Jan. 11, 2022
By Erik Ortiz
Even if there was sufficient heat in the building at the time of Sunday’s fire, the broader scenario of renters having to turn to space heaters because of heating problems is serious, said Pilar DeJesus, an advocacy coordinator with TakeRoot Justice, a nonprofit legal aid group in New York City.
She routinely has clients who’ve complained about lack of heat, hot water or gas, and have taken landlords to court to try and force repairs. But cases in the court system can stall or landlords aren’t able to make repairs in a timely manner, and that leaves residents continuing to resort to alternative heating sources like electric heaters, she said.
DeJesus said residents have also expressed concerns that heat is being shut off or turned down and other services decreased in an attempt to drive them from their apartments and destabilize their units, an accusation that can be difficult to prove.
Even the widespread issue of rodents in buildings can have an effect on units, where vermin might chew on wiring and wear it down, making for a dangerous situation.
“This is about more than a space heater,” DeJesus said. “We need to get to the root of the problems.”
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