When headlines started circulating recently about a high-priced Williamsburg rental building that'd been evacuated due to a lack of permits and conditions that rendered it a virtual "death trap," suffice it to say, our imaginations ran a bit wild. But now that Gothamist has run an extensive interview with one of the building's former tenants, we know exactly how bad things got at 120 South Fourth, and well, it's even worse than we'd suspected.
It goes something like this: in August 2013, then-23-year-old Lauren Holman and three roommates signed a year-long lease for a $6,000/month four-bedroom duplex, which was still under construction, but was supposed to be ready for a September move-in. Lo and behold, the move-in date came and went, and the apartment still didn't have walls, a refrigerator, gas, or heat, among other extensive problems. "[Moving in] was a big mistake on my part, but a lot of people made that mistake," Holman told Gothamist.
What ensued was a year-long nightmare of constant leaks through what was apparently a paper-thin roof, ongoing construction (including a stream of on-site contractors, one of whom may or may not have stolen one of her roommates' computers), and still, for months on end, no real walls or doors in the apartment.
And as they know now, the building didn't even have a certificate of occupancy for most of the time they lived (or attempted to live) in the building. There were also more mundane problems, like a promised gym that never materialized, or roommates being unable to bring dates back to their ramshackle "luxury" apartment.
To Holman's credit, she did one thing very right here, by keeping an extensive log of incidents, dates, communications with the management, and photos of problems throughout the building, though she and her roommates were hesitant to withhold rent for fear of ending up on the tenant blacklist.
Eventually, they did stop paying rent for the last few months, and the management was bold enough to try to sue them for nearly $25,000. (They dropped the suit after the roommates hired a lawyer.)
That said--and because here at Brick, apartment horror stories are nothing if not teachable moments--if you find yourself in the same position as these roommates, we'd recommend a slightly different course of action. (Besides researching management companies before you move in to avoid the sketchier ones, that is.) While you're legally entitled to a habitable apartment--which would include walls and basic utilities--landlords often respond best to complaints if they're submitted en masse, by a large group of tenants or a tenants' association, as we've written previously. After detailing your complaints to the landlord, you can also file what's known as an HP action, which would bring a court order for the landlord to make repairs or face heavy fines. (You can also complain to 311 as an interim step, though that's not strictly required.)
While the HP action would likely guarantee repairs, an actual rent abatement (or cash settlement) would most likely have to come from a court settlement, another reason it's helpful for tenants to band together in these cases. Or, you can do what Holman did: flee New York for L.A., and never look back. After all this, we can hardly blame her.
Ask Sam: How do I start a tenants' association? (sponsored)