Bed-Stuy’s Waterless House

Home Politics Bed-Stuy’s Waterless House

By Derrick Taylor

A fire hydrant where residents at 274 Malcolm X Blvd would gather water for their daily needs. Photo: Taylor/Brooklyn Ink
A fire hydrant where residents at 274 Malcolm X Blvd would gather water for their daily needs. Photo: Taylor/Brooklyn Ink

In Bedford-Stuyvesant there is a small apartment building that seems to catch more grief and misfortune than any other. For two months, 16 residents at 274 Malcolm X Blvd. lived without running water. And it’s not the first time they’ve gone without life’s necessities.

Last winter residents went without electricity for one month. This summer the building was served a notice of violation from the Environmental Control Board, stating that the building’s water pipes needed repair. The landlord, Carl Plata, died more than a year ago and no one has been the given the title of proprietor since his death. Without a landlord to correct the violations, the water was promptly shut off as promised by the New York City Department of Buildings. Residents lived in the rundown gray building from July to mid-September without running water.

“I would buy 30 gallons of water for the week,” said an unemployed tenant, Connie Lundy 56, who is working on her master’s degree at Kaplan University. She sat on the steps of the modest gray apartment building and talked about life without water. “The main thing is to flush the toilet, can’t have no stinky house,” said Lundy, explaining where most of her 30 gallons went.

The Tenants Rights Guide provided by the Attorney General states that landlords must provide a “warrant of habitability” which means a warm, safe, clean, and dry apartment. When no landlord is available, residents are allowed to make repairs privately as well as take legal action if needed deducting cost from rent.

During the course of the year Lundy said that an unidentified woman began coming around collecting money for the rent. Lundy wasn’t comfortable giving money to a stranger so she refused. Lundy later learned that the woman was the late landlord’s sister. When the water was originally shut off Lundy tried calling Plata, not knowing he was dead because he didn’t live in the building. With no one to deal with the shutdown the other tenants asked her to spearhead the effort to have the water turned back on. Most of the blue collar residents, according to Lundy, are on a fixed incomes and don’t have the resources to “stretch out the ropes and contact people.”

She began making contacts, calling Con Edison as well as reporters and various city departments around town. But, she said, “people were passing the buck.”

In fact, tenants do have options when there is no landlord to turn to, says Larry Jason, executive director of Brooklyn Housing and Family Services.  Residents could send the landlord a certified letter with a returned receipt request. According to Jason, the request must be sent through certified mail, phone calls and face-to-face conversations don’t count. Then if residents want to make the necessary repairs, they may do so. Residents should then send the receipt for the repairs to the landlord and have him deduct the price from the amount of rent due. Another option would be to go directly to housing court, at which a judge could order the pipes repaired and water turned back on immediately. Only afterwards would the court determine who should pay for the repairs. 

This September, Mark Winston Griffith, an unsuccessful city council candidate, led a protest at the building at the corner of Malcolm X Blvd. and Macon Street. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development has since stepped in and repaired the pipes. The water was turned back on last month.

The Department of Housing Preservation and Development website still shows that Plata is the owner of the building. However, someone else who is not identified by the New York City Housing Department has been paying taxes on the building in his name.

On October 19th Environmental Control Board Court held a hearing to discuss the violation resulting in the water shutdown. No one appeared at the hearing to represent the building. The court is waiting for someone to come forward to reschedule it.

Meanwhile, Lundy has ideas for the building “I want to establish a tenants association,” she said. Lundy has an idle wish and it’s to gather other tenants to buy the building. “I want to put solar panels on the building,” she said with a large smile.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.