Rochester, N.Y. - The City-Wide Tenants Union is calling on state leaders to draft and pass legislation for a housing court in Rochester, similar to ones that exist in Buffalo and New York City. This would allow tenants to file grievances against their landlord and hopefully resolve problems.
Volunteers of the union visited tenants living in three different apartment buildings in Rochester, including 960 Dewey Avenue, which the city condemned because of code violations and no heat.
"This is an emergency situation for these tenants,” said Ryan Acuff of the City-Wide Tenants Union. “It should have never gotten this far. And tenants need basic support; that's why the citywide tenant's union came together. And they need basic protections so they can correct these problems."
That protection would be housing court.
"Just like a small claims court,” said Acuff. “And go before a judge and speak in plain language: I don't have heat; I don't have hot water; I have mold growing and if they don't already have an inspection report."
It’s a move Jesus Miranda thinks would help.
He has no hot water.
"The pipes are frozen,” said Miranda.
The stove doesn't work because the gas is off.
"No gas at all,” said Miranda. “They just disconnected it, shut it down because there's a gas leak in the pipes.”
He just got the heat turned back on three days ago, after living without it on one of the coldest days of the year.
“It's been a mess,” he added, “because I have to go to a friend of mine's place to take a shower."
“The cold was so bad, so, so freezing in this apartment, when you just breathe, you could see the smoke coming out of your mouth, inside the apartment," he said.
Miranda is one of about 10 people still living here.
Last month, the city condemned the 21-unit building because of code violations and the poor living conditions.
Miranda says it's been terrible and he wants to move, but has no place else to go.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “It was unhealthy. Very not safe place to live."
“This is an emergency situation for these tenants,” said Acuff. “It should have never gotten this far. And tenants need basic support."
Rochester's mayor says the city has already been in talks with city court judges about housing court.
As for Dewey Avenue, she says the city has been trying to get in touch with the building owner - who's been unresponsive.
"We're working with our law department to actually work with the courts to take some of these properties,” said Mayor Lovely Warren. “But remember, people have the constitutional right to own property, so you're in-between a situationwhere you have this legal right to own property but we also have an obligation to keep people in a safe environment."
The City-Wide Tenant Union says it invited the governor to a housing town hall on January 25 at St. Mary’s Place.
It also plans to meet with some City Council members and Monroe County legislators about enacting housing court.