By Helen Klein
Even the rats are likely disgusted with the conditions at a pair of Flatbush buildings that have fallen into disrepair.
The conditions are so bad at 592 and 596 East 22nd Street that, recently, tenants organized by the Flatbush Development Corporation (FDC) invited the press and elected officials inside to see what they live with every day: a revolting stew of backed-up sewage, mold and mildew, and vermin of all descriptions overrunning the buildings that are a starling, depressing and overwhelming picture of neglect.
Residents presented a stark picture of their day-to-day life.
One 18-year old resident, who lives at 596 with her mother, said that there had been leaks in her apartment for more than a year. While mold and mildew have been a problem for a while, she said, “It has become much worse over the last couple of weeks,” because black mold started to seep through the walls of the bathroom. There’s mold on the bathroom and kitchen walls, as well as elsewhere in the apartment.
“It’s just terrible,” the tenant attested, explaining that she had to boil water and use buckets in the middle of the living room to wash herself — something she does three times every day to try to eradicate the smell of mold and mildew.
Another tenant, who has lived in the building for four years with her three children, complained of a broken window and missing door lock. Indeed, she said, the door to her apartment remains open unless she closes it from the inside — which means whenever she goes out, anyone who wants can go into her apartment.
While, she said, the landlord has offered her a couple of thousand dollars to move, that money, she said, would not be enough to help her start elsewhere. “I don’t need the landlord’s money. I want to take action,” the resident contended.
Security in general is lax at the two buildings, said Aga Trojniak, director of housing and immigration programs for FDC, which began working with the tenants in the two 16-unit buildings a few months ago.
“Squatters walk in and live in the basement,” Trojniak told this paper, explaining that problems at the two buildings have snowballed in recent years. There are currently 130 open violations at 592, and another 129 open violations at 596, according to the website of the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). The latter building, Trojniak remarked, “is in comprehensive litigation with HPD. This means HPD has taken the landlord to court to fix the violations in the building.”
Among the issues with which tenants contend, said Trojniak, are a lack of heat in winter, a lack of hot water, peeling paint in the lobby, “sewage dripping, especially in peoples bedrooms,” and a laundry list of vermin: “Rats, mice, roaches, bedbugs.” The bedbugs are so bad, indeed, that one tenant came to the meeting with a plastic bag full of bedbugs she had caught.
“For two years or more, people have been calling the landlord and bugging him, but nothing has been done,” Trojniak contended. “The buildings are falling apart.”
However, said Trojniak, the landlord, Kalman Zimmerman — currently operating the buildings through East 22nd Street Realty LLC — talks a good game. He was invited by FDC to a tenants’ meeting, and showed up, Trojniak said. “He was agreeable and said he would do repairs, but he’s been saying that for years.”
FDC fears that Zimmerman is trying to pressure the tenants into leaving, said Trojniak. The buildings are pre-war structures with good bones — the sort of buildings that, if renovated, could become prized residences for middle-class apartment-dwellers, she explained, noting that Zimmerman’s conversations with tenants reinforce the perception that he is trying to force residents out.
“What he tells people who get the rare chance to talk to him is that he just wants them out,” Trojniak reported. Other tenants have received the same offer — of a couple of thousand dollars if they agree to move — as the tenant quoted above, Trojniak said.
Zimmerman, contacted for comment, told this paper that he was planning to rehabilitate the buildings. “I am applying for permits,” he said, adding, “I should be getting them soon.” Among the repairs that he intends to make, Zimmerman said, is to “redo the plumbing system, which is very old, and causing a lot of problems.
“I am doing what I need to do to make sure everything is in good condition,” Zimmerman said. “I know there’s a problem. I’m not ignoring it.”
Questioned about the vermin, Zimmerman said an exterminator comes to the building monthly and those tenants who are there to let the exterminator in have no problems. As for the squatters, he said he had changed the lock a couple of months ago, and, more recently, had closed up a hole in a window that they were using for access. “So, it’s not an issue anymore,” he said.
Marianna Crout contributed reporting for this article.
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