He’s always looking up, but not at the stars. No. Pedro De La Cruz — no relation — is staring at the ceiling. Not because it’s some architectural marvel, but instead out of fear it may all come crashing down on him.
“You would think after it happened the first time, my landlord would make sure it doesn’t happen again,” De La Cruz said. “But it’s not the case. They don’t care what happens in this building.
De La Cruz had just crawled out of bed last year when the ceiling in his bedroom collapsed on top of the very blankets and sheets that had covered him moments before. The landlord fixed the bedroom ceiling almost immediately. That’s not the problem: It’s the rest of the ceilings in his 99 Marble Hill Ave., apartment that has De La Cruz concerned.
“If you look up at the ceiling here in the living room, you can literally see the floor above looks like it’s going to cave in,” De la Cruz said. “In the bathroom we have a similar situation, where you can see we have a leak coming from my neighbor’s apartment above.”
De La Cruz also says both his bathtub and bathroom sink pipes leak, creating a problem that he believes is only making the space between apartment units weaker as it has now accumulated months of water.
The cabinets in De La Cruz’s kitchen are falling apart from their hinges. It’s something he describes as an all-too-common feature in many of the 99 Marble Hill apartments. If he opens the cabinet below his kitchen sink, a demolished floor is revealed directly below the drainpipe — something he says is indicative of a collapsing floor.
Walls throughout the apartment show signs of leaking water from the apartment above, including a plaster bubble that has appeared in one corner of his kitchen.
“This is the long-lasting proof of the building’s leaking problems,” De La Cruz said. “You only get these damages from faulty water pipes that are leaking.”
Yet, De La Cruz’s landlord is almost just as notorious as the building he lives in. Richard Nussbaum, in fact, holds the No. 18 spot on city public advocate Jumaane Williams’ list of New York City’s worst landlords.
Helping Nussbaum earn that distinction is the nearly 350 city housing preservation and development violations 99 Marble Hill has collected over the years, along with nearly a dozen buildings department violations.
It’s earned him spots on the public advocate’s list in the past, including a ranking just outside the top five in 2019. Another property he owns in Washington Heights has more than 300 violations.
Nussbaum could not be reached for comment.
Calling him out on such a list is important, but Nussbaum’s tenants would rather see him take the kind of corrective action that would have him taken off the list completely rather than simply bumped down a few slots.
De La Cruz, a Dominican immigrant, has lived at the 56-unit building for 21 years — more than nearly all the rest of his neighbors.
He’s spent most of those years living in apartment 4F, and says he’s been dealing with the landlord’s neglect for decades.
De La Cruz’s grief isn’t limited to the poor conditions of 99 Marble Hill’s apartments. He’s not happy with the lack of upkeep also.
“This place is always dirty,” he said. “We have a superintendent who supposedly lives here, but you never see him around doing anything.”
The building’s hallways are mostly filthy with dirt and debris. De La Cruz said, from garbage neighbors often leave behind.
While he hasn’t had any rat sightings in his own apartment, he often finds roaches running about.
Tenants have complained to The Riverdale Press in the past about the rodent infestation.
“If you see any floor that looks like it’s been cleaned, it’s because some of us actually physically cleaned it,” De La Cruz said. “We have neighbors in some cases who sweep and mop the floor bi-weekly, if not monthly. The thing is, though, that’s not our job to do. That’s why we pay the rent here for.”
And forget about security. The intercom system, De La Cruz says, doesn’t work.
“Who knows if the security camera in (the) hallway works as well,” he said. “I mean, this is a tough neighborhood we live in. We need to know that these things are working and that we can rely on them.”
Before the pandemic, a group of lawyers representing building tenants inspected De La Cruz’s apartment. He hasn’t heard anything since.
“We have been dealing with this landlord for years now,” he said. “It feels like nothing ever gets done.”
But winter is coming, and De La Cruz is not looking forward to it. It’s been years since the building’s heating system has worked well. And this cold season, he isn’t expecting anything different.
“Once the winter gets here, that’s when we really have problems that affect everyone here,” De La Cruz said. “You’ll get absolutely no heat, and you can definitely expect a bunch of cold showers in the mornings.”
Getting in touch with Nussbaum’s office has proven to be another challenge in of itself.
“Half the time no one picks up,” De La Cruz said. “Even when they do, you’ll get anything but the help you’re looking for.
The tenants of 99 Marble Hill just want their basic needs met, De La Cruz said. Nothing more. Nothing less.
“Listen, we pay our rent,” he said. “The only thing we ask is our water doesn’t leak. Our homes don’t freeze. And that we keep the building safe. It’s really just property owner’s basic responsibility as a landlord.”