Pro Bono News
Without Legal Aid, Bronx Residents Are Lost at Housing Court (NY)
Tuesday, October 22, 2019
- The Bronx Ink
Without Legal Aid, Bronx Residents Are Lost at Housing Court
"Angel DeJesus was certain that the pictures of the black mold growing on the ceiling of his apartment, or the massive holes in the walls would make the Housing Court reverse the eviction that left him and his family out on the street.
But the lack of legal aid resources in the Bronx, coupled with the complicated process of filing a complaint with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, made suing his landlord a challenging prospect for this Bronx Resident. That’s how DeJesus found himself and his two daughters out on the street, with more than $10,000 to pay in back rent if he wanted to reclaim his family home.
DeJesus’s daughters were the third generation of his family to occupy the Mt. Hope apartment, which first was rented to his immigrant Puerto Rican parents. “Things were really good,” he said. Paying $936 every month for the rent-stabilized three-bedroom apartment had been “a gift from God.”
But over the last two years, the apartment had become increasingly damaged. During the summer a hole appeared in one of the walls, through which DeJesus said rodents would enter the apartment. This resulted in a July 2018 incident where his 16-year-old daughter was hospitalized for a rat bite. Despite this, DeJesus said the landlord had refused to make repairs.
Then in October, hot water began to pour continuously from the faucets and shower, DeJesus said. The apartment became extremely hot and humid. “If you wanted to go to the sauna, I’d tell you just come to my place,” DeJesus joked bitterly.
The moisture, he said, began to warp and splinter the walls and doorframes of the apartment. It caused the black mold to grow across the ceiling, before the super finally turned off the hot water, two months after it first began to flow.
DeJesus was incensed. He’d heard that withholding rent was a legally protected response to a landlord failing to comply with the terms of the lease, so in October 2018 he decided to stop paying until the landlord completed all of the repairs.
However, DeJesus did not interpret the law correctly, according to Jessica Hurd, Assistant Director of the advocacy group Housing Court Answers. “There’s a very specific protocol for withholding rent,” said Hurd..."