The tenants at 125 Vermilyea Ave. in Inwood began organizing a tenants association in November 2016. At first, they rallied around visible problems like trash in the hallways, a broken front door, and broken lighting fixtures throughout the building.
But soon, they learned that their neighbors weren’t sharing all of the issues they were experiencing. At the association’s first meeting, people spoke about sagging ceilings, rising tiles, no heat, mold, continuous leaking from the roof, a broken staircase, and holes in their walls and ceilings from repair work that was either never completed or improperly patched up. Most of the tenants in the 17 apartments are Latino, and many of the older ones speak mainly Spanish. They were frustrated trying to communicate with the monolingual Englishspeaking management staff.
“We are a family here. We look out for each other,” says tenant association president Eduardo Espinal. “Most of us have been living in this building for over 30 years, and most of us are over 50 years old, with SCRIE or DRIE rent freezes.” The lack of repairs and buyout offers from the landlord has made long-term residents wonder if the owner, Lemle & Wolff Companies/125 Vermilyea LLC, wants them out.
“They came to my door and offered me money to leave, but I told them no because I want to stay,” Manuel Contreras, who has been living in the building for over 30 years and pays less than $1,000 a month rent, told Univision 41 Nueva York.
The building is located on the east side of Broadway, where a majority of residents are Latino immigrants. According to U.S. Census statistics, 77 percent of neighborhood households earn less than $20,000 a year. Vacant apartments have been advertised for $2,200 to $2,500 a month.
Tenants at 125 Vermilyea eventually met with the property manager, Avrahom Rosenstock, in their lobby, after sending a letter demanding repairs and doing a “311 action,” in which they called the 311 complaint hotline as often as they could to report unaddressed repair issues in their apartments and building. They gave the landlord two weeks to make all urgent repairs. The next day, the super was hard at work making appointments and completing repairs.
A few residents, including Contreras, are still waiting for repairs such as fixing a broken bedroom door, broken bathroom tiles, and holes in walls where water is leaking. But most of the long list of repairs the tenants demanded were finished within the month.
“Since we’ve formed an association, we’ve seen t hat this little bit of pressure has accomplished many positive changes in our building,” Espinal says. “After 30 years, we’re seeing an improvement in repairs, and this is a good thing.”