Definitly going on the Notorious Landlords List – katy
The Journal News
November 22, 2008
Tenants at a government-subsidized rental complex are hoping local and federal authorities will force their landlord to quickly finish what they call critical and long-delayed repairs to their apartments.
When it rains, Crystal Alston, a mother of five, says the water comes into her unit through the window frames. Tammy Pettiford says the holes and weak spots in the flooring of her apartment are a constant hazard. Leonard Watson says he’s had part of his ceiling fall in.
Other residents of the Surrey-Carlton apartments on Ewing and Slinn avenues also have complained to Rockland County’s Health Department of similar problems, as well as of rodent infestation and repair requests that go unacknowledged, but owner Kirpal Singh of APS Realty says certain problem tenants constantly undo numerous repairs or fail to make repair requests for fear of exposing overcrowding in the Section 8-subsidized apartments.
According to Alston, work crews started repairs on her apartment, then went away for an entire month before returning. Alston showed visitors to her kitchen, where one side had newer cabinets, while on the other side, the cabinets seemed to be much older and in disrepair.
“See this old ketchup bottle?” she said, opening one cabinet.
An empty plastic bottle was propping up the loaded upper shelf. “If I remove this, it’s all going to fall.”
Pettiford, 34, lives in the apartment with her four children, the youngest of whom has severe asthma. She says the apartment hasn’t been painted in the more than 18 years she’s lived there. She pointed out the loose lock on the front door, a hole in her bedroom floor, and the missing molding on top of her bedroom door.
“When I try to wash my dishes, the guy downstairs gets floods,” Pettiford said.
That man, 62-year-old Watson, said he was mostly content in his apartment, except for the kitchen. Inside the kitchen, visitors were met with the stark sight of a cabinet appearing to be almost detached from the wall and sagging toward the floor. Because he cannot use that cabinet, Watson stores his pots and pans inside a box in his cramped living room.
“It’s been like this for almost six years,” he said. “I feel terrible. It’s a health hazard.”
When the county started hearing about the conditions from residents, Joseph Abate, director the Rockland Office of Community Development – which administers U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development programs in Rockland – wrote to HUD and visited the tenants. County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef also has written to HUD of his concerns about the site.
HUD subsidizes the rents of the majority of the tenants through its Section 8 program.
In December 2007, Abate wrote to HUD about the residents’ complaints of a rodent and roach infestation, flooding and mold, and other health and safety issues. A number of other tenants were leery of airing their own complaints for fear of retaliation, he added.
Pettiford and Alston both have said they’ve been denied requests for larger apartments, and they believe it’s because they’ve complained. Singh denied the allegation, saying that the few larger apartments they requested were currently occupied and didn’t become vacant very often.
Abate had eight units inspected for housing quality standards. All of them failed inspection.
HUD responded to Abate’s letter by initiating its own inspection of 24 units in the complex in January, finding systemic deficiencies in both the apartments and common areas – such as damaged or missing lavatory sinks, damaged locks, windows and walls – as well as serious health and safety deficiencies, including missing smoke detectors, missing or peeling paint, missing baseboard heater covers, inoperable windows, missing or damaged cabinets, roaches, mold, exposed wiring and an inoperable toilet.
The complex scored a 53 out of 100. Any score below 60 is considered as not meeting HUD’s physical condition standards.
County health department inspectors have since performed several inspections in response to tenant complaints, resulting in numerous violations against Singh. Some of the violations were issued against tenants.
Tenants bear much of the blame, Singh said, adding that he does his best to keep the 176-unit complex – the majority of which are one-, two- and three-bedroom units – in pristine condition, but that about 30 or so of his renters make his job hard.
“The tenants are destroying the property,” a clearly frustrated Singh said recently at the complex. “I’m telling you, they just destroy it.”
In a December 2007 letter from Abate to APS, Abate discussed the necessary repairs to the eight apartments that he’d had inspected. Although several of the issues were the landlord’s responsibility, tenants also bore responsibility for dirty stovetops, loose floor tiles, a hole “punched in the wall,” a sliding door knocked of the tracks and an entrance door that had been kicked in.
In one apartment, the tenant had removed smoke detectors save one that was inoperable, the report said, adding that the overall appearance of the apartment was “filthy.”
In another unit, inspectors found the apartment “infested with roaches and overrun with cats,” and containing a “very strong smell of ammonia … from all the cat urine in the apartment,” which was determined to be a health hazard not only to the residents of that unit but to people next door.
Repairs to the complex – about $200,000 worth this year, Singh said, are well under way, but he said he cannot control what happens inside tenants’ apartments.
From the outside, the complex appears well kept, with new iron fencing, a newly paved parking lot and courtyards and clean common areas. Work crews were making repairs one afternoon earlier this month.
Abate, who offered Singh $50,000 in federal funding to help with comprehensive repairs, said fixes needed to be done not just to the exterior but to the interior as well.
Singh said he’s committed to doing repairs inside the units, but said tenants will often decline to allow work crews inside. Health department workers have in some cases reported having similar access problems when they’ve gone to do inspections.
“It’s just the same thing again and again and again and we are the ones who get fined and the tenants, they get a free ride. This is a good place, and there are a lot of good tenants,” Singh said. “I’m really surprised how these people are living here. You go to (a) judge, judge don’t throw them out. What I’m going to do? ”
Singh said he’s proud of his complex, adding that he supplies free batteries for smoke detectors and keeps a constant supply of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, more than 100 new doors as well as new appliances at the ready for repairs.
One tenant, Sandra Stroud, acknowledged Singh was trying to work on the problems.
Thirteen hearings on the county health department violations have been scheduled. The hearing officer’s recommendations will be presented to the commissioners of the county’s Board of Health next month. Each violation could carry a maximum penalty of $1,000 per day.
HUD will conduct another comprehensive inspection next month to check that the promised repairs have been made. Failure to maintain adequate housing quality standards at the site could result in ineligibility to participate in the subsidy program.
For a video with this report, visit – lohud.com