Harlem tenants file lawsuit against landlord months after deadly apartment building fire

ByEyewitness News via WABC logo
Tuesday, June 7, 2022
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Harlem tenants filed a lawsuit against Manhattanville Holdings LLC after failing to start repairs on a building following a deadly fire in November. Jim Dolan has the story.

HARLEM, Manhattan (WABC) -- Tenants of a rent-stabilized apartment building in Harlem announced a rent strike and new lawsuit against their landlord on Monday.

The tenants say the landlord, Manhattanville Holdings LLC, and the property manager Israel David failed to start repairs on their building, located at 1833 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd, following a deadly fire last year on November 18.

The fire killed residents, displaced several families and caused damage to apartments and common areas throughout the 46-unit building.

Some tenants have been displaced for as long as seven months and were forced to find new housing on their own, while some have stayed in shelters temporarily.

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"The night of the fire, I told our building manager that I had nowhere to go and that I had just moved across the country. He said to talk with the American Red Cross," displaced tenant Oaklin Davis said. "I stayed one night in a hotel afforded to me by the Red Cross and then two weeks in a shelter with other displaced people until I found a more permanent place to live."

Davis used to love his fifth-floor apartment, but since the fire, he can't live there anymore.

There are no walls where the walls were, no windows where the windows were. The living room and kitchen were all gutted. All that remains after he left it in November is the grocery list on the chalkboard.

As fire devoured the upper floors of the five-story building, Davis and other tenants climbed down the fire escape to get out.

The cause of the fire is still unknown, but tenants say the conditions in the building contributed to spreading the flames.

They alleged that the landlord has a history of failing to comply with fire safety and housing maintenance regulations.

They said this included defective fire doors, non-working or missing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, defective or obstructed fire escapes and fire windows and lack of fire extinguishers throughout the entire building.

Tenants are being organized by Tenants & Neighbors and represented by Manhattan Legal Services' Tenant Rights Coalition.

"Now more than ever amid a continuing pandemic, these tenants deserve a safe and habitable place to call home," said Brittany Robinson, a tenant organizer at Tenants & Neighbors. "Their landlord, however, refuses to provide the most basic of repairs, so now the tenants of 1833 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. have made the courageous decision to oppose the system that actively works to displace families from their homes."

The tenants say the goal of the lawsuit is to force the landlord to make repairs, which will allow displaced tenants to return home.

Eyewitness News left a message for Manhattan Holdings and Israel David, but they did not return calls.

Oaklin said his lease is up next month.

They are now waiting on a court date.

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