‘Someone needs to do something’: Tenants of crumbling Flatbush apartments ask city, state to act against building owner

flatbush tenants hold signs that call for a rent strike
Residents of a dilapidated Flatbush apartment building chanted “If we don’t get it, shut it down,” at a recent rally calling city and state agencies to take action against the building’s owner.
Jada Camille

Longtime residents of a dilapidated Flatbush apartment building are calling on the city hold building owners responsible for what they call unlivable living conditions.

For nearly a decade, tenants of 1111 Ocean Ave. have been asking for repairs to their leaky roofs, decaying and falling terraces, and dissatisfactory plumbing. Their frustrations were exacerbated when the bedroom ceiling of a child’s room caved in on Oct. 14.

At a Nov. 1 press conference, tenant Andrew Butler read a letter, written by the mother of the child whose ceiling came coming down, to the building owner.

“You need to maintain a safe, clean and hospitable environment for living,” Butler read. “There are several problems with the apartment complex including the cleanliness and proper repair work. These problems are not only displeasing but they may also cause health and safety problems for me, my husband and my two young daughters.”

Flatbush tenants shared photos of multiple ceiling collapses in the building.
Tenants shared photos of multiple ceiling collapses in the Ocean Avenue building.Photo by Jada Camille

According to Ryan Degan, deputy press secretary for the city’s Department of Buildings, the agency was notified of the ceiling collapse on Oct. 31 — more than two weeks later — and sent inspectors to the scene the same day.

“During our inspection of the apartment, we found that the ceiling in the kitchen and the master bedroom was in a state of disrepair, with spalling plaster and cracks due to leaks from the floor above,” Degan told Brooklyn Paper.

During DOB’s most recent visit, inspectors also found that the building’s elevator was not properly maintained, and that there was extensive damage to the building’s garage. The agency issued the landlord three violations for failure to maintain the building and the elevator, and also ordered Wasserman to make repairs.

The landlord is mandated to submit a Certificate of Corrections to the department when repairs are made. But tenants at Tuesday’s presser called on the DOB, as well as Attorney General Letitia James, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and the city’s Department of Housing Preservation to do more to hold their landlord accountable.

‘They are not running this legally’

Janice Brooadie, whose ceiling also caved in July 13, says she is limited to just five minute showers to avoid another collapse in her bathroom — and as a result, she washes her hair in the kitchen sink. When Brooadie moved into the building 10 years ago, she told Brooklyn Paper she was shocked to learn the apartment was considered a co-op.

flatbush tenants shows photo of collapsed ceiling
Brooadie’s ceiling caved in almost three months before the child’s bedroom ceiling on Oct. 14. Photo by Jada Camille

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I never saw anyone sweep, never saw anyone mop.”

While the Ocean Avenue building has been considered a cooperative building since the 1980s, Brooadie and others claim that the building owners sold the minimal units needed to meet co-op criteria, making them majority owners.

“He can do anything he wants,” she said. “It’s legal on paper, but they are not running this legally.”

When tenants reach out to the landlord regarding repairs, they claim they are told someone is coming — but they rarely see anyone come in. Now, delayed renovations have raised health and safety concerns.

flatbush tenants hung a banner that says their apartments are full of mold, roaches and mice
Tenants say their apartments are full of mold and vermin, and that no one ever comes by to make repairs. Photo by Jada Camille

In December 2015, DOB issued a vacate order after concrete from tenants’ terraces began to fall onto the sidewalk and building entranceway. Nearly seven years later, affected residents still do not have access to their balconies. In response to the falling debris, tenants say the owners simply put up scaffolding.

One apartment owner says workers came in just a month ago — without warning — to board up his outdoor patio, instead of repairing it.

This resident claims his terrace was completely blocked out nearly a month ago.
This resident claims his terrace was completely blocked out nearly a month ago. Photo by Jada Camille

Tenant Merlyn Winter says she and her roommate haven’t had a single repair made since moving in eight years ago — including a request to have her bedroom window fixed. Now, Winter says her home is full of mold, mice and roaches.

Support from local pols and Flatbush Tenant Coalition

Ocean Avenue residents have not been alone in their fight. Local officials, including Councilmember Farah Louis and organizers with the Flatbush Tenant Coalition stood beside residents this week, where they vowed to continue working alongside them to get their needs met.

Sabrina Simon, a tenant organizer with FTC, told Brooklyn Paper that the non-profit has been supporting the building’s residents for six years — and that the demands have always been the same. 

“We’ve watched the scaffolding go up and we’ve watched pieces of it fall down and we’ve watched them [building owners] do absolutely nothing,” Simon said. “The biggest ask right now is to do something about the safety of this building and it’s a fully loaded ask because so many things are happening at once – it’s the scaffolding, it’s the terraces, the leaks, the plumbing, it’s everything in this building that’s working together collectively to help it fall apart.”

Louis called on city and state agencies to make sure all Brooklynites have safe and livable housing. 

“We called on the AG’S office who has been involved but I know right now, what we’re asking for is Brooklyn DA Gonzalez to prioritize a case against this building’s property owner, the Wassermans,” she told the crowd. “I stand with you in solidarity and we’re gonna come back and we’re gonna be as loud as possible to make sure that there’s action on all levels.”

Louis said Tuesday that Gonzalez is familiar with the housing situation, but a spokesperson for his office said no formal complaints have been received. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for HPD said their offices have initiated a comprehensive litigation in Housing Court against the owners of 1111 Ocean Ave.

Janice Brooadie has been living in the building for 10 years and has always been dissatisfied with the buildings conditions.
Janice Brooadie has been living in the building for 10 years and has always been dissatisfied with the buildings conditions.Photo by Jada Camille

“Litigation against the owner is in full swing, and emergency repairs are being initiated as needed,” the rep said in a statement. “HPD is employing all of its enforcement tools and working with the Tenant’s Association to improve conditions and correct violations in the building. We ask tenants to continue filing complaints as conditions arise and action will be taken.” 

HPD further claims its Anti-Harassment Unit is continuing to conduct inspections throughout the building, and that the agency has supported tenants with emergency repairs as warranted. With conditions worsening, the agency is asking tenants to file formal complaints as problems arise and as the owner fails to meet their needs.

Fed up with their living situations, residents on Tuesday chanted for the building owners to receive warrants instead of fines. They are also calling for their immediate removal. 

“The tenants are concerned that nothing is really happening past just conversations so now we’re calling for action. We want these city agencies, state offices, city offices [and] anybody who has the power to do something, we need them to do something,” Simon said. “We’ve talked about it enough.”

The Wasserman family did not respond to Brooklyn Paper’s requests for comment.