The tenants of 125 East 18th Street have, for years, lived in a nightmare.
They have raised families under ceilings that have collapsed; they have paid hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets to get rid of the black mold giving them health problems; they have pleaded, time and again, with their landlord, the notorious Moshe Piller, to address a long, and growing, list of problems in their building: rats, cockroaches, an elevator that hasn’t worked for more than two decades, crumbling walls, water leaks, bedbugs, and more.
They – the teachers and the nurses and the home healthcare aides and the bus drivers and everyone else living in the building – have diligently paid their rent, have reported problems to 311, have asked the landlord over and over (and over) for help.
And they are done waiting.
They have waited for these problems to be fixed for years – and now they say they are no longer going to put up with what they called dangerous and deplorable conditions that make them scared the ceiling will collapse each time it rains, that prompt them to move their child’s bed because they don’t want them sleeping under the crack that has spread above them, that keep them up in the night.
Yesterday, more than a dozen of the tenants gathered on the steps of their home, a six-story brick building situated on East 18th Street, between Tennis Court and Albemarle, and, together with organizers from New York Communities for Change, they raised their voices in an effort to get the landlord to address their concerns.
“The roof came down on me last year, and all they did was put up cardboard over it,” Nancy Harris said. “There are cracks in the ceiling. There are so many problems.”
And it’s not just Harris who has had her ceiling collapse – a number of the tenants said this has happened to them, including Marc Charles, an 11-year-old whose mother had to be rushed to the hospital after the ceiling collapsed on top of her as she slept.
“My bathroom ceiling has fallen down four times in the time I’ve lived here,” said Avriel Spence, who has lived on the first floor for about 30 years. “I’ve gotten sick from the mold. I paid over $500 to take care of the mold, but they won’t reimburse me.”
Aileen Martinez, 20, spoke of a giant crack that has formed in the ceiling.
“It’s in my sibling’s room, and I’m worried it’s going to come down on them,” said Martinez, who also pointed out that, for the entire time she has lived in the building (her lifetime), one of the two elevators has never worked.
“There’s been mold growing in the bathroom,” Martinez continued. “And when it rains, we have to move all my sibling’s stuff so it doesn’t get wet.”
Many of the tenants showed us their apartments, pointing to bubbles in walls, cracks in ceilings, faucets that leak or haven’t worked at all for years, holes in the floor, roach infestations, and more.
“The light in the foyer doesn’t work, the sink in the bathroom hasn’t worked in two years, the sink in the kitchen leaks, and the apartment hasn’t been painted since 2009 – it’s supposed to be done every two years,” Loretta Wilson said.
Marie Jean-Baptiste, and her daughter, Alexis, 9, said she is incredibly worried about a crack that spreads across the ceiling directly above her son’s bed.
“Three years ago, the ceiling fell down in the living room,” Jean-Baptiste said. “Now there’s a crack in the bedroom.”
Piller, who we were unable to reach for a response, has long had a litany of complaints lodged against him from tenants across the city – including from residents on East 19th Street last year.
Currently, there are 119 open violations registered with the city in regards to the 125 East 18th Street building, as reported by the city Housing Preservation and Development.
After East 19th Street tenants protested conditions like those described by neighbors on East 18th, and got Councilman Mathieu Eugene involved, Piller addressed a number of their complaints – which has given neighbors at 125 East 18th Street reason to hope.
Hope that, someday, they won’t have to worry about their children’s safety. Their safety. That they’ll be able to go to work and return home to a place they can spend, happily, with their family and friends. That they won’t wake in the middle of the night to find themselves crushed, beneath a ceiling that has given way.
“We just want it to be safe,” Spence said. “Because now? It’s so unsafe.”