(That's Spanish for Welcome to the Tenant's Association!). Mis queridos hispanohablantes, lo siento, mi español no es el mejor. Puedo leer y escribir bastante bien, pero todavía estoy aprendiendo. Gracias por su paciencia.
For those of you who don't know me, my name is Nick, and I've been your neighbor on the 7th floor for over 5 years now. I'm a pianist, a certified pizza lover, and currently a student at Columbia University, after a long series of fortunate or unfortunate events– depending on how you look at it. But more importantly, I am very passionate about economic issues, disparities, and other inequities in the world, particularly those that affect our community right here in Washington Heights. If you are like me, you worked hard to make it here and get an apartment in this city, and you work even harder now for the privilege to stay put, because this is where your friends and family live, and you would never give that up for anything in the world. Not to mention, a lot of us can't afford to move even if we wanted to because of how crazy high the rents are right now 😂 despite the fact that we're still emerging from the clutches of a global pandemic. Bottom line, it's expensive to stay, and even more expensive to move, so here we are. Which brings me to the issue of housing rights.
Housing rights in particular are of special importance to me, because I've experienced housing insecurity in the past, and I firmly believe that nobody should have to worry about keeping a roof over their head when they're juggling three jobs and making an honest effort to be a financially responsible human being. The fact is, credit scores and housing applications weren't built for hard-working people like us. And neither were housing laws or any other laws for that matter. Policy and laws have historically been written to favor those who come from wealth and higher education. Especially when it comes to housing law, it is entirely the case that tenants bear the full burden of defending and enforcing their own rights– which is a seemingly impossible task since most tenants don't even know what their basic rights are, because they're hidden behind layers of government bureaucracy and complicated paragraphs of legal speak. What this amounts to is a class of landlords who know they can take advantage of us, because if we don't pay our rent, life will be much harder for us than if the landlord doesn't provide adequate services or otherwise hold up his or her end of the bargain. The only way to win a game is to know how to play it, and landlords play to win. They know the odds are always in their favor, especially in communities with lower income, communities of color, communities of foreign-born immigrants, or any mix of the three. These are generally vulnerability communities, not unlike Washington Heights and Inwood.
Simply put, landlords are constantly betting that our community doesn't know the rules of the game, or can't afford to play it, so they take advantage and hope they can get away with it. How many times have you gone weeks without a proper repair, or months without an apartment buzzer, or years without a working radiator? How many times last year did you notice the elevator break down, or the hot water turn off with no prior written notice? This is not just life, or a minor inconvenience. This is landlords winning the game at our expense. And the issues I've raised may seem like small fry, but they point to a common pattern. What if a pipe bursts or a fire breaks out in our building, God forbid? Do you really expect the landlord to look out for you? Look at what happened to the folks in the fire on Post Avenue just before Thanksgiving this year. Or look at what happened in the wake of the tragic Bronx fire that occurred recently just across the river from us. These landlords didn't claim responsibility (in my opinion). And they certainly haven't done enough to take care of their tenants. The worst part is, most of these tragedies were preventable, if landlords took care and actually properly maintained their buildings and followed up on repair jobs in a timely manner.
All this to say, there has never been a greater need for a tenant association. Every building in this city needs one, especially in older buildings uptown and in the outer boroughs. If you can't count on landlords to look out for your safety and well-being, the burden is again upon us, to look out for our own well-being and that of our neighbors. There are many great reasons to have a tenant association. First of all, it helps us all get to know each other better. It helps us get to know the strengths and weaknesses of our buildings better too. And it also gives us power in numbers when we need to apply pressure on A&E Real Estate to hold up their end of the bargain. That said, I hope we will never need to apply pressure in that way. But simply having a tenants association with high participation rates can be an effective deterrent to bad behavior and negligence. Landlords know the game, and they know that a city agency or a courtroom judge are far more likely to believe a large group of tenants than they are to believe a single plaintiff or a single defendant. When the numbers are stacked up high enough, landlords know that the odds begin to turn against them. And that is how you win the game. That is how you defend your rights, and fight for the home you deserve - the home that you already paid for, and continue to pay for every month.
Let's face it. A&E Real Estate is effectively a small group of rich guys hiding behind the shell of a giant corporation with a really poorly manned customer service line. Often times, when I've needed something from A&E Real Estate, I feel really bad for the person I end up speaking to, because I know they're probably paid something like minimum wage just to deal with frustrated people all day. And whatever you need, they always have to run it by "upper management" – whoever that is. Clearly, they aren't in control of the decision-making, and they will never give you the name or title of somebody who is. Believe me, I've tried. If you want to take your chances and deal with them alone, be my guest. More power to you. But I have been there, done that, and I am starting this tenant association because I think we deserve better than this level of treatment and disrespect. If you would like to join me and your fellow neighbors, and learn more about your rights as a tenant in NYC - citizen or non-citizen alike - I encourage you to join us at our weekly meetings on Sundays at 2pm. At the very least, I am certain you'll have a good time and meet some pretty cool neighbors in the process.
I encourage all new members to take a moment to fill out this brief survey. about your experience at 1 Bogardus Place so far. It will help us identify which issues are most pressing and most important to all residents of the building. It will also play a large role in determining how we structure our meetings and communications with the group going forward. So I highly recommend everyone to fill it out as soon as they get the chance. There are 103 families living in this building. If we can get even half of that to respond to this survey, that will be a significant trove of information we can use to hit the ground running as we embark on this adventure together.
Thank you for staying with me so far, and I look forward to meeting you all at our next meeting on Sunday at 2pm. Gracias también por su paciencia mientras mejoro mi español. ¡Salud!
- Nick G