Bronx tenants sue landlord, city over building collapse, allege harassment

Over two dozen residents of the Bronx building that partially collapsed in December alleged their landlord harassed them following the incident and described dire conditions in a lawsuit filed Monday.

Tenants from 1915 Billingsley Terrace say they want immediate repairs done, the destroyed corner of the property rebuilt and the ability to return to their homes.

“We are literally living day by day,” said Diana Vargas, 36, whose fifth-floor apartment was one of those destroyed and who has been staying in a shelter ever since with family. “It’s so hard.”

She and many neighbors became emotional at a Monday press conference across the street from their building as they talked about the ordeal.

The suit describes a range of hazardous conditions including the presence of harmful construction dust, garbage pileups, vermin infestation and lack of cooking gas.

It also included several charges of harassment against the landlord, such as making some tenants sign forms “agreeing that the conditions in their apartments were fully repaired” in exchange for getting their keys back. The suit further contends the owners failed to secure the building, resulting in widespread looting of vacant apartments.

The corner of the seven-story apartment building in Morris Heights came crashing down on Dec. 11, resulting in only minor injuries but displacing over 100 people — many of whom are still in shelters.

City records revealed the property had over 100 building violations at the time of the collapse, ranging from elevator outages to structural problems.

The suit was filed by the Legal Aid Society in Bronx Housing Court on behalf of 28 residents. It names landlords David Kleiner, Yonah Roth, Moishe “Mo” Doe and 1915 Realty LLC, as well as the city’s Department of Buildings and Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

“Our clients and all tenants of 1915 Billingsley have suffered tremendously at the hands of their landlord – however, their hardships did not begin when the building partially collapsed, but years before that as the unsafe conditions of the building worsened,” said attorney Zoe Kheyman.

“Landlords must make immediate repairs so that the city can lift the partial vacate order and the tenants can return home,” she added. “While the work is being done, the landlord and the city must ensure that the families who have been allowed to return are not exposed to lead dust, mold and other toxins.”

Kleiner could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Bronx district attorney’s office announced it was investigating “any possible criminality” days after the collapse. Local Councilwoman Pierina Sanchez confirmed on Monday that official investigations into what caused the collapse are “ongoing.”

But in December, the city suspended the license of an engineer they said misidentified a load-bearing support beam as a decorative column during an inspection.

“I am truly calling to question our city’s enforcement regimes and capacities,” said Sanchez, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings. “We must do better at keeping New Yorkers safe within their homes.”

Tenants pointed the finger at the landlord for harassment and negligence but also at the city for subsequently leaving them in limbo for nearly two months.

“Nobody’s fixing, nobody’s helping with nothing,” said Pedro Rodriguez, 64, who has lived in the building since 1975. “It is crazy.”

The next court date is set for Feb. 20, according to Legal Aid.

“The city is fully responsible for this whole situation,” said Vargas. “It’s about to be two months already (since the collapse) and we’ve got no answers.”