Thursday, December 18, 2014

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NY1 For You: Sandy Recovery Stresses Need For Tenants To Know Their Rights

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Countless tenants hoping to get back to normal following Hurricane Sandy ended up at odds with their landlords as they fought for basic services, repairs and rent reductions. Six months after Sandy, tenants and tenant advocates are taking a look back to see what can be learned looking forward. NY1's Susan Jhun filed the following NY1 For You report.

Frustration were felt throughout the five boroughs by renters who waited for their landlords to make repairs after Hurricane Sandy.

"We are forgotten. We are forsaken," says tenant Valerie Simon.

"We are beyond the point of stress," says tenant Raymond Hawson.

Whether it was broken boilers or broken elevators, tenants like 10-year-old wheelchair user Quentin Morales and his mother, Joanne Morales, were at the mercy of their landlords.

"My biggest fear is that god forbid there's a fire or any type of emergency, we're trapped here," Joanne Morales says.

Advocates at New York Legal Assistance Group saw tenants facing the same sort of problems in the wake of Sandy.

"What we're seeing is the folks who are not getting repairs are the folks who are in rent-stabilized apartments where the incentive is not strong enough for these landlords to complete these repairs because they've also suffered a grave loss," says Sunny Noh, a supervising attorney at NYLAG's Storm Response Unit. "But in the interim, by not completing these repairs, they're kind of constructively forcing these tenants to vacate."

Tenants and Neighbors, a tenants' rights organization, is examining a host of tenant issues that arose from Hurricane Sandy. Many tenants who stayed were asked to pay rent for the time they were without basic services like heat and power.

"We saw a lot of landlords a few months later try to get back rent from tenants during the time right after the storm when they should've been under an abatement," says Sam Stein, a Tenants and Neighbors spokesman.

Tenants and Neighbors is now working on policy recommendations to address them going forward.

"We want to make sure that landlords don't raise rents on rent-stabilized tenants in order to pay back things that they could get fixed with either federal aide or flood insurance," Stein says. "So we want there to be a real comprehensive system for what to do in times of mass displacement."

Most landlords NY1 For You reached out to would not comment however some pointed out that they too were victims of Hurricane Sandy.

"It's an important time to re-learn your rights. Make sure you know what to do the next time this happens so that we can make sure tenants don't get stuck paying the bills," says Stein.

Those lessons are better learned late than never.

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