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Families Freeze After 'Worst Landlord' Runs out of Heating Oil

By Gustavo Solis | February 17, 2015 2:59pm

HAMILTON HEIGHTS — After spending the coldest day of the year without heat and hot water, Isabela Paz and her family are boiling mad.

The 43-unit building on 545 West 146th St. lost heat from Saturday night to Monday evening. When the hot water was restored around 7 p.m., the cold water stopped working, Paz, 33, said. Tuesday morning, the heat shut off again, but water remained scalding hot.

“We have hot water but we don’t have cold water anymore,” she said in Spanish. “It’s too hot to use.”

Paz has been filling pots of hot water and letting them cool for half an hour until her children can use them, she said.

Residents say botched repair jobs are something they have been living with for years in a building whose owner, Niam Nabavi, has been on the Public Advocate’s “Worst Landlord” list in 2013 and 2014.

“They don’t bring qualified people to do the repairs,” said resident Pedro Marin, 48. “They are always fixing the elevator. Sometimes it works for a few months and sometimes it only works for a few days.”

Nabavi said that the heat was out because the building ran out of oil and the refill is on backorder because of the heavy demand due to the cold weekend.

To keep warm during the weekend’s freezing temperatures, residents bundled up in their winter clothes. Paz walked around in thick snow boots, sweatpants and a parka. Her children, who had the day off from school Monday, slept in warm onesies and didn’t take them off all day.

Her husband, Nicolas Orosco, 40, kept heating up water on a hotplate so that the family could wash their hands, feet and teeth. To take showers, they filled a large bucket with warm water, took it to the tub, and poured the water over themselves with a small bowl, he said.

His family uses a hot plate because they can’t use their stove. The building hasn’t had cooking gas in eight months, he said.

Nabavi is working with the city to find a qualified plumber to restore the cooking gas, he said.

The building has 290 open violations from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. It is part of the department’s “Alternative Enforcement Program” which tracks the 250 most severely distressed apartment buildings in the city, a department spokeswoman said.

When the landlord was flagged for his deficiencies, he had 386 open violations in the West 146th Street building. It was not immediately clear how much he had been fined for the problems or what other steps HPD took to reprimand him.

Residents reached out to Palante, a tenant advocacy nonprofit, after the cooking gas went out last year. They organized a rent strike in June and took Nabavi to court in November, records show.

“It’s criminal,” said Elsia Vasquez, Palante’s executive director. “What the landlord is doing is criminal."

In 2012, Palante conducted a building-wide condition survey and many of the problems — such as mold and leaky pipes — have not been fixed, Vasquez said.

Some residents have moved out of the building because of the poor conditions. But those involved in the rent strike and lawsuit do not plan on leaving, Orosco said.

His family pays a little more than $1,500 a month for their two-bedroom apartment and they have been living in the building for 10 years. Two of their three children have lived in the fifth-floor apartment their entire lives. Both go to school right down the block, their father said.

“We are used to living in this building, in this neighborhood,” Orosco said.

They’d rather stay and fight for improved conditions than move to another neighborhood or try their luck in another building that may also be in poor shape, he added.