Long before a flood inundated several floors of the Broadway Glen low-income high rise apartment building on Sept. 12, tenants said owners had allegedly sat on reoccurring problems that plagued the building, and tenants who are now displaced from the building are worried about what their apartments will look like when they return later this month.
Police are still looking for a suspect who is pictured on surveillance video opening a Fire Department standpipe in the stairwell of the sixth floor, unleashing thousands of gallons of water on the residents below and causing more than $500,000 in damages. Yet, as the police continue their investigation, tenants who have been displaced have been on a mission of their own to get the attention of a landlord they say has been unresponsive and hasn’t answered their questions.
“We heard the alarms go off, but we didn’t go out because the alarm goes off all the time,” said Jamie Vasquez, who has lived in the building for six years with her three young children. “We thought something was just wrong with the fire alarm again. Then I looked up and the water was coming out of the ceiling. I opened my door and water was everywhere. My closets were full of water. All of my kids’ clothes were ruined and had to be thrown away. We lost almost everything and we’ve been in a hotel every since. We were evacuating the building when we realized that a handicapped man was trapped inside. Nobody was here to help. The owners weren’t here. We went in and helped bring the handicapped man out. There wasn’t anyone else. I want some answers about all of this, but I don’t even get an apology. No one says they’re sorry.”
Tenants are now dealing with what to do with October’s rent payments, and an attorney has been brought in by the Chelsea Collaborative to advise tenants about what to do with rent and damages.
“I’m surprised it’s been three weeks and the landlord hasn’t done anything,” said Attorney Ed Rice. “This is a multi-million dollar building and it seems like there hasn’t been anything done. You have people who are displaced and have no way to cook or eat…The landlord needs to step up and take responsibility. The landlord is part of the issue.”
The landlord, Sam Horowitz of Capital Realty Group in Spring Valley, NY, said his company is frustrated that the police have not caught the perpetrator yet. He said they are doing everything they can to accommodate tenants.
“Tenants see only one side of it,” he said. “We really do care about accommodating them. “We’re trying to make accommodations there for tenants in alternate housing or hotels. All residents that are requesting accommodations have been moved to hotels…I know there are some frustrations and we’ve been addressing them when they come through…In fact, we’ve relocated many of them from hotels without kitchens to suites with kitchenettes. We’re doing all that we can to accommodate them.”
Many tenants have been living in hotels since the flood as renovations have begun on the apartments. Many of the apartments have been partially stripped to the studs and tenants cannot return. They have been told they will be living in the Wyndham or the Residence Inn until Oct. 25. At that time, they will move back in.
However, in the interim, they said things have not gone well.
There is no property management company, but employees within the building are assigned to manage problems and concerns. Tenants said these employees were in over their heads after the flood, and the ownership was not responsive to the disaster at all.
One tenant had a video made of a meeting with building employees. He had been meeting with them about accommodations for a quadriplegic man who was his neighbor and was displaced to a hotel room that had a bed that was horribly inappropriate for his disability.
In that video, the building worker is heard telling the tenant that the owner is on a Jewish holiday and cannot be bothered until next week regarding the quadriplegic man’s predicament.
There are incidents where diabetics and cancer survivors on strict diets are placed for weeks on end in hotel rooms without the ability to cook.
“I’m a cancer survivor and have had bone marrow transplants,” said tenant Roberto Rodriguez Lugo. “I am on a strict diet because of that and my doctor is trying to keep me out of the hospital for a year. I can’t eat things from outside. I have no immune system and if I get sick, that could be it for me. I have a very specific diet that I have to follow and I need a kitchen to prepare my food.”
Rodriguez said he was not initially given a hotel room, even after he complained conditions were making him sick, but was suddenly told in late September to pack seven days’ worth of clothes and go to a hotel. That room, he said, didn’t have a kitchen and having to eat prepared food has affected his condition. It was only after a great deal of haggling that, he said, he was transferred to a room with a kitchen.
Now, when he gets back, he said he is fearful of what he will find.
“I am fearful about returning to the apartment,” he said. “It was everything to me. I couldn’t really leave. It was my safe haven. It’s dangerous for me to be in crowds because of my immune system. What am I going to find when I come back? Right now, dust is everywhere. If they want to continue with construction while we’re here, that cannot happen.”
Even with the upheaval, the problems, Rodriguez said, are not new. Last winter in the midst of one of the season’s brutal snowstorms, the building lost heat, and nothing was done for days – despite an order from the Fire Department.
“We went for two or three days here without heat right in the middle of a storm last year,” he said. “A boiler broke and the Fire Department came and said everyone had to leave. They didn’t take us out though. We were freezing in our room. They didn’t do anything. The management told me they knew about my health situation and just didn’t care.”
Vasquez said she has had problems with mice forever.
“We have been living in horrible conditions,” she said.
Cecilia Viera said she continued living in her apartment after the flood, but eventually had to demand that they move her to a hotel, which came about 10 days after the flooding.
“All those days I was living in here,” she said. “I was out of breath in here and had a horrible rash. I was sick. There’s always been a lot of problems here and I’ve lived here 16 years.”
Robin Yianacopolus said it is routine to have elevators at the high rise not working, and to have the back door locked because it is broken.
“The elevator is out all the time, and on Aug. 28 this summer, both elevators were out,” she said. “I remember because a man on my floor, who is a renal patient, had his catheter bag break and his personal care attendant, who lives on the 11th floor, couldn’t get down to help him. She should always be able to get to him. We also have 122 units here and 10 washers and dryers. Nine out of 10 times, some don’t work. They always repair them, then they break again.”
She said she worries for her neighbor, Edward Bunn, who is a diabetic and in Stage 3 kidney failure while living in a hotel room for a month.
“How do you keep a diabetic alive who is in Stage 3 kidney failure with only a small fridge and a little microwave?” she asked. “That’s inhuman. The owner is absent. We only saw them the following Thursday after this happened. It took them a week to come here and look at it. You can’t expect anything from them.”
Meanwhile, at an impromptu meeting with Attorney Rice last Thursday morning in the lobby of the building, tensions were running high.
One mother, who declined to give her name, was having trouble getting the $10 stipend for food from the landlord. They had told her it would take a week, and she said food pantries only give out food that requires cooking. With all her food ruined from the flood and living in a hotel with her children, she was in tears and at wits end.
“They told me that next Friday they would give me a check, but that doesn’t feed my kids right now,” she said, in tears. “That’s something that had to be done yesterday. I went to the food pantries, but they only give out stuff I can’t cook because I’m in a hotel room without a kitchen. What am I supposed to do?”
Horowitz told the Record on Wednesday that his company will be relocating all tenants in hotels to suites with kitchens likely by today, Oct. 8.
“By tomorrow they will all the r
elocated to suites with kitchenettes per their request,” he said. “I think it is likely that by tomorrow they will all be moved to accommodations that satisfy their needs.”
Attorney Rice fielded numerous questions, and the Chelsea Collaborative announced that they have established an escrow account for tenants who wished to deposit rent payments until they have returned and find conditions satisfactory.
Rice, however, said the process was likely to play out for quite some time. “This is going to be very frustrating,” he told tenants. “It’s going to be months, not days and weeks.”