Needing to go the bathroom in the middle of the night, Church Street South tenant Pablo Batista swung his legs around, put his feet to the floor—and yelped in shock. His bedroom was full of water.
Batista is the latest tenant of Church Street South Apartments to join a lawsuit against Northland Investment Corporation, the owner of the rundown subsidized 301-unit housing complex across from the train station, urging it to make major structural repairs to leaking ceilings, deteriorating windows, and moldy walls. Lawyers at New Haven Legal Assistance Association are asking the city to review apartments in eight buildings and to order Northland to fix up the whole complex—especially in light of new problems emerging in apartments like Batista’s.
Batista is digging into his own pocket for $60 a week to pay people to help keep his apartment dry and safe.
Batista has a hard time getting rid of the mold building up inside of his walls and his cupboards. And he is often surrounded by water indoors.
“I thought it was a snake first,” Batista said with a laugh, describing the feeling of the cold water on his bare feet. His apartment has been flooding since he moved there in October 2010. The stench of the mold permeates the house, lingering even after he bleaches the floors, counters and walls.
His neighbor Haydee Diaz used to live in the apartment for a few years before Batista moved in. She slipped a few times getting out of bed, once even smashing her face into the wall’s edge. Her bronchitis and asthma worsened due to the mold.
Diaz (pictured) went to her doctor and mental health practitioner and they prompted the city to condemn the apartment, she said.
Soon after that, Batista moved in. Despite Northland’s repairs, the flooding continued and worsened over the years. During heavy rains, Batista watches water trickle down the walls of his kitchen and living room, then pool and flood the other rooms in his one-bedroom apartment. Eventually, he decided to hire someone to clean his apartment weekly for the $60 fee.
When the woman cannot come to clean, or when he cannot afford to pay her, he gets on his knees and scrubs with bleach. Batista is 61 years old and walks with a cane.
His cutlery drawer is difficult to wrestle open, the hinges clogged with black mold.
The cupboards underneath the sink are soggy, the floors waterlogged and destroyed.
When a giant puddle forms alongside the kitchen in front of his back door, Batista said he sweeps the water out in cascades onto the back patio with a broom or a mop. He called the city at least twice in the last few years and said each time Northland painted over cracks or bleached moldy surfaces.
Diaz said she was shocked to hear that Batista was living in the apartment. In her new apartment, she can breathe deeper and more easily, though she said her health problems will likely never completely go away.
“I said, ‘If they don’t take me out of here, I’m going to die,’” she said. Both she and Batista live alone, and she said that makes it easier for Northland to ignore their problems. “It’s because they don’t like to do nothing for people who live by themselves,” she said. “If you don’t have nobody, they give you a headache.”
When she lived there, the wall was black with mold, “like this,” Diaz said, pointing the bag in front of her.
Batista called the Livable City Initiative (LCI), the city’s anti-blight agency, Aug. 5 and then went to legal aid offices for assistance. LCI’s Deputy Director Rafael Ramos came and inspected Tuesday; the city said the report of that inspection should be completed on Thursday. LCI ordered Northland to pay to put Batista up in New Haven Premiere Hotel & Suites on Long Wharf pending repair of his apartment. Church Street management told him on Wednesday that it plans to put him up at La Quinta for the next several days.
Batista, too, said he never should have been sent to that apartment in the first place. “Por que me metieron aqui? Yo voy a morir aqui porque a ellos les da la gana,” Batista said. “Why did they put me here? I’m going to die here because they feel like it.”
New Inspections Sought
Batista’s story prompted his lawyers to ask the city to return to the roofs at Church Street South. A crew went up two weeks ago and found it in disrepair, ordering it fixed.
Now it’s clear—based on Batista’s experience, based on LCI’s own subsequent inspection reports—that the roofs throughout the complex are causing problems, the lawyers wrote in letters to LCI and city Building Official Jim Turcio. They asked for prompt inspections of all the roofs.
Turcio said Wednesday afternoon that he expects to get back on the roofs within the next week.
Update: Northland Vice-President Peter Standish met in City Hall Tuesday with LCI Director Serena Neal-Sanjurjo and Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson, who said he promised to get Northland working on extensive repairs. “They’re following up” and “very responsive,” Nemerson said.
Northland stated in an email message to the Independent that his company is on the case.
“Since acquiring the property in 2008, Northland has invested nearly $5 million in capital expenditures to improve the residences at Church Street South, and we continue to pursue an ongoing program of maintenance and repair throughout the 47 year-old complex,” he wrote.
“Northland’s priority is the safety and well-being of our residents. We are working with the city on a plan for certain repairs to the existing complex and on the long-term future of the property.”
Last weekend, after a court-ordered inspection, Jim Turcio sent a letter to Northland’s offices ordering the company to fix the roof at the 34 Cinque Green Building as well as repair two apartments with mold and water damage. He also stopped work Northland was doing without a permit on a block wall and apartment unit. LCI ordered the owners, Newton, Mass.-based Northland Investment Corporation, to repair 27 different apartments or face possible criminal prosecution and up to $100 per day in fines.
Since May, LCI has “documented substantial proof of damaged roofs, defective windows, water leaking, and mold in the following 30 units,” the legal aid letters to the city noted, with a full list of the apartments.
“All tenants deserve a thorough review of the composition of their units,” said Amy Marx, who wrote the letters along with legal aid attorney Yonatan Zamir. “I’m concerned about the condition of the internal structure of the building. So much water has been leaking for so long into the units that a large amount of moisture and mildew has built up in the walls.”
Any repairs will likely have to include opening the walls and ceilings of the units to clean the mold, she said. “It’s unlikely there will be any real relief for the tenants to live in this complex unless the building department and LCI force such action” from Northland.
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• Complex Flunks Fed Inspection, Rakes In Fed $$
• Welcome Home—To Frozen Pipes
• City Spotted Deadly Dangers; Feds Gave OK
• No One Called 911
• “New” Church Street South Goes Nowhere Fast
• Church Street South Tenants Organize