Noelle Théard and Dennis Flores Inside one of the Sunset Park basements that led to the rent strike.
Last fall, it seemed as if justice was finally in the works for tenants in Sunset Park. In August, after organizing a year-long rent strike with three buildings on their block, residents finally had their day in court. At the time, Judge Sylvia Hinds-Radix seemed sympathetic, noting, "This building is crying out for a receiver." However, the receiver -- who's charged with the task of caring for the buildings while they undergo the foreclosure process -- didn't appear until January 14th.
In the meantime, many of the unlivable conditions that led the tenants to strike have persisted, and they're not sure they'll stop the rent strike under the receiver's management. They want to see the problems, which range from bugs to leaks to asbestos contamination, fixed -- and they're worried about handing over their money but not seeing any changes.
Orazio Petito, the slumlord who owns the apartment buildings at 553, 545, and 557 46th Street, packed the basements of his properties with construction debris and trash, which quickly became home to mice, fleas and bedbugs. Sara Lopez, one of the tenants who organized the rent strike, told us, "Any time it rains, the water runs from the roof to the first floor. The first floor floods. I get mice, I get roaches. [Petito] didn't care. I told him, 'When you clean the basement, I'll pay the rent.'"