Negligent landlords are nothing new to New Yorkers. But at 1834 Caton Ave. in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, tenants are tired of living in degraded and outright dangerous conditions. On July 8, members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation joined 1834 Caton Tenants United for its first building-wide rally to demand repairs from their landlord. Brooklyn Council member Rita Joseph also attended and spoke at the event.
Residents of the Flatbush building have been asking for plumbing repairs and mold removal in their apartments and common areas for years to no avail. Further, the garbage area gets quickly overcrowded, resulting in trash fires that bring toxic ash into tenants’ apartments.
One tenant, David Jex, shared his frustration over this landlord neglect: “They don’t come to repair the apartment when it’s supposed to be repaired. They don’t make appointments. When they do make appointments, they don’t show up. And if they do show up, they come and they do part of the work, then they say they’re gonna come back. You don’t see them for another couple days. So now we have to call them again. So now the first job that they had to do, they screwed that up. It’s ridiculous.”
Perhaps the most immediate danger comes from the elevators. They are constantly malfunctioning and have trapped tenants with children in the boiling heat of summer for over 30 minutes. The elevators are also constantly out of service, forcing elderly and disabled tenants to struggle getting themselves and their belongings up the stairs to their apartments.
There are currently five violations for immediately hazardous living conditions at 1834 Caton Ave. from the Department of Buildings. Several of these violations are over three years old with several thousand dollars worth of fines attached to them. There are 20 other violations across the DOB and the Office of Administrative Trials & Hearings.
Property company has thousands of open building violations
Goldmont Realty owns 1834 Caton Ave. among over 70 other properties — making the neglect of this building only that much easier for the ever-expanding enterprise. There are over 4,000 open building violations across Goldmont’s properties with some top complaints being about heat, hot water, pest and plumbing issues.
At the rally Matt Belen, an organizer with the PSL and a tenant of another Goldmont Realty building, told the audience that he had experienced the same issues of landlord neglect as the 1834 Caton Ave. tenants.
“Much like your building, [mine is] in a pitiful state of disrepair,” he said. “Two days after I moved in, my bathroom ceiling caved in … I went around chatting with my neighbors, and sure enough, when I asked if anyone had issues in their apartment, the number one thing I kept hearing was, ‘Oh, my living room ceiling caved in,’ ‘My bedroom ceiling caved in,’ ‘My bathroom ceiling has caved in three times this year.’”
Though all landlords are taking their tenants’ hard-earned money, Goldmont’s greed has revealed itself further through its refusal to adequately pay employees responsible for upkeep of these buildings. Goldmont Realty and its CEO, Leon Goldmont, have also had class action and single-party lawsuits brought against them for overworking and underpaying employees, such as building superintendents.
Even further, Goldmont has a record of decreasing the amount of rent-stabilized units across his properties as tenants move out — or are evicted. Rent stabilization is one of the few tenant protections against inflation that exist in the country, though it is being chipped away by landlords like Goldmont’s rent destabilization and campaign donations to pro-landlord legislators. These tactics are familiar to the Caton tenants, as well as other long-term residents of the neighborhood. Prior to the pandemic, Flatbush saw a surge in gentrification tactics, such as increased surveillance, police presence and criminalization under the guise of “economic restructuring” in the mostly Black neighborhood.
Tenants are stronger than ever and have had enough
Since residents have formed their tenant association, 1834 Caton Tenants United, and begun fighting back together, things have been changing a lot faster. Jex said that organizing has been good ”now [that] you got access to stuff that you didn’t know before.”
Tenants have been meeting with one another to organize their list of demands and to communicate with the landlord. Goldmont Realty representatives cancel meetings with the residents more often than not, though they would never show up before feeling this refreshed pressure. Additionally, the laundry room has gotten an updated paint job due to an organized 311 phone campaign.
This minimal progress is not enough for residents living in hazardous conditions. Recently, over 30 tenants signed on as parties to sue Goldmont Realty by bringing an HP action against the landlord in housing court. As they have been taking these first steps in the legal process, a rally was held this last Saturday to raise local awareness about the struggle.
As these residents have achieved success, they have also been subject to retaliation from Goldmont Realty. The landlord has begun sending non-payment notices to several tenants and has sent a full eviction notice to one. Residents say this isn’t the first time Goldmont has retaliated this way. Jex has gone through a six-month-long court battle with the landlord before after being accused of not paying rent for five years.
“If you don’t hold your rent receipts for like five or six years, they will go back those five or six years and say that you owed him rent,” he shared. “Then when you’re there, you have no counsel for you, for them to guide you too. Cause the only lawyer that’s there is the one that’s for the landlord. So now you’re there and you don’t know what the hell is going on.”
Residents appreciated the support they received at the rally and remained committed to holding their landlord accountable.
“They try to stop you from organizing, even though you have a right to organize! Even though you have a right to repairs!” said Natalia Marques, a tenant of 1834 Caton Ave. “So we’re not going to stop … We deserve good quality housing! And we’re going to get it!”
These tenants join thousands across the nation tired of living in unlivable conditions. The tenant struggle is a socialist struggle!