A Building ‘Lost in Translation’

Tenants called for immediate action against their Cantonese landlord. (Photo by José Acosta/EDLP)

A language barrier may be partly to blame for dangerous and unpleasant conditions at an Inwood apartment building, El Diario La Prensa reported. The Cantonese-speaking landlord has racked up 421 housing code violations, and tenants complain about leaking water, cracks in ceilings and windows, and a cut off gas supply. City officials say the landlord’s very limited English may account for her confusion about city regulations. The article, translated from Spanish, is below.

A Cantonese-speaking landlord’s lack of proficiency in English seems to be among the reasons that her building, located at 2 Thayer Street in Inwood, has more than 400 housing code violations. Tenants have been living without gas for three months, and other management problems abound as well.

According to documents from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Susan Moy’s building has 421 housing code violations. The gravest concern is that 118 are Class C violations, meaning that they require immediate repair because they represent a danger to tenants.

One of those affected is María Negrón, who has been living in the building for 18 years. Her apartment has cracks in the ceiling and windows, the kitchen sink has deteriorated, and the floor is uneven.

“We have been living without gas for three months because Con Edison discovered that the landlord, Susan Moy, built illegal piping without the permits that she needed,” said Negrón. “The company turned off the gas because it was a danger to the residents, and they won’t turn it on again until the violation is fixed. They gave us small electric stoves, and all of them broke down. We’ve spent a lot of money buying food from the street.”

Juana Sánchez, who has been living in the building for 15 years, said that in her first floor apartment, there are leaks in the bathroom, a faucet that won’t stop dripping, and a stained ceiling.

“We call the superintendent, who tells us to call the landlord,” said Sánchez. “When we call her, she always sets a date to make repairs, but she doesn’t follow through.”

Marta Corporán, who has been a resident for 25 years, received financial help from her sons to pay for the repairs herself, so that, in her words, “the apartment wouldn’t collapse on top of me.”

The tenants affected by the violations got help from the Laundry Workers Center, a nonprofit that advocates for workers in the laundry industry. The LWC called 311 and also contacted the office of city council member Ydanis Rodríguez. Residents are receiving assistance in dealing with HPD and forming a tenants’ association.

Yokarina Duarte, the community liaison for the office of Ydanis Rodríguez, said that Vito Mustaciolo, the Deputy Commissioner for the HPD, visited the building on May 15th along with the chief inspector to examine the conditions. Mustaciolo explained the number of violations they found to the tenants and the procedure that the HPD is going to follow in order to correct them.

“HPD had to provide the landlord with translation services because she barely spoke English and only understood Cantonese,” said Duarte. “They explained the fines and violations to her, and instructed her on how to apply for the permits to fix the gas piping system. It seems that because the landlord doesn’t speak English, she was not aware of city regulations regarding building maintenance — which is strange, because she owns other buildings.”

Messages left for Susan Moy were not returned.

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