LOWER EAST SIDE — Tenants suing their landlord for continuing to ignore much-needed repairs rallied on Thursday outside their apartments at 135 Eldridge St., demanding an end to what tenant advocates claim to be harassment tactics.
Rent-stabilized tenants, along with advocates and legal representatives, gathered in the street outside the building where landlord R.A. Cohen has allegedly neglected to address mold, pests and crumbling appliances in their homes despite continued requests for repairs and 311 calls.
The tenants hoisted signs demanding safe homes and “basic human rights,” and joined in repeated chants of “Housing is a human right” as they congregated outside the building they say is unsafe and unfit for habitation.
There are currently 79 open Department of Housing Preservation and Development violations stacked against the property, according to city records, including lead-based paint, mold and defective appliances.
Two lawsuits against the property owner — one for 135 Eldridge St. and another for a Cohen-owned property at 247 Broome St., which has 93 violations — says Cohen and his associates have repeatedly failed to address the violations, as well as complaints stemming from construction noise persisting from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m.
The suits call for a court order demanding the landlord address the issues in a timely manner and imposing civil penalties for neglecting the repairs.
And while the lawsuits does not accuse Cohen of harassment, advocates representing the tenants said negligence seems to be part of a scheme to oust rent-stabilized tenants in order to fix up the building and turn a profit.
“It is our belief that R.A. Cohen has bought the building to flip the apartments as market-rate and that rent-stabilized tenants are being systemically neglected,” said Melanie Wang, Chinatown Tenants Union organizer for CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities.
Xiao Ling Chen, a longtime resident who has lived in the building for more than three decades said her quality of life has suffered since Cohen bought the building in 2014. Workers that came in two years ago to put in drywall purportedly for lead abatement, have left her home in disrepair, with crooked, crumbling cabinets and mold growth in the kitchen, while the lead problem still persists, she said.
Chen, who lives in the apartment with her daughter and three grandchildren, also claims alterations made by the workers — shoddy installation of a new door frame and window frame — has made one of the three rooms unusable as a bedroom, forcing the entire family to cram into one small room.
“My smallest grandson is 7 years old and we live like this,” she said. “We can’t do anything about it.”
Chen said she has been requesting repairs to her apartment since 2014, but has been routinely ignored. Since the lawsuit was filed in August, representatives of Cohen have begun to more actively address complaints, Wang said.
Chen is one of four tenants who has put their name on the lawsuit over the issues at 135 Eldridge St. They plan to face Cohen in court on Friday.
Cohen’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.