Ebbets Field Tenants Sue for Repairs

In the seven buildings that make up the Ebbets Field apartment complex in Brooklyn, the large number of people standing in the lobby is a sign that there is an elevator down yet again. In the largest of the buildings, 1700 Bedford Ave., only one of the four elevators that serve its over 400 units is working—and when that last elevator got stuck recently, the Fire Department had to come rescue several people trapped inside.

Tenants are now suing Fieldbridge Associates, the complex’s landlord and management company, to demand lasting repairs to the elevators in all the buildings. They have also applied to the state housing agency for rent reductions based on failure to provide necessary services.

Disrepair is nothing new for the more than 3,000 residents of the 1,300-unit complex. Tenants in all the buildings say their elevators regularly go out of service. When lawyers from the Urban Justice Center’s Community Development Project, which is representing the tenants in their suit, printed out the list of open violations issued by the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the Buildings Department, it filled 150 pages.

“Ebbets Field is a complex often mistaken for a public-housing building,” says Beverly Newsome, president of the tenant organization, “because of dirty bricks, long-standing scaffolding, out-of-service elevators, the large number of tenants’ complaints regarding repairs going ignored. But this is a privately owned, rent-stabilized complex whose tenants are just being ignored.”

The elevators are not the only repair problem. Tenants complain about the roof leaking, masonry crumbling, lack of heat and hot water, and rodents. During a recent tenant meeting in the common room of one building, the ceiling started to leak, and tenants killed several roaches that were seen scurrying around.

For tenants, this is nothing new. Residents of Ebbets Field have been protesting conditions there since 1963, three years after the complex opened. Shalom Drizin, now head officer of Fieldbridge, and Rubin Schron bought the complex after it left the Mitchell-Lama program in 1987. Public Advocate Letitia James, who was the City Councilmember from the area from 2003 to 2013, lamented to Patch.com that “the conditions at Ebbets Field have not improved” since she helped organize a court case and a rent strike there.

Fieldbridge Associates are also known for repeatedly bringing tenants to court for non-payment of rent or alleging that the apartment is not their primary residence, trying to evict them on claims tenants say are false. According to Newsome, preferential rents are rampant among tenants who have moved in the last 10 years. Many of those are African immigrants who have reported being intimidated with the threat that their discounted rents will be raised.

“A preferential lease utilizes the ‘bait and switch’ tactic, a seemingly affordable apartment becomes unaffordable,” Newsome told a rally in April, “if a tenant commits or participates in any act of which the landlord does not approve, i.e., calling 311, an HP action, or a decrease-in-services filing.”

“As with most landlords in New York City,” says Addrana Montgomery, a Community Development Project staff attorney, “if the building is in a certain ZIP code and the majority of tenants are black and brown people, repair issues like the longstanding and very dangerous elevator problems in Ebbets Field are rarely addressed in a timely and proper manner as required by New York law. The residents at Ebbets Field are putting their tenant power to work by making the landlord account before a judge.”