When Alva Campos’s lease expired in July of 2021, the management company for her building mailed her a renewal. It included a rent increase of $60, or 1.5 percent, on her $4,000 monthly rent. Making the higher payments would be difficult for her family — her partner works as a line cook while she raises three children under age 10 — but they could make it work. They had already taken on two roommates to help with the rent.
Ms. Campos, however, didn’t get around to signing the lease right away and the small delay has had a lasting effect.
“A new management company took over and sent a letter with a revised renewal offer,” Ms. Campos said through a Spanish-language interpreter. “It had more than a 10 percent increase to $4,460.”
This was more than her family could pay for their apartment. But the proposed increase was just one of her problems. With a new owner and a new management company, things started to change in the building.
“They stopped doing repairs,” she said, describing an overall diminution of services — a broken intercom system, cockroaches in the halls and vacant apartments being “warehoused,” or kept empty after tenants leave.
Throughout 2022, Ms. Campos struggled to get repairs and infestation issues addressed. “There’s no on-site super,” she said. “Management told us to call them, but they don’t live in the building and they don’t respond to our calls. There’s no responsible person we can talk to.”
She said when she did connect with someone it didn’t go well. “There was harassment by the management. They berated me over the phone.”
The limited liability company that owns the building, HCEC L.L.C., was formed two months before it bought the property in October of 2021. The publicly-listed officer for the company, Mark Anthony, did not respond to multiple inquiries from a reporter.
The management company, Everest Buildings Management, responded with an emailed statement, “Those tenants are retaliating with exaggerated lies and complaints simply because they do not want any rent increases.”
According to records from the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development (H.P.D.), the building has 54 open violations, eight of which pertain to Ms. Campos’s apartment.
$4,000| Jackson Heights, Queens
Alva Campos, 34
On proximity to amenities: Ms. Campos found her family’s current four-bedroom apartment, which is close to public transportation, in Jackson Heights three and a half years ago. “Everything is close — and I don’t drive,” she said. “Even the school where my kids go is just a block away.”
On connecting with Communities Resist: When the tenant association in Ms. Campos’s building was looking for help to address violations, they reached out to Shekar Krishnan, their local city councilman. Mr. Krishnan, a lawyer who previously focused on housing discrimination at Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, put the tenant association in contact with Communities Resist, a nonprofit that he co-founded in 2019.
Ms. Campos used to pay her rent electronically, but when the conflict about the rent increases came up, she said she was shut out of the electronic payment system. She wasn’t given a mailing address for the new management company so she started dropping old-fashioned paper checks, each for $4,000, into a mail slot at the shuttered management office on the first floor of her building. “Each month I pay,” she said, “the check is cashed.”
When she explained to the management company that she couldn’t pay the proposed 10 percent increase, Ms. Campos received a revised proposal. “The second offer was more than $4,600,” she said.
Then came a third proposal for $4,788.
“Each time they sent a new offer it was for a higher rent. If I can’t pay $460 more, how can I pay almost $800 more?”
When she told management she couldn’t pay $4,788, she received a notice informing her that she had 90 days to vacate the apartment. “It made me feel so bad because I didn’t know what to do,” she said.
In its written statement, Everest Buildings Management cited three years without rent increases during the pandemic as the reason for the increases. “Unfortunately landlords have to increase rents to cope with the increased cost of maintenance, taxes, utilities, etc. Property taxes and operating expenses go up against the landlord’s wishes, while rent increases happen against the tenant’s wishes,” the email read.
In February of 2023, while the rent conflict continued, Ms. Campos contacted 311, New York City’s help line, in an effort to address ongoing repair issues. An H.P.D. inspection documented a variety of violations in Ms. Campos’s apartment, including missing window guards and exposed lead paint.
Workers sent by H.P.D. were able to install the window guards in under an hour but addressing the lead paint required much more preparation and time. “So, after several weeks,” Ms. Campos said, “the city sent a crew to work on the lead paint. But management stopped the city from completing the repairs. They got about halfway done with the work for the day and stopped. I was nervous, I was in shock — I didn’t know what to do.”
At the beginning of 2023, Ms. Campos and other members of the tenant association reached out to Communities Resist, a community-based law office that focuses on low-income tenants experiencing housing issues. Ms. Campos gained legal representation through the organization, along with two other tenants in the building, and in June filed a case in Housing Court against HCEC L.L.C. and Everest Buildings Management.
The tenants are asking for a court order to correct the existing violations. Additionally, they are asking the court for a finding that the long-term negligence described in court documents amounts to harassment, and they’re seeking punitive damages.
Everest Buildings Management would not comment on the court case.
While she awaits her next court date, Ms. Campos says she has two things on her mind. “First, my kids. When I tell them we might have to move, they get so sad. My oldest says, ‘No, Mom, I have my teachers here, my friends, my neighbors.’ Now she is worried all the time.”
The second thing on her mind is safety. Not only is she concerned about her children living with daily exposure to lead paint, but she is also worried about the possibility that she might be adding to her family’s precarity.
“I fear retaliation,” she said. “I’m afraid to put my name out there. It’s scary. My hope is that sharing my story will encourage other to speak up. I know that even in the tenant association there are people nervous to speak up about certain things. I hope this will encourage them.”