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Tenants Ask Judge For Contempt Charge Against NYCHA for Overdue Repairs

By Eddie Small | May 18, 2015 12:17pm
 Residents of Morris Houses and their attorney hope that a contempt motion will help motivate NYCHA to make repairs in their apartments.
Residents of Morris Houses and their attorney hope that a contempt motion will help motivate NYCHA to make repairs in their apartments.
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DNAinfo/Eddie Small

CLAREMONT — A group of 25 tenants of the Morris Houses are hoping a contempt of court motion will spur NYCHA to make good on a promise to make repairs to their building, which they say is infested with mold and roaches.

The residents of the public housing unit took NYCHA to Bronx Housing Court last fall to force the agency to fix rampant issues like severe mold, rotting furniture, broken door locks, roaches and rats. They reached a settlement with some of the tenants on Sept. 29, 2014 and with the rest of them in early November. In each instance, NYCHA agreed to make the repairs within 90 days.

But several months past the deadlines, the majority of issues remain unaddressed, according to Garrett Wright, a senior staff attorney at the Urban Justice Center, which is representing the tenants.

"They did almost none of [the repairs]," Wright said. "I think of the 110 violations, they [fixed] maybe 10 or 15 of them."

Since the settlement, NYCHA has made repairs to some stoves and fixed a shower where tiles had been falling off the walls, but major issues still remain outstanding, including leaky ceilings, peeling paint, pests and warped bathroom floors, Wright said.

On May 5, tenants filed a motion to hold NYCHA in contempt of court for not keeping its word.

The first court date for that motion took place on Monday. NYCHA officials requested more time to file opposition papers and maintained that they could get the remaining repairs done in the next 30 days, so the case was adjourned until June 22, according to Wright.

Going forward, the tenants plan to continue pushing their contempt motion or reach a settlement with NYCHA that includes some type of financial compensation for them.

Multiple tenants criticized NYCHA for failing to ensure that their apartments had hot water, including Morris Houses resident Margaret Wright, who described the water in her home as painfully cold.

"Don't brush your teeth," she said, "because your mouth will hurt."

Tenant Jainaba Karaga wrote in her affidavit that her apartment was becoming a very uncomfortable place to live, noting that it was infested with mice and roaches, has poorly painted ceilings and broken bathroom floor tiles.

"As a result of [NYCHA’s] failure to complete the repairs, my family and I itch frequently,” she wrote. "The floors are a trip hazard and the flakes from the ceiling are hazardous."

Julia Saravia, whose complaints include NYCHA’s failure to paint the apartment, wrote in her affidavit that both she and her son have missed doctor’s appointments while waiting for NYCHA workers to come to their home to do repairs.

“They’ve just really been apathetic to our needs,” Saravia said in Spanish, through a translator. “Sometimes they come to fix something, and they don’t come with their tools.”

Wright said he views the contempt motion as a way of compelling NYCHA to do what it should've already done and noted that tenants had started to receive more calls about repairs since it had been filed.

“We’re hoping that this will light a fire under NYCHA to get these repairs done, finally, and hope that there will be some accountability for NYCHA’s inaction,” he said.

NYCHA is attempting to quickly solve the issues with Morris Houses, according to a spokeswoman for the agency.

"We are actively working to continue repairs on an expedited basis at the Morris Houses at this time," she said in an email. "We understand that we must do more to ensure that Morris buildings are clean and in good repair and that services remain consistent, and we will work to do so."