A week after residents of 2710 Bainbridge Ave. announced that they were filing a lawsuit against their landlord because the building was falling apart, signs of improvement could be seen throughout the structure. The changes came about after Semper Fi Management 4 Corp. — previously owned and run by Frank Palazzolo — was bought Thursday by another company, Damberly Realty Services, said city and Damberly officials as well as tenants. The sale took place the same day as several news articles about the conditions of the building and the lawsuit.
“It seems that we are finally being heard, but we needed a courtroom and the help of the media to achieve that,” said Trina Guzman, who lives on the second floor of the Fordham building.
On Friday, the two front doors, which tenants said had been broken and without locks for years despite repeated complaints, were being replaced. For the first time in almost a year, tenants said, they received official rent statements in their mailboxes. “Before that,” said Cruz Maria Renvill, the daughter of a couple that has been living in the building for 27 years, “the management would simply send someone randomly every month to collect rent.”
Among other fixes that tenants pointed out to the Bronx Ink were new waterproofing on the roof, repaired walls and ceilings that had been collapsing and replaced water pipes and radiator valves.
“We are fixing the most urgent problems first,” said Omar Quintana, who works for Damberly Realty and supervises the repairs of the entire building at 2710 Bainbridge Ave. The building, according to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, has more than 200 violations. “We have work for more than six months here,” Quintana said.
A year ago, the building was listed by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development as one of the 200 worst maintained in the city. Palazzolo was listed by The Village Voice as one of the 10 worst landlords in the city.
Sean Curoy, who heads the new management company, went to the building to introduce himself to the tenants on Friday and reassure them. “We pay our superintendents to do a job,” Curoy said to a Bronx Ink reporter. “If they don’t do it, they don’t keep their job. It’s as simple as that.”
Although the news was received among the residents as an encouraging sign of improvement, many remained skeptical. “Since I moved in three ago, I received more than five letters telling me a new management was to take care of the building,” said fifth-floor tenant Edgar Sandoval. “I never saw a difference.”
This skepticism was also shared by Garrett Wright, staff attorney at Urban Justice Center, which is representing the city in the lawsuit against Semper Fi Management 4 Corp. “The fact that it’s a new person running the management company doesn’t change a thing,” he said. “If on May 12, which is when the first court appearance is to take place, the judge decides there are still too many violations, the building will still be taken off Semper Fi’s hands.”
The fact that the work had already started was not enough to reassure some residents. “I believe it when I see it,” declared Enriqueta Garzon, also one of the fifth-floor residents. She pointed at two men fixing the entrance doors and added: “Today, they are removing the doors, but I wouldn’t be surprised if tomorrow they didn’t come back and they left it all like this, without installing new ones.”
Interviews with several residents echoed this sentiment. Toneisha McFadden, who moved into the building six months ago, said she hasn’t been able to cook once in her apartment. “We had a gas leak, and after weeks of complaining about it, they finally came and fixed it,’’ she said. “But they left without connecting us to the gas line and we still haven’t got a meter! They just never came back!”
Two years ago, when workers were sent to repair the leaking ceiling in the Revills’ bathroom, they left all the repairs showing, said Theodora Revills who has been living in the building for 23 years. “It looks terrible, but at least we don’t need an umbrella anymore when we use the toilet,” she said with a grin.
In the stairwells, all of windows are stuck, making it impossible to open or close them; the glass is cracked and the frames are covered in mold. As Enriqueta Garzon climbed the stairs to show her fifth-floor apartment to a reporter, where the ceiling is cracked and leaks whenever it rains, her foot hit a syringe that had been left on the floor next to the wrapping plastic it came in. “We’ve seen everything here; I even found condoms once!” she said, explaining that the presence of the unwanted visitors was a result of the broken front door: “Anyone can come and go as they please, I don’t feel secure at all,” she said.
But the worst, tenants said, is that during last winter, the heating system broke down and wasn’t repaired until the last week of December. “No heat, no hot water; we bought several electrical radiators, but with the winter we had, it just wasn’t enough,” said Theodora Renvill. Her husband, Crucito, continued: “The hot water disappears very often, so we are used to simply boil up two saucepans and washing ourselves like that.”
Edgar Sandoval said he was dealing with a whole other set of problems. His bathtub is blocked, and every time he takes a shower, he has to take out the water with buckets and throw it in the toilet. All this in a bathroom where the faucet doesn’t run and where no light has ever been installed. He said he called the city’s information hotline, 311, hundreds of times, but the HPD “couldn’t do anything because the landlord refused them access to the building.”
These are only some of the complaints residents cited last week. Others include rats running around, mold, holes in the ceiling and in the floor, broken windows, destroyed intercoms, leaky faucets and unlighted hallways.
Frank Palazzolo, the previous landlord, could not be reached for comment.
Curoy, also owner of six other buildings in the Bronx, told the residents that “workers [would] be there every day until the building is finished.” As soon as he heard that, Fidias Gonzalez, from the fifth floor, said: “It’s about time! There’s human beings living in here, too. Not just the rats!”