Landlord struggles to collect rent as building deterioriates

It's a story heard all too often, except this time renters could make change


Kevin Brown wants to go home. The only problem is his landlord hasn’t finished repairs on the building he’s lived in for more than two decades.


“People say I should just find an apartment somewhere else,” Brown said. “but it’s hard to find an apartment in New York.”

A fire last April at his Morrisania apartment building forced Brown into a shelter. He doesn’t have a single hint when he’ll be allowed to return.

Absolutely necessary repairs. A landlord slow to react, if they react at all. It’s become a common mantra not just at 1210 Clay Ave., but across the city where rents are already high, and simply finding an affordable apartment could become a full-time job in of itself.

And there might never be progress if it weren’t for Bronx Legal Services and the housing advocacy group Community Action for Safe Apartments-New Settlement. They fight for tenants across the city, and in this particular case, has called on landlord Hee Yang to finally make necessary repairs to her building, using a series of rallies on along Clay Avenue in front of the tenement building to make it happen.

The tenants of the Morrisania building have stopped paying rent, at least until those repairs are finally done.

Yang is currently renting out rooms in several apartments throughout the building. But Brown claims this is a rent-stabilized building, meaning it could be illegal to rent out individual rooms.

“She still has the apartment leased to a guy who moved out of the building 10 years ago,” Brown claims. “She recently made a new lease in his name, but the guy lives in New Jersey.”

It’s enough, he says, to keep him out of his apartment.

But Yang says that’s far from the truth.

“The problem is these tenants move in with people who I lease the apartment to, and then when those individuals leave, the new people want to stay with the apartment,” the landlord said. “I can’t get rid of them.”

Yet, Yang’s track record with the city’s buildings department suggests a different story, beginning with a violation she received 15 years ago for renovating a unit to allow more people to live there than legally allowed. Some tenants acknowledge Yang paid the $950 fine, but never made the changes DOB demanded.

In fact, Yang has since received more than 100 violations, primarily from the city’s housing preservation and development department.

But to fix the place up, Yang says she needs the rent from the tenants remaining in her occupied rooms.

“It’s difficult to make any of the repairs if no one is paying the rent,” she said.

Brown’s rent climbed to $850 before it caught fire. He blamed a faulty electrical wire inside his closet.

It’s one of many issues in the building to be left unfixed. In fact, Brown says he’s been told to make repairs himself.

Once again, Yang claims a different version of events sparked the fire. She says it was Brown’s use of a surge protector caused the unit’s electrical system to overheat.

Brown, however, isn’t the only one claiming unfixed electrical issues. Another tenant, William Heidbreder, says the landlord has never hired an electrician whenever he told her about a faulty outlet in his living room wall.

“She brought over an ABC home manual that displays instructions on how to repair electrical outlets and proceeded to fix them herself,” he said. “All she did was change one outlet for a new one, but left an old one next to it and never bothered to fix the wiring itself.”

Yang says she’s doing all that she can to repair the fire damage.

She’s even replaced a boiler in the basement. On Monday, workers were observed coming in and out of the boiler room — a part of repairs Heidbreder says didn’t start “until she started receiving the fines.”

A housing court told Brown he can return home once repairs have been made. He has accused Yang of failing to provide heat and hot water in the wintertime throughout the years. And when he tried to remedy that by taking matters into his own hands, Yang would still find a way to collect.

“Whenever I brought my own electrical heater, the landlord would charge me $100 extra for the electrical bill,” he said. “She’s supposed to provide heat and hot water. I’ve had to call 311 on her many times.”

But it’s not just heat and electric. It’s also rodents and bugs.

“I’ve had rats climb on the stove while my food is still on it,” Brown said.

Heidbreder’s bathtub sits next to a deteriorating wall.

“We have broken pipes here in the building,” he said. “We also have broken kitchen appliances that need repair.”

There’s also the matter of safety.

“There’s no intercom, and that can be a problem — especially in this neighborhood,” Heidbreder said. “There really is no security system, and so people have pried open the door and come into our building. People who don’t live here — and they bring in drugs and hang out here.”

Heidbreder says he saw one man loitering on his floor, near his door, for six months.

As someone who has lived at the building for eight years, Heidbreder hopes some of the initial improvements made by his landlord will continue. Especially now he and his neighbors have taken Yang to court.

“We just want to be able to have a lease,” Heidbreder said. “We want to be able to have Kevin come back.”