By Michael Herzenberg
May 18, 2019
Irene Maldonado managed to get out of the city’s shelter system about two years ago.
Each school day now she waits for her youngest of two children to get off the bus, they both have autism.
She says finding a building owner who would take a city housing voucher was almost impossible.
It’s illegal for a landlord to turn down a tenant because he or she is paying the rent with a voucher. It is illegal for a landlord with 6 or more units to reject a tenant based on the use of a housing voucher.
“When the voucher was approved my housing specialist went to the real estate agent and turned over 4 months of checks upfront without seeing the apartment,” she said.
Maldonado says the landlord promised he’d fix up the three-unit building on Eastern Parkway before she moved in, but he didn’t.
“The landlord does not fix for anything. There’s bees. My son has gotten stung by bees in his room in his sleep. There’s ants. There’s roaches,” there are mice and rats too, she said.
What they don’t have Maldonado explains: a working smoke or carbon monoxide detector, heat since she moved in or a working shower or bath.
“I have to keep taking all the water out and dumping it,” for the kids to take a bath.
The bathroom walls are also coated in mold, “I try my best. It just keeps coming back,” Maldonado said.
There are three units in this three story building and it has more than 300 housing code violations issued by the city, almost 50 of them are dubbed extremely hazardous, most in the first floor apartment.
“Once I saw the rat on my son's bed I called the building manager and I let him know,” said Maria Soto, the tenant in that first floor apartment.
Soto is actually Maldonado’s sister. Her two kids here also have challenges. She says, her boy is on the autism spectrum and her girl has kidney issues.
“When I started doing the complaints they started getting upset,” Soto said about the owner and his realtor.
Tenants say that man, who also collects the rent, is William Ferrerosa with Britati Realty in Woodhaven. He was contacted by NY1 but did not return the call. The owner is Lorenzo Martin of Ozone Park. He wasn’t home and he, nor his lawyer returned my a call to his lawyer’s office.
“I have never seen conditions this bad. I have never seen conditions like this before,” said Meghan Walsh with the Legal Aid Society who is taking up the case. “Nobody should have to live that way,” said Walsh.
In addition, the building is being sold and the tenants don’t have a lease so there’s a good chance they’ll get evicted.
“Whenever this building is sold, at that point a new owner comes in and I’m sure it will be emptied,” said Walsh.
“I don’t even want to think about that. I'd have to go to another shelter again cause I don’t have anywhere to go. I don’t have anybody to take me in, to take my kids in,” said Maldonado.
The City’s Human Resources Administration (HRA) maintains the unit was inspected before they moved in, as required when housing vouchers are involved.
“Landlords who take advantage of our tenants and our programs by failing to maintain their commitments to habitable housing must be held accountable. While we cannot discuss specific details of this case due to the Social Services law that protects clients’ confidentiality, we are working with this family through our legal service provider, Legal Aid, to address the repair issues in the building.” An HRA Spokesperson said in a statement.
Maldonado said the housing specialist did not inspect the property and despite HRA maintaining that the inspection was done in 2017, the agency would not say which apartment was inspected or provide any evidence of said inspection.
The city Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) says it made $15,000 in emergency repairs to the building and has billed the owner.
The tenants are suing the owner. The city says it plans to support and assist them to win the case.