Ditmas Park tenants sue landlord to fix allegedly dangerous, mouse-infested building

Next-door neighbors: Heriberto Saldarriaga (top left), Bill Roberson (top right), Sharon Garcia (bottom left), and Anna James (bottom right) have joined together with more than 20 other residents in their Ditmas Park apartment building to suing their landlord, who they say has intentionally left his building in disrepair to force older tenants out.
Community News Group / Colin Mixson

A Ditmas Park landlord is attempting to harass his rent-stabilized tenants out of their apartments by failing to keep heat and hot water on in winter, allowing vermin and mold to run rampant, and refusing to keep the property safe and secure for kids, claim residents who filed a suit against the owner on Tuesday.

“I feel like I’m being preyed upon to be disposed of,” said Susanne Saldarriaga, one of 27 residents suing their landlord Sholom Rubashkin in housing court in order to force him to fix the alleged problems in their apartment block.

The city at the beginning of the year enrolled the building at 410 E. 17th St., between Cortelyou and Dorchester roads, in its so-called alternative enforcement program, which singles out the 250 most rotten residential properties in New York and monitors their owners’ progress towards correcting housing violations.

It removed the property from the program in June after Rubashkin performed repairs, but the tenants claim he did a shoddy job and the building still has more than 200 open violations — including leaky pipes, peeling lead paint, exposed wiring, broken locks, and mice infestations — which they say are making their lives miserable and their homes dangerous.

The residents also claim their heat and hot water cut out numerous times between November last year and August this year — which the suit alleges is a result of Rubashkin failing to pay the gas bill.

“We’ve had no hot water for years and very little heat in the winter,” said Susanne Saldarriaga, who has lived in the building alongside husband Heriberto for 32 years. “He neglects the plumbing so badly that we have constant water leaks.”

Muniz claims that bad wiring in her unit causes fuses to blow on a daily basis, creating a fire hazard and leaving her without power to run her 6-year-old athematic daughter’s electric inhaler.

“Many times the sockets have exploded and I am scared that one day there will be a fire inside,” said Muniz, who is raising five kids in her apartment.

But Rubashkin says he’s no slumlord — and that the city clearing him from the alternate enforcement program proves his building is in sound shape.

Trapped in the closet: Susanne Sladarriaga says that the closet in her apartment has been covered in mold since December, but her landlord won’t lift a finger to fix it.
Community News Group / Colin Mixson

“This is not a slum building,” he said. “If the building was warranted to be on [the alternative enforcement program], it would still be on it.”

The landlord claims that he is being unfairly targeted by his tenants, who used their high-level connections to subject him to the housing department’s punitive program.

“The reason why we got there is because you have a lot of vocal tenants, who know people in better places than I do,” said Rubashkin.

But the residents claim he is deliberately withholding the repairs and utilities to force older, rent-stabilized tenants out so he can jack up the rent on their units.

“Whenever I complain about the heat, he says, ‘Why don’t you move?’ ” said Muniz, “He wants me to move. He said he’s losing a lot of money, and could make a lot more if he got somebody new to move in.”

State and city officials have been leading a crack-down on landlords who harass or neglect their tenants this year.

In April, cops arrested a duo who ran 10 buildings in Bushwick and Greenpoint and are accused of smashing holes in their buildings in order to force their rent-stabilized tenants to leave.

And two months later, police collared the owner of a Crown Heights building for allegedly cutting his residents’ heat in winter and exposing them to dangerous lead dust to drive them out.

Borough President Adams says he is also joining the fight. The Beep held three town-hall-style meetings earlier this year, where locals were asked to name and shame bad Brooklyn landlords so a team of attorneys could investigate their cases for potential criminal suits.

Living dirty: These tenants are suing the landlord of their E. 17th Street building over numerous housing violations they say have not been addressed — including the layer of filth that covers this third floor incinerator room.
Community News Group / Colin Mixson

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.

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