 W. 190th St. who invited inspectors from the Department of Housing and Community Renewal and the Housing Preservation and Development to take a tour of their building Wednesday in hopes it doesn't fall through the cracks during the foreclosure process.
"It's been this way a long time and we try to tell them but they just say, OK and OK and take forever, and then just put a little plaster on. You really have to call and call and call and that's not fair," Altagracia Paulino, 62, who has lived in the building for three decades.
The tenants have been taking steps to protect themselves ever since building owner Vantage Properties, which also owns 16 other apartment buildings in the neighborhood, was foreclosed upon, according to advocates.
Ireland’s Anglo Irish Bank gave Vantage a loan to buy its buildings several years ago, but the bank had its own financial troubles and sold the debt to Lone Star Capital, a Texas-based financial firm, according to the Real Deal. Then, earlier this year, Lone Star began foreclosure proceedings on Vantage’s Washington Heights properties including 566 W. 190th, advocates said.
Tenants there and at other Vantage buildings immediately began banding together to ensure their needs will still be met during the foreclosure process, according to Dan DeSloover of the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, a housing rights advocacy organization that has been working closely with the tenants in the Vantage properties since April.
On Wednesday, inspectors toured a handful of apartments in the building, noting mold, holes in the walls, unhinged windows, missing fire alarms, gas leaks, and faulty electrical wiring.
The Department of Buildings has no open violations listed at the building.
“The buildings aren’t in the worst condition, but people are concerned they will worsen,” DeSloover said “The things that are happening here, you’ll see across the Vantage portfolio.”
“When we started organizing with the buildings, the first thing we were saying was, ‘Reach out to elected officials and make this their priority,’” DeSloover said. “They’ll hold these new owner’s feet to the fire and make sure repairs are done.”
City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, whose district includes the properties and who was among the politicians who joined the tour, said “The goal is to have all 16 sites inspected so that the 1,500 residents of these buildings can enjoy quality of life and peace of mind.”
“We are here to make certain that tenants are not living in conditions that put them at risk," he added.
So far, seven of the Vantage properties have tenants associations. DeSloover said all the others will establish their own soon.
The goal is to keep pressure on Lone Star and see if there is room for the tenants to have a seat at the table, if not a driving role, in the foreclosure process,” DeSloover added.
Efforts to improve the conditions of the apartments have already made a difference. When the inspector emerged from Ramkisson’s apartment, he said, “I’ve got to call ConEd to deal with this gas leak in here.”
Moments later a superintendent came up and turned off his gas line to make repairs.
“It’s a very good thing,” Ramkisson said.