UPPER WEST SIDE — Tenants at the Frederick Douglass Houses filed a lawsuit Thursday accusing the city of creating "deplorable conditions" that include rat and bedbug infestations, collapsing walls and ceilings, a lack of working toilets and sinks, broken radiators and rampant mold.
The 16 residents of the public housing complex, which sits between West 100th and 104th streets and Amsterdam and Manhattan avenues, say the problems have persisted for years and repeated appeals to building managers have led nowhere.
With the help of pro bono lawyers from King & Spalding LLC and Legal Services NYC, the tenants filed a lawsuit in Housing Court on Thursday claiming New York City Housing Authority is violating the city's Housing Maintenance Code.
In two cases, apartment conditions were so bad that tenants were forced to leave while still paying rent, the suit alleges.
Antoinette Holman moved out after a leak in her ceiling "was so large and continuous that occupants in the apartment were forced to set an alarm for every half-hour to remind them to empty the large trash containers that fill with leaked water during that period," the suit states.
Carmen Quinones, the Tenants Association president at Douglass Houses and a resident there for the past 41 years, reached out to Public Advocate Letitia James' office for help with the lawsuit.
"We have families and seniors who are needlessly suffering," James said, calling the conditions "inhumane." "We will not rest until the Douglass House tenants get their apartments restored."
Quinones said the issues in the complex have accumulated over years of neglect.
"After all those years of people not getting services, the apartments were deteriorating at record numbers. It’s awful," she said.
"Your bathroom [toilet] can be stopped up and they [management] tell you, 'You have to wait until next month to get it fixed.'"
Sandhya Boyd, a lawyer for Legal Services NYC and part of the legal team representing the tenants, said that, in her experience, litigation is the only way to get NYCHA to take immediate action.
"The public housing structure is such that it takes an extraordinary amount of time for any one person’s repair needs to be on the schedule," she said.
One major issue is that the deteriorating roof of 74-76 W. 103rd St., one of the Douglass Houses buildings, is causing flooding, leading to mold and ceiling damage in many apartments, according to the lawsuit.
While tenants have heard the roof will be repaired in two years, that is not soon enough, Boyd said.
While some tenants fear retribution from NYCHA for speaking out, Quinones vowed to continue fighting.
"I'm not going to stop until we get every apartment up to par," she said.
NYCHA did not respond to a request for comment.