Standing at the corner of 139th St. and Willis Avenue, a handful of residents in a Mott Haven apartment building did what few New Yorkers are willing to do these days – gather together in a group.
As scores of South Bronx workers furloughed by the impacts of Covid-19 worry about affording rent and utilities, tenants at 380 E. 139th St. held a protest on Apr. 1 demanding better living conditions and calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to cancel rents statewide during the outbreak.
Organizers say they are taking precautions to protect residents and the community.
“We were lined up on the sidewalk, seven feet apart. Residents had on masks and gloves and we made sure people were the proper distance apart,” said Emmanuel Pardilla, a tenant organizer who helped organize the event.
Pardilla said the protesting tenants are concerned that many in the South Bronx are out of work and unable to afford their rent, but the tenants at 380 E 139th St. also are frustrated that their landlord has not been making necessary repairs to their building.
A press release by event organizers claimed that Carlos Careddu, their landlord, has neglected to fix broken gas lines in the building, which has left tenants without cooking gas since October 2019.
On March 9, a newly formed tenants association sent Careddu a letter demanding fixes around the building.
“For at least 5 months now, we have had to make our food on hot plates or purchase outside food. In some instances we had to invest in precarious fuel cannisters in order to properly cook our food,” the letter said. “This has impacted our way of living as well as our financial health.”
While Careddu has announced plans to upgrade the electrical system in the building to provide electric stoves, tenants said they are fearful that will allow him to raise rents to cover those costs.
Careddu has denied these claims. When questioned in a group text to tenants in the building, the landlord said the rents would not be raised.
“There will be no MCI increase,” he said. “As I said many times, there will be no charge to you.”
An MCI – or Major Capital Investment project – allows landlords to raise rents after making major investments in an apartment, such as electrical upgrades.
Careddu said he already has told several tenants he is willing to work with them on rent payments for April.
But organizers of the protest said after years of waiting for their landlord to make good on promises, they want New York State government to cancel all rent debts in New York State accrued during the pandemic.
Stopping short of rent cancelations, in March Cuomo signed an executive order that halted evictions over unpaid rent for 90 days, though activists say it’s only delaying the inevitable.
“Governor Cuomo can take immediate action today to help working people, and he needs to do that. He needs to cancel rents and not just let the back rent build up over time,” Pardilla said.