On April 10, tenants and organizers rallied in front of 567 St. John’s Place in Brooklyn to demand tenant control of the eight-unit building, the removal of its owner, Gerard Tema, and for the city to address the numerous open building violations and dangerous conditions in which the residents have been forced to live under. Crown Heights Tenants Union (CHTU)—of which many of the tenants are members—organized the rally, and it was attended by the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
The residential building has now accumulated 412 open violations, which include collapsed ceilings, no heat, massive leaks, dangerous infestations of rats and roaches, and peeling lead paint. Currently, six tenants are withholding rent until the building is properly repaired.
The residents also filed a 7A complaint with Brooklyn Housing Court in June 2021, which allows tenants to ask the city to directly administer their building’s maintenance in place of a negligent landlord who refuses to keep up with city codes. The conditions in the building were so bad that New York City Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) have themselves signed onto the action and recommended that the city allocate $600,000 to renovate the building. While the suit will not result in tenant control of the building, CHTU hope to make this point a continuing campaign after the judge releases a ruling.
According to tenants, the court case concluded in December, but the presiding judge has yet to rule. Tenants are hoping that increased public pressure will finally force the judge to act.
‘Everything started falling apart’
567 St. John’s Place resident Ayanna Dore moved into the building two days before the city shut down in 2020. At that point, the apartment was in a state of disrepair, but Tema stated that “supply-chain interruptions” due to the pandemic were preventing him from carrying out his responsibilities.
“Within a few months of living here, everything started falling apart,” Dore said. “Bed bugs, mice, roaches, my ceiling was leaking, the floor was picking up. My baby has scratches … because he started crawling, and … the floor was scratching him.”
Dore bought a carpet to protect the child from the floor, but had to throw it away after it became infested with bed bugs.
The poor living conditions of these apartments have even made the tenants and their families physically ill. Tenants complained of chronic nose bleeds, asthma and allergy exacerbations from rodents, lead poisoning, bed bug bites, and more.
Tenant Aaron Siddo reported that his fiancee died in his apartment six months ago amongst peeling lead paint, broken heating pipes, and a rat infestation. Siddo has been staying at his mother’s apartment with his 18-month-old daughter, because “the city said I can’t have the baby in that type of condition.”
Residents determined to keep fighting
Former Democratic District Leader Renee Collymore attended the rally in support of her neighbors.
She stated, “This whole building is filled with people of color. This is a shame that this landlord has neglected … all of these families. There is a person that has passed away in this building due to lead. This building is toxic … and people are dying right here in this building at 567 St. John’s.”
Organizers made clear that no matter what the judge rules, the residents of 567 St. John’s Place will not be giving up anytime soon.
“If [the court ruling] is in his favor, we’re going to fight again,” Dore insisted. “We’re going to keep fighting and fighting and fighting. We’ve got children that deserve to have their homes fixed and their needs met.”
“Everybody deserves to have a decent home to live in no matter what you make, or how much you don’t make,” she continued. “It shouldn’t matter. Everyone deserves to be living in a decent place.”