Carbon monoxide leaks. Winter days with temperatures in the 50s in her living room. A landlord seeking maximum profit by failing to make repairs in a 100 year-old building.
Linda Smith is determined to stay in a community she has called home for decades. A longtime resident of East New York, Linda Smith has spent her adult life working to build and maintain her neighborhood, which is now under threat from landlords and developers--including her own. Linda lives in a small building full of longstanding senior citizens and young working-class families of color, in a neighborhood that is slated for rezoning under Mayor de Blasio’s ambitious Housing New York Plan. While the plan is intended to preserve as much affordable housing as possible, the influx of interest and capital encourages the kind of landlord abuse and harassment that Linda is experiencing.
The lack of repairs and services are nothing new: since the landlord passed on the building to his children over ten years ago, they have sought to increase profits at the sake of tenants. Linda helped to organize her neighbors, where together they shared common stories of bad leaks and no heat and hot water and sought help from the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), which enforces the Housing Code.
But this help can be hard to secure: “Most people are out during the day at work,” Linda reflects, referencing HPD’s unscheduled visits that require tenants to be home all day. “Once you miss HPD, that’s it.” She has tried to work with her landlord to get needed repairs and services, to no end. She’s also tried to work directly with her landlord, telling them many times about the heat problem and that the 22 year-old boiler was insufficient and dangerous.
Sadly, she was right. Last October, Smith detected carbon monoxide and called 911. When the fire department came, they discovered that the malfunctioning boiler was emitting toxic levels of carbon monoxide and thanked Linda for calling before anyone was injured.
This was the last straw. Smith began working with an attorney at the Legal Aid Society, who has begun a group case against her landlord. Her lawyer reached out to Heat Seek, and Heat Seek installed sensors for her and a neighbor earlier this winter. These sensors measured entire January days when the heat stayed below 60 degrees in her living room--truly a bone-chilling temperature in which to live.
“Although it has been cold for me, it’s nice to have the data to prove that I have no heat this winter,” says Linda. Her attorney has also found it useful in court: he secured a 100% rent abatement for her in March and April, to compensate for lack of heat. Furthermore, HPD settled with the landlord to lower the $14,000 in fines if he provided heat by March 3rd.
Sadly, it looks like Linda is headed back to court, since we see clearly that the heat didn’t come on. But, armed with Heat Seek data, Linda and her attorney will keep pressing the landlord and proving his failure to provide services.
A former civil rights activist and current decade-long volunteer at a local nursing home, Linda knows what it takes for neighborhoods to thrive, and safe, affordable housing is a cornerstone. She’ll keep fighting for her own rights, alongside those of young and old alike to make East New York a healthy community for all, and Heat Seek is proud to join her in this fight.