The Legal Aid Society Fights for Tenants at 60 Ellwood to Secure Adequate Services

Tenants in Washington Heights are withholding their rent because they have been without heat for months. Not only has the landlord of the 60 Ellwood Street building failed to restore gas service to the building, which was cut off in June, leaving the tenants unable to cook-- even Thanksgiving dinner, but also has refused to make repairs and withheld other essential services. Javier Chuck of The Legal Aid Society's Harlem Community Law Office said the long-suffering tenants are filing a code enforcement lawsuit against their landlord and will be withholding their rent each month until services are fully and finally restored. City Council Member Miguel Martinez said the building has 200 violations.

November 24, 2008
New York 1

PAT KIERNAN, co-anchor:

Tenants of one Washington Heights building say they can't take it anymore; they're now withholding rent. They say they have not had heat for months. Their landlord says it's the city's problem, but as NY1's Cindi Avila explains, the city says that's not the case.

CINDI AVILA reporting:

Tenants at 600 West 196th Street in Washington Heights have a message directly aimed at their landlord.

Ms. MILDRED DOMINGUEZ (Tenant): I'm freezing. I need heat. Could you please put the heat on?

AVILA: But they say they've been asking for gas in their apartments for the last seven months and now with no results they're changing tactics. Instead of just words, they're going to try to get results with money. Renters are rallying together to withhold rent until the gas comes back on. The Legal Aid Society is providing them representation.

Mr. JAVIER CHUCK (Legal Aid Society): After seeking relief from a landlord who has consistently turned a deaf ear to the concerns of these long-suffering tenants will be filing a code enforcement lawsuit against the landlord and will be with--and they will be withholding their rent each month until the services are fully and finally restored.

Unidentified Woman (Tenant): I don't got no sleep (sic). I have an electrical heat (sic). And it's not--it's not--it's not doing anything.

Unidentified Boy (Tenant): I got to sleep with hats, sweatpants, a lot of T-shirts, sweaters (sic).

AVILA: No heat isn't the only problem this week. That's because Thanksgiving dinner is coming up and with no gas on the stoves, it's going to be very hard to cook a big feast.

Ms. GLENIS CUEVAS (Tenant): Thursday is Thanksgiving Day. We won't be able to have dinner because we haven't had gas for seven months and I think that's--that's--that's a crime.

Mr. MIGUEL MARTINEZ (City Council, Manhattan): It is illegal. It is against the city--the city--the city laws not to have heat and hot water, particularly during this type of temperature. But you know again, violations are an issue. That's why this building has 200 violations.

AVILA: The Department of Housing Preservation and Development confirms the number of violations is in their words dozens upon dozens. Councilman Martinez says if the building continues to neglect the violations the landlord could face jail time.

Mr. CHUCK: Our office in Soho has legal aid, have written, has called, have left messages to the landlord and he has not respond one single message (sic).

AVILA: But Perseus Management, the company that runs the building, did respond to NY1 with quite a different story. Blaming the city for not coming out to help restore the gas line. But HPD says this is indeed a landlord issue. In the meantime, these tenants remain caught in the middle.

In Washington Heights, Cindi Avila, NY1.