People Against Landlord Abuse & Tenent Exploitation (P.A’.L.A.N.T.E.) organizes against landlords in Harlem

By Eva Vallaincourt

November 16, 2009

At the first awards luncheon for People Against Landlord Abuse and Tenant Exploitation—a local tenants right organization—the directors spoke of their growing programs to protect residents of Harlem, along with an upcoming party, which will feature a piñata shaped like a landlord.

Tenants organizers gathered Saturday to celebrate victories against landlords and look towards future battles against persistent mistreatment.

At the first awards luncheon for People Against Landlord Abuse and Tenant Exploitation—a local tenants right organization—the directors spoke of their growing programs to protect residents of Harlem, along with an upcoming party, which will feature a piñata shaped like a landlord.

The organization, known as P.A’L.A.N.T.E, which means “moving forward” in Spanish, began as a tenants’ association in three Harlem buildings in 2006. Those buildings, 225 and 235 West 146th Street and 301 West 141st street, had been virtually abandoned by their landlords, and were in a state of critical disrepair, according to tenants.

Three years later, local politicians joined these tenant leaders at the River Room of Harlem on 145th Street, to celebrate the progress they made in those first three units, and to look toward the future.

Elisa Vasquez, president of P.A’L.A.N.T.E, said that the group currently represents 15 different tenant associations in Northern Manhattan—but it all began with those first fights in 2006.

“If someone was walking in the apartment above you, you could see the cracks coming down your walls,” Natasha Roberts, a tenant of 301 West 141st Street, said. “Water would be pouring in everywhere.” Tenants were routinely left for extended periods without heat, functioning appliances like refrigerators, and basic necessities like working toilets, she added.

With persisting problems of bedbugs, rats, toxic mold, and lead contamination, more than 2,500 health and building code violations affecting more than seventy families were logged, in addition to numerous false rent registrations, she said. “They were just torturing us,” Roberts added.

Vasquez organized residents at the time and formed the predecessor association to P.A’L.A.N.T.E. The tenants won a major victory when all three buildings were granted 7A status—which allows a court-appointed administrator to manage the properties. The buildings are now being rehabilitated, though legal proceedings on the part of the owners regularly disrupt repairs.

But Vasquez said that they still have a lot of work to do, because harassment of prominent organizers has not stopped.

“I told the landlord ‘You know, I’m on to the white truck that’s been following me,’” Vasquez. “Now it’s a station wagon.”

“We’re not rabble-rousers,” said Hugo Ortega, who sits on P.A.’L.A.N.T.E.’s board of directors. “We are aware that landlords need to make money. But we also know that there’s a threshold where landlords can fulfill their obligations to the tenants and still make a profit.”

P.A.’L.A.N.T.E has since expanded beyond the work of those three units, now leading after school and daycare programs, as well as seminars that inform tenants about their rights. It has also forged alliances with elected officials, including Congressman Charles Rangel, a democrat who represents Morningside Heights, who was an honoree on Saturday.

Another prominent supporter, Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright, also attended on Saturday, and said that there is great potential for tenants’ rights work in Harlem at large—if many of these grassroots organizations join forces.

“We have a lot of tenant groups,” Wright said. “But imagine what we could do if we all joined together.” P.A.’L.A.N.T.E. and a parallel organization, B.R.U.S.H, Buyers and Renters United to Save Harlem, have been following this advice, working closely together to combine efforts and resources.

“We’re going by what Obama tells us,” Vasquez said, echoing Wright. “Non-profits need to work together to move forward.”

columbiaspectator

Political Action Committee – NAA – files Amicus Brief in mold case (two infant deaths in mold filled apt – Wasatch Prop Mgmt) citing US Chamber/ACOEM ‘litigation defense report’ to disclaim health effects of indoor mold & limit financial risk for industry

“Changes in construction methods have caused US buildings to become perfect petri dishes for mold and bacteria to flourish when water is added. Instead of warning the public and teaching physicians that the buildings were causing illness; in 2003 the US Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform, a think-tank, and a workers comp physician trade organization mass marketed an unscientific nonsequitor to the courts to disclaim the adverse health effects to stave off liability for financial stakeholders of moldy buildings. Although publicly exposed many times over the years, the deceit lingers in US courts to this very day.” Sharon Noonan Kramer

Information on Riverstone Residential knowingly exposing tenants to extreme amounts of mold toxins at Toxic Mold Infested Jefferson Lakes Apartments in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Toxic Mold Infested Jefferson Lakes Apartments managed by Riverstone Residential

Riverstone Residential Litigation

Mold Inspection Reports

Photos of Mold in Apartment

Attorney Malpractice

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