Tenants of 3045 Godwin Terrace in the past year have made at least 36 complaints to the New York City building department ranging from illegal apartment conversions to lead exposure, people being stuck in an elevator for an hour, urine and feces being in common areas and landlords renting to shelter programs.
The many complaints and failure to certify corrections of a class one violation at the Kingsbridge Heights rent-stabilized apartment building resulted in Councilman Eric Dinowitz and West Bronx Housing canvassing the building on Sept. 21. They informed tenants about a “know your rights seminar” being held at the council member’s office.
“Our office received a number of complaints about the conditions in these buildings,” Dinowitz said on social media. “So we went from floor to floor, apartment to apartment, making sure they knew their rights.”
The Riverdale Press, which was invited to come in by Dinowitz and West Bronx Housing executive director Joshua Stephenson, was able to get inside the building and make themselves at home by simply opening the door and walking in. The ability for any stranger to enter with ease is one of the many problems tenants have. There was tape pressed around the door handle in an effort to keep it locked but that has seemingly done little to stop teenagers from sneaking in and smoking pot.
Blunts could be seen on the interior steps to the roof, the walls marked with the kiss of cigars and graffiti. Despite a flier from the management warning that the stairwells were alarmed, a reporter for The Press once again had no issue bypassing the stairs to an unlocked door in accessing the roof.
In addition to teenagers, some tenants have also complained about the new landlord renting only to shelter programs since the building was purchased in February for $8.55 million. With the purchase came apparently a lot of illegal apartment conversions, such as closing off a living room to make an extra bedroom.
The city buildings department shows 3045 Godwin Terrace has numerous violations relating to construction, one of the more recent ones being a door installed into a wall without a permit. The conversions have resulted in a bunch of strangers moving into apartments and sharing a bathroom, kitchen and living room, said one female tenant who would not give her name in fear of retribution.
“The people that are being brought in, there are a handful of panhandlers,” she said to The Press. “They’re asking for money on elevators. There’s one that stands directly outside of the building asking for cigarettes.”
Many of the panhandlers have mental health issues and needs that are not being met, the tenant said. She told The Press they deserve better and to be somewhere where they can be monitored and made sure they’re getting three square meals a day, bathing and getting their medication.
She also complained about the type of crime and energy the sidewalk sheds outside attract to the building. It is often for teenagers to come sit on the stoop, play music and smoke pot. The sheds have also encouraged people to chain their motorcycles and scooters to the poles, she said. The shed has been up since at least 2021, according to city officials.
Another tenant, Rolando Ruiz, whose window view is surrounded by sidewalk sheds, complained about new neighbors putting air conditioning units on the fire escape and has heard about other neighbors about finding needles in teh hallway. He spoke about recently coming across a person in the apartment wearing a mask and fearing that they could have attacked his wife.
“I’ve been in this neighborhood for 40 years,” Ruiz said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
A posted flyer by the city’s department of health and mental hygiene informs tenants of an inspection that was ordered due to a violation relating to construction dust.
“The department inspector observed construction activities that were in progress and found an accumulation of dust and/or paint chips generated and released into the air as a result of paint scraping and work that was performed at this location without proper containment,” the flier reads.
Dust samples were sent to a laboratory in May to determine if they were contaminated with lead. An additional flier informs tenants that lead exposure can cause learning and behavior problems in children, cause high blood pressure or miscarriages in pregnant women and kidney and reproductive health issues in adults. As a result of finding samples over 0.5 milligrams of lead per square centimeter of paint, a work stop order was put into place.
It is because of issues and violations like these that Dinowitz and Joshua Stephenson, executive director at West Bronx Housing, went apartment to apartment, sliding papers underneath doors and pinning information sheets to walls. There are four steps that tenants can take if their landlords are failing them, Stephenson said.
“Step one is a demand letter,” Stephenson explained. “You get together a group of demands. The issues you usually want to highlight are building wide issues. So like the fact that the scaffolding has been up for so long, the fact that the trash hasn’t been taken out, the fact that the elevator keeps breaking.”
The second step is filing rent reduction requests with the division of housing and community renewal. If that agency inspects and finds violations, then rent will be frozen. The third step tenants can take is a group housing park action, which is where as a group of tenants take a landlord to court.
“The last step, and this is always the most serious step that a group of tenants can take, is withholding rent,” Stephenson told The Press. “It’s generally not advised by a lot of the pay providers because you’re forcing the landlord to take you to court basically for not paying your rent. But it’s very effective because you’re actually hurting the landlord in the pocket.”
The most important thing though is that tenants have a way of showing that they’ve let landlords know they have a list of demands and issues, and have filed complaints to 311.
“It’s very important that tenants here, and of course around the city know that they have rights,” Dinowitz said outside the building. “And the right to live in a safe and clean apartment, safe and clean building.”
The tenant association meeting, “know your rights” seminar, will be held at Dinowitz’s office at 3107 Kingsbridge Ave. at 6 p.m. on Sept. 28.