CHINATOWN — Tenants of an Elizabeth Street apartment have a few things on their Christmas wish list, including regular garbage pickup, timely repairs and safe construction work done by licensed contractors.
The 90 Elizabeth Street Tenant Association spoke out against its landlord, James Fong of Asian Inc., during a press conference Thursday morning to bring attention to hazardous living conditions brought on by neglect and what it claims are unsafe construction practices in vacant units.
"What I want for Christmas is that my neighbors and I can live in our homes free of dust, construction that puts our life in jeopardy and that living conditions get better," said Tomasa Davila, a resident who has lived in the building for more than 50 years.
“We live as if we were animals while paying our rents and the owner fixes the empty units...while the apartments of those like me and my neighbors — the low-income ones — are not fixed as the law mandates,” the Puerto Rico native said through a translator.
Conditions in the building include messy garbage rooms that attract vermin, sagging floors and exposed electrical wires in hallways, tenants said. Some residents held blown-up photos of broken walls and collapsed ceilings.
The building was also without heat during Thanksgiving weekend, tenants claimed.
“My apartment felt like a refrigerator,” Davila said.
Residents have long endured unsafe living conditions. Last year, they rallied against their previous landlord, Marolda Properties, after the state’s Tenant Protection Unit subpoenaed its records.
The landlord was also following unsafe construction practices and trying to push tenants out by refusing to renew their leases, offering low buyout offers and litigation, members of the tenants association claimed at the time.
Wong bought the building from Marolda in June for $6.5 million, records show. He did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Conditions inside the building have not improved since Wong took over, said 44-year-old Betty Eng, who has lived at that address her entire life.
In July, the landlord pulled out her kitchen sink, saying it needed to be repaired but has yet to replace it, Eng explained as she showed reporters a pipe from her kitchen.
“I have to haul water from the bathroom to cook and dump the used water into the only working toilet,” she said.
That same month, the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force conducted a building-wide sweep, which led to a stop work order and several HPD violations, tenants said.
Residents eventually took Wong to housing court in September with the help of Manhattan Legal Services and Asian-Americans for Equality to stop unsafe construction work and demand a tenant protection plan as well as repairs.
The landlord has expressed an interest in settling the case, said AAFE attorney William Xu, who declined to give further details because the case was ongoing.
Councilwoman Margaret Chin, along with representatives from State Sen. Daniel Squadron and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s offices also showed up to the press conference to support the tenants, who have also been working with the CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities and the Cooper Square Committee.
Following the press conference, tenants joined other housing advocates from the Stand for Tenant Safety coalition, made up of community organizations and tenant advocates, in a march to City Hall to support two housing bills that came up before City Council Thursday morning.