Friday, September 19, 2014

Reader mailbag: Running out of hope in a moldy apartment

[Generic mold photo from the Internet]

From the EVG reader mailbag ... a rather complicated question:

I've been in my rent-stabilized apartment for about 15 years now. The first day of move-in I became immediately and seriously ill with flu-like symptoms. I was diagnosed with asthma, which I never had before.

In the first or second winter (I cannot remember) we realized that there was a serious roof leak that led directly to our bedroom ceiling. Anytime snow melted on the roof, we'd get the leak.

By 2005, it was sort of "fixed" but again, whenever the show or rains were serious, we'd get the leak.

A few years ago, while making the bed, I leaned my hand against the wall where the leak was. It collapsed into a hole about the size of a human head. I covered it immediately with duct tape, in several layers, because the smell of mold was so bad.

I've told my landlord about the problem in writing several times as well as over the phone. He refuses to fix it or even look at it. Neither he nor the super will help me.

Because I am constantly behind in rent (I've not been fully employed as an editor since 2010), I have not pursued the matter. While I'm currently making some strides in paying back rent thanks to eBay, I'm always in the hole for at least $2K...and I'm running out of stuff to sell.

I'm broke. I have no money or resources to move. I went through my 401(k) and savings paying for rent years ago. No health insurance now. No social services of any kind ... and no family to help.

What can someone like me do? I have no legal representation. I'm afraid that the expense of a gut renovation in this unit will force the rent beyond the current $1,630. I cannot afford a penny more. What I'd love would be to go to court and seek an abatement for the use of my bedroom for the past however many years and apply that money to the money owed as well as removal of the mold (or cleaning) and new sheetrock.

Currently, I'm thinking of moving the bedroom into the living room and closing off the bedroom and then calling the inspector. Is this the best solution to both solve the problem while keeping me in my home? I really have no other place to go.

So… what might be the most careful course of action to take if you need serious and potentially costly repairs (permanently fixed leak, mold removal and cleaning, new sheet rock) in a rent-stabilzed place where the leaseholder account is in arrears and you fear being evicted?


We often get reader queries ... asking for help with, say, donating clothes or books ... or finding an East Village-based caterer... If you have a question for the masses, then try the EV Grieve email...

Previously on EV Grieve:
Reader mailbag: Places to eat that have that old East Village vibe (45 comments)

Reader mailbag: What do I do about my new neighbors who smoke pot all the time? (52 comments)

Reader mailbag: Where is a good place to get a cup of coffee in the East Village before 6 a.m.? (25 comments)

Reader mailbag: What has happened to the Cooper Station Post Office? (41 comments)

Reader mailbag: Can the landlord 'drill' the lock to gain access to my apartment for simple repairs? (15 comments)

Reader mailbag: Should we receive a rent abatement for having sporadic heat and hot water?

Reader mailbag: How often does your mail get delivered?

Reader mailbag: Where can I get my Mac fixed now?


Anonymous said...

The Metropolitan Council on Housing has a hotline you can call for advice.

You will find the number on this website:

It sounds like your landlord is a classic slumlord. I have friends who live in similar conditions and have never gotten anywhere with getting the landlord to make needed fixes even when the city has gotten involved.

I know you are broke, but if I were your friend, I would tell you to pursue getting the landlord to make the fixes while at the same time waitressing or doing some other job to make enough money to move, and you are likely going to have to move out of the city. If you aren't working full time at a well paying job, $1,630 a month in rent is just way too much to handle on top of the rest of the costs of living in the city. Even if the landlord does fix the mold problem, you are going to be constantly be behind in the rent, and he will be able to take action against you to get you out.

You are in a shitty situation, but you can get out of it. People start over all the time. I will be rooting for you and hope you keep us updated.

Gojira said...

MFY Legal Services, 299 Broadway #4,
(212) 417-3700. They offer pro bono legal services. Best of luck to you -

Slumlord owned building said...

IM going through a very similar case and have set up a lawsuit through the housing courts. See if that helps. Just wanted to add some non generic pics of mold and a leaky ceiling if you want to use ever

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry I can't be more help with your landlord problems (though the first two comments are a promising start), but if you were an editor, maybe hit up your old colleagues or put your resume on mediabistro looking for freelance editing work. At least you can do that from home, if you have health problems, and there's work out there to be had. Good luck. My heart goes out to you.

Anonymous said...

Given that you are consistently behind in rent (and currently owe 2K), I would doubt that you have much grounds from which to make demands. Mold or no mold, you are lucky to not have been evicted already.

The first commenter gave good advice - get a job, save some money, and move to a place you can actually afford.

Anonymous said...

Thank you all so much...even just reading these words of encouragement are helpful. I know it's time for me to leave, but honestly, without a place to go and rents being high all over, I just have no idea. Hopefully, I can get somewhere within the next ten days or I guess that's it for me in the good old EV. Fifteen years is a good run. I should be satisfied, right? Problem is, I'd like to stay around the hood like a stinking fish on my bloody landlord's doorstep (not that he'd care) but I guess DeBlasio would kick me out of the city like he's done with hundreds of other homeless. Where do they go?

Anonymous said...

I hope you do find this thread encouraging. A friend of a friend lost his job last year, and he hadn't saved anything while he was working, and he had to sleep in the basement of a friend's building for a few months while he looked for work. He did find another job and is back on his feet now. But he had to borrow some cash from friends to eat while he looked for work. Do you have anyone you could stay with either in the city or outside the city while you hustle for work? You should pursue work in your field but you also need to make money so you should do cash jobs like waiting tables, cleaning houses and walking dogs too. It sounds like you love NYC but this is a difficult city to survive in if you aren't bringing in regular cash.

Ken from Ken's Kitchen said...

Urban Justice Center for free legal advice:

123 William St
New York, NY 10038
(646) 602-5600

Anonymous said...

GOLES and Cooper Square are good options.

Scooby said...

From one human to another I wish you the best in this situation. Follow the legal options others have offered here and remember to always keep going forward. Fifteen years in the EV is great - there may be options for you to stay if you ask around - friends, neighbors, etc.. The suggestions of working out of your field are to be taken to heart - gotta do what ya gotta do. Once you have some footing then you are in a position of power. THe experiences of other work may give you a boost in your pysche - new things tend to do that. Almost all of us resist change but it is times like these when you push past that and start a new chapter. You can do it - not the most fun thing in the world but there can be many at first hidden rewards. "We're all in this together" - as humans. Sending you lots of luck and PMA.

Anonymous said...

Have you spoken with your neighbors to see if they have similar problems? I assume they must, and it might help you all to band together against this landlord by seeking legal action as well as press attention.

Anonymous said...

I've probably reread this story 10 times today... something isn't adding up.

It's this line- "What I'd love would be to go to court and seek an abatement for the use of my bedroom for the past "

You're not paying rent, and so I ask with all due respect, why do you think you're entitled to an abatement? You're not working, you're not paying rent, and now you want to sue your landlord? I do not mean to disrespect you, but you seem like a nightmare for him/her.

I do not know your situation, so there must be something I'm missing... in 4 years you haven't been able to find a job in the service industry for income and a (significantly) cheaper apartment?

Honestly, I mean it- please correct me, I'm sure I missed something. Are you not able-bodied or are you taking care of somebody at home? I really don't want to sound like a jerk but I felt inclined to ask the tough questions.

Anonymous said...

I want to follow up with my last comment from a moment ago, as I really don't mean to come across as harsh, just confused.

Really, praying for you today and I do with you the best of luck.

Anonymous said...

Does this person share the apartment with someone else? I ask because there are references to "we" in the second and third paragraphs.

Anonymous said...

Rent the bedroom to a tourist via AirBnB, or to a college student or transplant via Craigslist.

Anonymous said...

I agree with one poster, this story does not add up. I assume this person has internet in his / her home meaning they could have contacted the city about this situation long ago, right? How is the rent being paid if they are long term unemployed? Sorry to sound unsympathetic but please don't believe everything you read online, especially "helpless" adults that want others to find solutions that they can find using Google.

Anonymous said...

he said he used up his 401k and savings can you read!! nothing about this story strikes me as being off except that he didn't go and get another job. Publishing is over for the most part but become a waiter? AirBNB out half of your apartment, but you might not get optimal reviews with the mold. It's not comfortable, but if you really need a way to keep the apt.

Anonymous said...

"Publishing is over for the most part"


I don't even know where to begin with this absurd statement

Anonymous said...

There is a "we"; my partner works full time and we DO PAY RENT, most of it in fact. WE WOULD NEVER HAVE REMAINED HERE IF WE WEREN'T PAYING RENT EVERY MONTH. The fact is that the landlord dumped a ton of extra charges on the bill after a prior fix a few years ago and has been charging us a boatload of interest every month and it's just been escalating. AND I DO WORK in publishing every chance I get, but the fact is that IT JUST DOESN'T PAY WHAT IT USED TO. And I'd love the chance to wait tables in addition to doing everything else, but there is just not much interest in people of a certain age doing that. WHAT I WANT AN ABATEMENT FOR IS EVERY MONTH THAT I PAID FOR A BEDROOM THAT IS LITERALLY MAKING US SICK. I'm NOT EXPECTING TO LIVE HERE FOR FREE. I NEVER SAID THAT. YOU'RE READING INTO IT. Besides, I'll never get an abatement anyway, so don't worry. Yikes. Most of you guys are nice, but some of you, really now.

Anonymous said...

And to everyone who said wait tables: I am a middle-aged, overweight female with psoriasis. Believe me, in a city filled with fresh young college blood, NOBODY is going to hire me for that. Nice suggestion, but not even in the ballpark (for me). And I did ask around to "follow" as a bartender to learn the ropes (no shortage of bars) to no avail. And East Village Cinemas wouldn't hire me because I have bad credit now because of housing court (even though all that money was paid!!). So it's not as if I'm a princess who expects ANYTHING. I've paid plenty of dues to be here, stay here, and I expect more down the road. Sorry I took up your time for something that I should have just searched on Google, apparently. TO THAT JERK: GOOGLE DOESN'T OFFER ANECDOTAL INFORMATION!

Anonymous said...

I say this with kindness, but if you want anyone to help you, whether it's by giving you legal advice, an abatement, freelance work, or an innocent suggestion about a job, maybe the approach isn't to be super defensive and yell in response. I completely understand that you must be in a state of extreme frustration right now and your nerves are no doubt frayed, but you can't yell at people after you've asked for advice. Sometimes we get dumb or unhelpful advice, but reacting with anger is going to make people think twice about reaching out to help. By all means defend yourself, but maybe without the capslock.

Scuba Diva said...

Are other tenants in the building suffering as well? You don't mention that either way.

I ask because if other tenants are being harassed, you might be able to get a group together and bring a lawsuit against the landlord.

Grimble & Logiudice represented about a third of the tenants in our building not long ago, and got us abatements. We brought a lawsuit against our landlord for fraud and were successful; we paid court costs in a "partial pro bono" arrangement.

I am only putting this out; I also feel you when you say you could never waitress. I couldn't either; I have a balance problem plus cognitive problems so severe, I tend to think only truly unthinking people are going to suggest, "Can't get a job? Why not waitress until something better comes along?" because truthfully few people are cut out to waitress in New York.

Anonymous said...

I also work in publishing and it doesn't pay enough to support me so I supplement my work with odd jobs. Being a waitress is not the only option, the city is full of opportunities like pet sitting and housecleaning both of which you could do. You need to up your income, and if your occasional work in publishing isn't enough, you need to accept reality. There is no shame in other types of work that aren't considered professional. It is good to hear you have a partner to split the $1,630 a month rent with. That makes a huge difference. Also, I think it is strange that your landlord would have charged you fees and interest for repairs that were necessary to keep the apartment habitable. It's not like he installed luxury appliances or something unnecessary. When you do talk to a lawyer bring this up. Maybe you can get that money back. In the meantime, you and your partner need to get out of his situation. It's not going to get any better, and it's not worth it. You are two adults. There is no reason you can't move. I know I will have to leave the East Village at some point. It's reality these days and you can be happy in other places. Good luck with everything and please keep us updated.

Anonymous said...

Is it worth it to stay in an apartment with a bedroom that you say is literally making you sick?

Clinging to a life in New York that isn't that great--and you don't sound happy or healthy--isn't worth compromising your long term health and every day you stay there you are making your health condition worse.

Mold poisoning is serious and not something to mess with. Document everything, get some opinions from experts, and get out of there.

Anonymous said...

Tons of useful advice here, so thanks to everyone who commented. I'd like to walk dogs, too, surely, but unfortunately nobody will hire you for such a job unless you also own a cell or smart phone. Believe me, I have tried and tried to get supplemental work. It's not a problem that I don't wish to do other work. I'll do anything to stay.

Anonymous said...

You need a cell phone to do most free-lance, quick cash type jobs. Everyone has one, thats how people contact you for the dog walk, the catsit, the plant-watering, the babysit, the wait on line to get tickets for me, etc. For the fee you would charge to do just 2 half-hour dog walks you could pay for a basic phone for a whole month. Think.
If you don't even have a cell phone you ain't really tryin'.
Sorry but true.