‘Why are we living in such conditions?’: Crown Heights tenants on why they’re striking

Tenants of 1392 Sterling Place staged a rent strike rally earlier this month.
Charlie Dulik

For Doila George, a resident of 1392 Sterling Place, the final straw came in March when her window jammed, making it unable to close — and adding yet another opening to her dilapidated apartment, which features holes in her kitchen ceiling that send floods of rainwater splashing onto the floor. 

For months, she tried to get in touch with her building’s management company to get the problems in her apartment fixed, but received no responses and no repairs.

In July, she decided she’d had enough. When she mailed her rent for the month, she included with it a letter informing the management company that it would be the last rent she would be paying until her repairs were made. She is yet to receive a response. 

“Why are we living in such conditions?” she said. “Nothing is being done about it.” 

Stories like George’s have been commonplace in the pre-war apartment building in Crown Heights near Utica Avenue since January of this year, when the owner of the building passed away, leaving tenants unsure of who even owns the building now. 

Searches of city tax records have proved inconclusive, and lawyers from the tenant’s rights group Housing Organizers For People Empowerment have been unable to find any answers as to the building’s ownership.

Maintenance of the building was run by management company Iris Management while the former owner was alive, and for a short period, tenants say the building was the most well maintained it had ever been. But following the landlord’s death the company has been missing in action, they say. 

“We don’t know who the owner of the building is,” said tenant association leader Yvette Stamp. “We are really dealing with a lot that we shouldn’t have to deal with.” 

The building’s condition as a whole has deteriorated in the past few months, especially in the basement, which flooded with sewage causing the whole building to stink for a number of weeks in the summer, and has become infested with dangerous mold, tenants say. 

Mold on a tenants ceiling.Provided

“The apartment was reeking of the smell, we could smell it all the way from the fourth floor,” said George. 

The neglected basement also festers a rat and roach infestation which has spread throughout the building, according to Stamp. 

“People are literally throwing out garbage bags filled with their groceries pretty much every day because the rats are coming in the holes in their cupboards,” she said. “They turn on the lights in their kitchen and the roaches and the rats start scampering all over.” 

The neglected basement has fostered a rodent and roach infestation.Provided

The Department of Housing Preservation and Development has inspected the building and ordered management to make repairs, yet the issues remain unresolved. A department spokesperson did not respond to several inquiries seeking specifics on the ordered repairs. 

Part of the reason tenants say repairs have been so hard to come by is the building has no live-in superintendent, just a handyman that services several buildings managed by Iris Management, who they say is nearly impossible to track down. 

“You have to be on the lookout to catch him outside,” George said. “He’s rarely, if ever present.” 

After tenants staged a rent strike rally that was covered by a local news channel on Nov. 7, Stamp says a handyman came by the building to finally make some repairs. While he worked on repairs to a toilet in the apartment she shares with her sister and her 102-year-old grandmother, Stamp says her sister repeatedly questioned the handyman as to when other badly-needed repairs would be made, prompting the handyman to threaten to “f— her up” and threaten the sisters repeatedly, leading to them filing a police report. 

The incident was part of a pattern of disrespect tenants have been subjected to by management, according to Stamp.  

“We get harassed, we get bullied, we get chastised about it,” Stamp said. “And they seem to be getting away with it.” 

Calls to the management company seeking comment went unanswered by deadline. 

Stamp says she feels her neighbors’ only hope of repairing their homes is to get rid of Iris Management. 

“We’re still battling, we’re still fighting,” Stamp said. “We hope something will change, we hope we will get the services that we need and if not then we need to make some changes and find a way to change management.”