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Tenants Take to the Street to Protest Living Conditions

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Tenants of two Flatbush apartment buildings gathered last week outside the Williamsburg home of their landlord to shine a spotlight on the horrific living conditions they are forced to endure.

The residents of 592 and 596 East 22nd Street held the protest outside the 805 Bedford Avenue residence of Kalman Zimmerman who currently operates the buildings through East 22nd Street Realty LLC.

Among the tenant complaints:Backed-up sewage, rampant mold and mildew, a lack of heat in winter, a lack of hot water, peeling paint in the lobby, broken door locks, squatters in the basement, and a laundry list of vermin including rats, mice, roaches and bedbugs. There are currently 130 open violations at 592, and another 129 open violations at 596, according to the website of the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

Chanting, “We need change” and “What do we need? Repairs. When do we need them? Now!” and carrying signs that made their plight clear, the tenants walked in a circle in front of Zimmerman’s home, hoping that their landlord -- whom some had spotted on a balcony -- would come out.

There was no luck on that front, reported Aga Trojniak, director of housing and immigration programs for the Flatbush Development Corporation (FDC), which is assisting the tenants in their fight for decent living conditions.

“We knew he was home but even though the tenants made it clear that it was him they wanted to see, because they wanted to present a list of demands, he did not come out,” Trojniak reported.

Nonetheless, said Trojniak, “It was a really good event for the tenants. They definitely had an impact on that particular landlord in terms of him knowing they mean business. They have no other way of getting in touch with him. His office addresses are post office boxes, so there’s no place else for the tenants to go.”

Indeed, Trojniak told this paper in an interview several days after the protest, Zimmerman had attended a subsequent tenant meeting. “He wanted to have the same conversation with the tenants that he has had before, make up a schedule for repairs,” she explained. “But, the tenants have absolutely no faith in him. He’s done all these things before, and they’ve gotten no results, so they decided to press forward with their original plans to take further action, and they are only going to stop if they see some improvement.”

One avenue that the tenants may pursue is trying to form a “broader coalition” with tenants in other buildings owned by Zimmerman, which are also in poor shape, Trojniak said. She also told this paper that the tenants are planning to get HPD “more involved, to get an HPD rep out to a meeting.”

Zimmerman, contacted for comment, confirmed being at home during the protest but, when asked why he did not go out to talk to the tenants, he replied, “Not at that time.”

With respect to the work that needs to be done in the buildings, Zimmerman said he had gotten approval from the city on his plans to rehabilitate the plumbing, and that he was waiting for permits to begin.

“I have hired contractors, so once we get the permits, we will be ready to start doing work,” he said.

In the meantime, Zimmerman said that he had sent his exterminator to the building to treat individual apartments, and that “by tomorrow” a plumber would start going in to make repairs, in response to tenant complaints, on items that are “important for now.”

He also said he was working on securing the basement to prevent the squatters from getting in.

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