HAMILTON HEIGHTS — Families living in homeless shelters after being displaced by a deadly fire are taking their landlord to court for failing to make building repairs for more than a year.
In December, tenants sued the landlord for not making repairs at 512 W. 136th St. In March, the court ordered the landlord to follow a strict timeline for making repairs, according to housing court records.
Now that the landlord has missed several deadlines, the residents want the judge to hold the landlord in contempt. They also claim the landlord is deliberately delaying the repairs to destabilize affordable units.
"To me, it looks like they are taking their time so we get tired of waiting and move somewhere else," said Maria Zapata, 54.
After the fire, Zapata and her husband were placed in a hotel in The Bronx, then a homeless shelter on 97th Street and Broadway in December. They share a kitchen and bathroom with eight other families, she said.
According to the consent order from March 12, 2015 the landlord had 60 days to obtain permits to correct conditions in the building. They did not file permits to gut-renovate the apartments until June 23.
The work includes new doors, restoration to kitchens, bathrooms and interiors as well as new plumbing, according to the Department of Buildings.
The building manager, Mark Lovinger, said unexpected delays in obtaining city permits have slowed down the repairs.
"All I can say is that we are working as hard as we can and as fast as we can," he said. "The city has been giving us a lot of hurdles. Permits take time, things take time. We are not happy about the situation but we do have to do it the right way."
He denied deliberately waiting for apartments to be destabilized, saying "I don’t see why they think they are at risk."
“To date, more than a year since the fire, the landlord has breached the order by failing to meet its stipulations,” Levine wrote.
“Displaced tenants have been forced to find temporary accommodation for over a year, while repairs have stalled. I am extremely concerned that the delay in completing the repairs will eventually outlast the tenants’ ability to remain in temporary locations, leading them to relocate elsewhere.”
Zapata has lived in the apartment since 1982, her husband since 1972. After the fire, someone from the landlord’s office asked her if she was interested in moving to an apartment in the Bronx, she said.
“I said no,” she said. “This is my home. It is where I raised my children, where I help take care of my grandchildren.”
Zapata and her husband pay about $600 for their three-bedroom apartment. If they don’t move back she doubts they will be able to find something else for that price, she added.
At least one tenant already gave up on moving back, said Elsia Vasquez, the director of Pa’Lante.
The tenant advocacy group has been helping tenants from 512 W. 136th St. since the fire. They helped some tenants transfer from shelters in The Bronx to shelters closer to Hamilton Heights, she said.
"We already had one tenant who moved away," she said. “They got tired of living in the homeless shelter. They are in public housing.”
The family has had Section 8 benefits. Once they find another home, they are not guaranteed their old apartment, she added.
“We want the landlord to be fined because they are in contempt,” she said. “They did not adhere to the order.”