Renters living under code violations refuse to pay rent until issues are fixed

Local News

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A group of tenants across Rochester are in a standoff with their landlords over rent. They claim they’re living in unsafe and illegal conditions. The landlord at the heart of this dispute is Tal Levi who owns and manages over 100 properties across Rochester with hundreds code violations according to the City Tenants Union. We got a first hand look inside one of the homes where a woman has had enough and isn’t paying her rent until they’re all fixed. 

For years Quiana Dunaway and her five children have lived off Lenox St. in a home recently taken over by Tal Levi, a landlord based out of New York. Since August the city has sighted numerous code violations in and around the home after he took over. 

They include leakage, causing damage to the kitchen ceiling, the toilet is lose and won’t flush, exposed wires, and a broken main entrance door creating a fire hazard. 

“With the ceiling falling and the paint falling it could be falling into the food, you know the kids could probably be putting it into their mouth,” Quiana Dunaway fears. “By touching it when trying to clean it up. Mold smells rising into the home can cause sickness in children as well.”

Quiana says that for the past several months, she and five other neighbors on the street have called and messaged Levi, complaining about these issues. She say he would respond with texts like these stating that the maintenance man “Justin would come by with a city inspector”, but nothing would get done. According to Quiana, just this last week a maintenance crew did come in repairing cracked walls around the bathroom and hallway. But Quiana calls “bandaid repairs”  not addressing the serious violations. 

“Enough is enough, I work every hard for every house that I’ve had,” Dunaway argued. “I want to be able to live comfortably in my home. I just said enough was enough, if I can’t live comfortable why would you be able to get my hard earned money.”

Levi has taken Quiana and dozens of other of his tenants to court in an effort to evict them. Quiana’s case has since been adjourned until January. The Rochester Tenants union is now involved fighting for Quiana. 

“Not only do tenants have to live their lives and in horrible conditions, they also have to beat down the bureaucracy of the system,” Lisle Coleman with the Rochester Tenants Union said. “Because we don’t value tenants living conditions and protections. We haven’t invested in that piece of our government.”

After weeks of trying to get ahold Tal Levi, he spoke to me Thursday night, but refused to comment on the situation. As for the code violations from the city we have tried to find out what is next, with no response yet but in their letter to Levi it states that if the violations aren’t corrected immediately the case would be sent for appropriate legal action. 

There is a temporary freeze on evictions related to those who are in tough times because of the coronavirus. But activists argue the policies need to go further stopping all evictions with long term legislation to stabilize access to housing.

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