“No more slumlords” was the chant heard on the streets of Sunset Park on Thursday, February 12, as residents took to the streets to bring attention to sewage flooding at an apartment complex in the neighborhood.
Following the first annual “Step Up, Speak Out” community forum held at Community Board 7, 4201 Fourth Avenue, State Senator Jesse Hamilton and Assemblymember Felix Ortiz led the march as dozens of Sunset residents walked from the forum to the trio of apartment buildings at 545, 553 and 557 46th Street where tenants have continued to suffer due to the complex’s poor conditions.
So bad has it been, in fact, that in August, 2012, the court took receivership of the building – whose tenants had engaged in a protracted rent strike — away from errant landlord Orazio Petito and gave it to Baltimore-based developer Seryl. Conditions, however, have not improved.
“It’s long overdue,” said Hamilton. “People are fed up and we shouldn’t have a building on receivership under these conditions. They are living under substandard conditions through the legal system. That can’t happen. You can’t have someone appointed by the court to maintain a building and that person is worse than the landlord. It makes no sense. We’re going to do an investigation, and hold people accountable.”
“I was one of the originals that worked with the tenants,” Ortiz stated. “This is a signal to landlords and those controlling this building that the families are not by themselves. We are here to take action, organize and let them know that this is something that is unacceptable.”
Sara Lopez, who has living in the building for nearly 40 years, was grateful for the backing. “To me, their support has been really big and I’m thankful for it. Now that we are united again, believe me I’m going to be calling everyone,” she said. “We’ve been living in these conditions for many years. I live on the first floor and I‘m getting sick from the smell coming from the basement. I’m begging for help because we can’t live in these conditions anymore.”
“People living there have suffered from bronchial diseases and we as a community have to respond and fight for these tenants and support our Sunset Park neighbors,” added Sunset Park Advocacy Chair Dennis Flores.
“They shouldn’t be living under these conditions, especially when temperature is going to be so cold in next few days,” Ortiz contended. “This landlord has to be held accountable. Working together with the Senate and other elected officials, we will put pressure on the landlord.”
Participants in the protest also brought attention to manhole covers that have exploded near the building on more than one occasion. Calling it “an urgent issue,” Flores stressed that, as a result, “The place smells and they’re paying a lot of rent.”