They won the battle, but it was short-lived.
Tenants at 590 Fulton Ave., were among those who convinced the Nassau County Rent Guidelines Board to opposed any rent increases for rent-stabilized units in and around the village in June. But now those same tenants have new battles to wage — this time against their landlord.
Last week, the nearly 400 tenants of the Hempstead property say they received a notice the gas bill for the complex has gone unpaid, and that National Grid is now owed more than $90,000. But tenants say they’ve already paid their share, through their rent.
Yet, if payment isn’t made by next week, these same tenants might be out of gas.
For many of those who live at 590 Fulton, this was the last straw — especially those already organizing complaining about what they describe as inadequate conditions. It also was too much for Nassau County legislator Siela Bynoe, who says she has been closely monitoring the situation.
Luckily, next week should come and go, without gas being turned off.
“I have been in contact with National Grid’s government liaison on multiple occasions to monitor ongoing service delivery to the building,” Bynoe said, in a statement. “National Grid advised me that a payment agreement has been reached, which has enabled them to recall the disconnection order.”
Tenants held an emergency meeting last week to try and determine what their rights were, and the next steps they could take.
Under the guidelines of the state housing and community renewal division, landlords must provide and maintain “required or essential services for tenants.” Bob Elliot, a community activist with the Poor People’s Campaign and New York Communities for Change, emphasized that tenants have the right to an inhabitable environment, as per their lease and the state regulations.
“The legal defense as a tenant is that when you sign a lease with a landlord, you have an expectation of living in ‘a safe and livable environment,’” Elliot said. “And when utilities are shut off, that is no longer a safe and livable environment.”
Before the notice from National Grid, tenants of 590 Fulton were holding meetings to address building issues and plan legal action against landlord, Karen Singh. Elliot said tenants who signed a petition against Singh faced retaliation and harassment — something he also points out is illegal, and also something Singh vehemently denies.
“Two weeks, ago we had over 60 people attend,” Elliot said. The more recent meeting had half that number, which Elliot blames on Singh.
“They’re trying to intimidate us,” Elliot said. “They knew we were having this meeting. They knew we were having the last meeting.”
Elliot cites state property law which he says safeguards tenant rights by protecting their ability to form tenant associations and hold meetings in their living spaces. Landlords are explicitly prohibited from interfering with these meetings, or the formation of these organizations.
State attorney general Letitia James has further reinforced these protections by going after landlord’s she says retaliated against residents who have filed complaints. Harassment, as defined by the state, includes any conduct by a landlord that “directly or indirectly intrudes upon a tenant’s privacy, comfort, or enjoyment of their dwelling.”
But according to some of those living at 590 Fulton, Singh has been doing exactly that — calling them into the office and asking them why they are participating. They also claim he has threatened them, tried to get them to sign old leases from previous years, and even locked them out of the building.
One resident, Janice Broxton, claiming that Singh called her a vulgar name in his office following an earlier meeting.
Tenants also claimed there is an overall lack of living quality, citing rodents running rampant, a lack of heat and hot water, visible mold, a lack of security, and a sense of safety.
Singh denies all accusations against him.
“I’m a landlord, not a gangster,” he said. “I do not do things this way.”
Singh tells the Uniondale Herald Beacon that all the bills are paid up, broken things are fixed in a timely manner, exterminators are called when needed, there are no false late fees being charged to tenants for what he claims to be late rent, and that no tenants without vehicles are paying for parking spots.
Lorraine Smith, who has lived at 590 Fulton since 1997 and has never owned a car, says she has billing receipts saying otherwise.
“It’s really a shame how poor people live,” she said.
Singh also claims the situation with National Grid was simply a misunderstanding, and that he has switched gas suppliers and the owed amount, according to the statement, was a mistake.
Darinel Velasquez, an activist with New York Communities with Change, agrees with Singh on one thing. "Mr. Singh is not a gangster, he’s a slumlord," he proclaimed, continuing that, "he is using every way possible to exploit and abuse the tenants in 590 Fulton."
"No one has a personal vendetta against Mr.Singh, but when you push people into deeper levels of poverty, eventually the glass will break and people will organize and fight back," Velasquez concluded.