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Si no hay gas, No hay renta!
If there’s no gas, There’s no rent.
That was the chant as the tenants of 333 E. 150th St. in Melrose stood on their building’s front stoop waving protest signs and photos of dilapidated living space on April 13. Their message: we’ve had no gas for 10 years and if we don’t have it by May, we’re going on a rent strike.
Wearing red shirts in solidarity, the tenants said they had been given a single hotplate for cooking while gas service has been out, but many had to buy more to accommodate their large families or replace ones that have burned out.
“I’ve had to replace it four times already – I pay for the gas and the traps, I pay for everything,” said Catalina Carrera who has been living in the building for 25 years with her two children, aged 13 and 25.
Carrera’s eldest has his own place in the building and it suffered a massive leak during a storm that flooded the apartment.
Leaks, caving ceilings, uplifted floor tiles and a severe rodent infestation afflict their apartments, even as they have continued to pay rent at an average of $1500 a month, said one of the protest organizers. Pleas to address repairs have fallen on deaf ears, Carrera said.
“[Ricardo Oquendo] came last week, looked at everything and said, ‘it’s nothing’,” she added.
The building is currently in foreclosure and has been placed in receivership by the Bronx Housing Court. Oquendo became the court-appointed receiver in February 2022, to provide maintenance and collect rent, but so far, the protesters said, all he has done is collect money.
“Where’s (Councilmember Rafael) Salamanca? Where’s (Mayor Eric) Adams?,” one protester asked.
“After becoming aware of this issue in late March, I immediately began working with the building’s court-appointed receiver to resolve this matter with ConEdison,” Salmanca said in a written statement to the Mott Haven Herald.
The tenants said they did not protest sooner because a majority are undocumented Spanish speakers and they did not know where to begin. Hispanics account for 69% of the South Bronx population. They were also giving their landlord the benefit of the doubt.
“They told me they were fixing it,” said Rosa Argentina Marquez, who moved in seven years ago amidst the gas outage. She never believed it would take this long.
According to the New York City Housing Preservation and Development website, “Property owners are required to act to restore gas for heat and hot water and gas for cooking immediately once any of those services are disrupted. Tenants may be entitled to rent reductions for failure of a property owner to provide these services.”
Tenants said they were told the gas was off in their building because of “necessary repairs,” but after 10 years, they said, enough is enough.
The tenants finally reached out to a small grassroots group that call themselves Bronx Tenants United. They bring their knowledge of tenant law and English literacy to immigrant communities fighting housing injustices in the Bronx.
When a member of the Bronx Tenants United reached out to Con Edison, the response was that “they have their hands tied” implying that the onus is on the landlord. They then decided to call on media outlets to spotlight the neglect. They refused to provide names stating, “this is not about us.”
During the press conference, tenants read letters written by neighbors in the building who were unable to attend, but still wanted their voices to be heard. One of them was from Jonathan (no last name provided) who lives on the fifth floor.
“His family wrote him a letter telling him why they don’t visit. It’s because the conditions in his home are not adequate, safe or healthy for his children or grandchildren,” one of the organizers read.
The Mott Haven Herald is awaiting comment from Con Edison and Oquendo.