Brownsville

No heat, pests and a broken elevator in a six-story building. Brooklyn tenants demand repairs

April 2, 2019 Paul Frangipane
Osbourne Johnson, 57, has been a tenant at 178 Rockaway Parkway for 20 years. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

About a dozen Brooklyn tenants marched in the rain on Sunday to demand their building manager and landlord address needed repairs in their buildings.

Tenants of Joseph Popack, who owns 46 buildings in Crown Heights, Brownsville, Flatbush and East Flatbush, took to 438 Kingston Ave. to push for a response from their building manager roughly two months after they delivered a 150-signature petition requesting a meeting.

Residents complained of untreated mold, vermin from garbage pile-ups, inadequate heat and lack of communication from management.

Tenants brought signs and chanted for a meeting with their landlord to discuss repairs. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
Tenants brought signs and chanted for a meeting with their landlord to discuss repairs. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

“Inside the apartments we have rodents, we have mice, roaches … we have sinks that don’t work, we have toilets that sometimes work,” said Marilyn Lowery of 9427 Kings Highway. “I’m just saying it’s an ongoing issue, one thing or another. They have no regard for us.

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“This has been going on for at least 10 years — and that’s being kind.”

The city Department of Housing Preservation and Development lists more than 3,500 open violations for Popack’s buildings. Most recently, at Lowery’s Kings Highway address, the elevator has been broken for at least two weeks, tenants said.

Beryl Steward, an 82-year-old tenant of the building who recently had an operation on her leg, said she has trouble walking up to her fifth-floor apartment every day.

The residents were met by their building manager Isaac Hager, 50, at the office. Hager said he would call about the repairs but did not set a date to meet tenants.


“Listen, I’m here to make the life of my tenants better. I’m here to make the quality of living in my buildings better,” Hager told the Brooklyn Eagle. “The boiler never goes out, I give them enough heat and enough hot water according to the legal and the city request … if an elevator breaks down, I fix it.”

Beryl Steward, left, and Viola Bibins at the protest. Steward recently underwent an operation in her leg and has trouble climbing the five flights of stairs to her apartment while the building’s elevator is broken. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
Beryl Steward, left, and Viola Bibins at the protest. Steward recently underwent an operation in her leg and has trouble climbing the five flights of stairs to her apartment while the building’s elevator is broken. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

Osbourne Johnson, a 57-year-old resident of 178 Rockaway Parkway, says the management office often doesn’t respond to phone calls, forcing him to reach out to 311 with complaints.

“If there’s a problem in your apartment, you try to call them and nobody comes to fix it,” the 20-year resident said.

Hager told the Eagle that residents would be able to get responses from the office Monday through Friday during business hours.

The tenants, members of the Upstate/Downstate Housing Alliance, a coalition of housing groups advocating for statewide rent reform, also protested Popack’s use of the preferential rent loophole. Under the law, landlords can allow tenants to enter with a lower rent but increase it by hundreds of dollars over several years, pushing them out.

A bill proposed in the State Senate sponsored by Sen. Liz Krueger could close that loophole by prohibiting such adjustments.

Building manager Isaac Hager addresses tenant protesters outside his management office at 438 Kingston Ave. in East Flatbush. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
Building manager Isaac Hager addresses tenant protesters outside his management office at 438 Kingston Ave. in East Flatbush. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

Silifat Ojebe, who lives in a rent-stabilized apartment but saw a $300 rent increase on her newest lease, said the building manager told her to move if she couldn’t afford it.

“He told me that if I can’t pay it, I can move. He gave me one month. I don’t know what I did wrong to this guy. It’s not fair to treat people like this,” Ojebe said in a statement.

The Popack tenants were also joined by residents of other buildings, who said many people are afraid to voice their concerns due to landlord retaliation.

“I don’t live in these buildings. I live somewhere else but I just came for support,” said Viola Bibins of Crown Heights. “There’s a lot of people who won’t speak; they are afraid. So for me, I’m not afraid, I’ll speak for them, I’ll come and make noise for them so that they get their point across, get their message out, because it’s not good to just live like that.

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