MORRIS HEIGHTS — A group of Bronx tenants suffering from rat infestations, collapsing ceilings and broken heating systems are taking their landlord to court to force him to make repairs.
"We’ve always got to be calling 311 to make complaints," tenant Marilyn Rivera said in Spanish, speaking through a translator. "After you make complaints one, two, three times, then they might come to address them."
Rivera and other tenants filed a lawsuit last week in Bronx Supreme Civil Court against their landlord Robert Khomari of Universal Heights 18 LLC in an effort to force him to make improvements to the building.
Tenants organized with the help of the Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition, and in a Feb. 14 letter to Khomari, they attempted to draw his attention to problems in their homes, which included a lack of heat and hot water, collapsing ceilings, broken mailboxes and infestations of rodents and roaches.
The letter demanded that Khomari take "immediate steps to cure the issues" and meet with tenants at the building, but more than two months later, residents said living conditions at the building remained poor.
Rivera, who has lived in the building for 33 years, said the problems with mice and rats have persisted and that even when repairs at the building are done, they are not done very well.
"They put this door here, as you can see, and they made copies of the key, and they’re charging us to get the key to our door," she said. "$16 just to be able to enter."
Rivera often catches three or more mice per week in her home, while tenant Felipa Rodriguez was at one point catching more than 15 mice over just a few weeks, according to the suit.
The building currently has 12 open violations with the Department of Buildings and 29 open violations with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
Whitney Viets, a staff attorney at Bronx Legal Services, said they decided to file a lawsuit over conditions at the building in housing in order to force Khomari to make repairs to the building.
"This is a landlord that has been disregarding the rights of tenants for some time, it appears," she said, "and I think we’re just very exited to assist these tenants in getting the relief that they deserve."
Khomari did not respond to a request for comment. Issaka Maiguzo, the managing agent of Universal Heights 18 LLC who is also a defendant in the suit, declined to comment.
"Nobody should be able to wake up in the morning and look at all those rats," Cabrera said. "No kid should have to ever be exposed to the elements, the negative elements, environmental and health elements, that they are subjected to."