By Daniel Beekman
A Highbridge Avenue apartment building is headed for a battle royal in court. On Tuesday, November 17, tenants at 1380 University Avenue announced a lawsuit against landlord Martin Carlin, who has allegedly failed to repair apartments and keep elevators in order.
Months ago, tenant leaders at the building discovered that Carlin had allegedly accepted millions of dollars in Mitchell-Lama tax credits although 1380 University Avenue is no longer a Mitchell-Lama development. Tenant leaders also believe that Carlin has breached rent regulation rules.“There are still rats,” tenant leader Victoria Lassiter said. “There is mold. There are broken terraces. The elevators are out of order more often than not.”
There are 278 open city Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) violations at 1380 University Avenue, a 17-story, 139-unit building. The violations range from mold to broken locks on the building’s front door, broken windows and doors, damaged walls, leaks and vermin.
Lassiter and tenant leader Barbara Williamson began to organize at 1380 University Avenue in the spring. In May, tenants bused to City Hall to protest conditions at the building. In June, representatives for Councilwoman Helen Diane Foster and Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. toured 1380 University Avenue.
Meanwhile, Carlin had sued Lassiter and Williamson for back rent, and in a June interview with the Bronx Times, blamed tenant leaders for the trouble. Lassiter, Williamson and a handful of other tenants are still in court, as Carlin has sued for back rent; the Legal Aid Society helped persuade a judge to try the tenants’ cases together. Carlin and his lawyer, Eric Wughalter, chose not to comment for this story.
The dispute at 1380 University Avenue eventually attracted lawyers from the Urban Justice Center and advocates from the Community Association for Safe Apartments (CASA), who helped Lassiter, Williamson and 55 additional tenants sue Carlin for repairs. The first court date is Monday, January 4, Tamara Czyzyk of CASA said.
Carlin opted out of the Mitchell-Lama affordable housing program in 1997 but continued to accept Mitchell-Lama tax breaks and failed to re-register the building as rent-regulated, Czyzyk alleged. The landlord has completed a number of illegal apartment conversions at 1380 University Avenue, Lassiter said. Her apartment was converted from a two to a three bedroom, she stated.
Lawyers are in the process of computing the appropriate rent for tenants at the building.
HPD agents offered Carlin 90 days to explain the Mitchell-Lama tax breaks but the landlord failed to respond, Williamson alleged. She hopes the Department of Finance goes after Carlin. In June, an HPD spokesman stated that the city had never encountered a situation like Carlin’s before.
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