[Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the identity of our clients.]
When faced with landlords who do not provide sufficient heat per New York City laws, tenants are often forced to get creative in their efforts to respond to the cold: using an open oven or a space heater; buying more blankets; and even running the hot shower. But sometimes, moving out, temporarily or permanently, is the only tolerable response--typically, the last straw when something terrible happens as a result of the cold.
Rosa came home from the hospital with her healthy newborn daughter just as summer was ending. By the time winter arrived, though, Rosa was reminded that for the third year in a row, her landlord would not be providing sufficient heat for her apartment a few blocks away from Yankee Stadium. Rosa had weathered the cold before, but she didn’t imagine how the sub-60 temperatures inside would affect her baby.
Early in December, after the baby began experiencing breathing difficulties, Rosa realized she had to act. She took her daughter to the hospital, where she spent nine days recovering from bronchopneumonia. “The baby started turning blue, so I called the ambulance,” Rosa told Heat Seek’s Program Director. It was a scary time, and Rosa understood that the complete lack of heat at night and broken radiators in her apartment contributed to her baby’s serious condition.
Rosa knew she couldn’t keep living in that apartment for the winter, but she didn’t have the means to move out and potentially lose her rental assistance. So, she gathered up her three young children and moved in with her mother further north in the Bronx, in hopes that her children would stop crying from the cold and her baby would not develop more respiratory troubles.
Each day, Rosa would take the thirty-minute subway ride down to her neighborhood, drop her kids off at school and daycare, and then make her way to her hairstylist job. After a long day, she would repeat the process in reverse, with four children in tow. Only as spring emerged did the family return to living in their own apartment. “I just came back here a week and a half ago [in mid-April], once it got into the 60s during the day,” Rosa reported.
After she began working with an attorney at Bronx Legal Aid in late January, Rosa received a Heat Seek sensor in late January, which immediately recorded lots of violations that support Rosa’s testimony that her landlord was providing no heat at night and very little during the day. Temperatures rarely reached 70 degrees. The apartment was often in the low 60s, with temperatures below 40 outside. In 20 days, Rosa’s sensor recorded nearly 230 hours of violation--meaning that her apartment, on average, was below the legal limit nearly 50% of the day.
Thankfully, through the work of a dedicated attorney, Rosa successfully took her landlord to court, reaching an agreeable settlement. But the struggle continues: Rosa reports that her landlord has tried to force her to move--offering a mere $3,000 to leave and refusing to provide a lease or fix broken windows. With legal assistance, Rosa and her neighbors will keep fighting, working towards a winter with good heat and health for their children.