The Rutgers Law School Housing Justice & Tenant Solidarity Clinic in Newark is representing tenants filing two lawsuits over the deteriorating condition of their building.
Members of the 75 Prospect Street Tenant Association in East Orange announced on August 16 that they were filing the lawsuits against their landlord, who they allege is responsible. Known as “The Castle,” this 44-unit historic building has a well-documented history of neglect, such as building-wide leaks, mold, and dysfunctional elevators. The lawsuits allege that the landlords, Prospect Castle LLC, 75 Prospect Holdings LLC, and three separate management companies, OneWall, Platinum Management, and Livingo have allowed the building to deteriorate as part of a plan to empty the building of tenants, who are protected by the City’s robust rent control ordinance.
The first lawsuit asks the court to appoint a receiver to take over management of the property, collect rents, and dedicate them to repairs after years of mismanagement. The Federal National Mortgage Association (“Fannie Mae”) is also named in the suit as a lender for the property.
The second lawsuit seeks damages for the horrendous conditions with which the tenants have lived, discrimination against tenants with disabilities, and for violations of East Orange’s rent control ordinance.
Alaina Thomas, attorney with the Rutgers Law School Housing Justice & Tenant Solidarity Clinic, stated, “The lawsuits filed today intend to address the ongoing issues at the property, first, by asking the court to appoint a receiver, a court appointed individual or management company that takes charge of a dilapidated building, assumes the role of landlord, and uses the rent to make necessary repairs. The second lawsuit is for damages to compensate residents for the years they have endured these horrible conditions.”
Tenant Association president, Erica Coleman, moved to 75 Prospect in 2017 and states that she has complained to building management about the persistent leak in her unit for years. Recently, Ms. Coleman was injured when a water-damaged ceiling in her apartment collapsed, hitting her on the head, right before the filing of these complaints.
“I complained for years about the leak in my daughter’s bathroom,” she said. “A judge even ordered my landlord to repair it. After years of patchwork repair jobs, the leak got so bad it caused the ceiling in the neighboring room to collapse two weeks ago. The collapsing ceiling hit me on the head, and I spent the night in the emergency room. I suffered a concussion.”
The consistent leaks have led to the significant mold infiltration, which the landlord has failed to abate. Tenant Carla Evans’ quadriplegic son has been living outside the unit for years. His doctors told Evans that they could not advise his return home because of the mold in the apartment.
She said, “I want my family to be able to live together. My son has had to stay at the hospital for years. I’ve asked the landlord to get rid of the mold. I have offered to move to another floor. They won’t do anything. They just want us gone.”
The elevators in this eleven-story building constantly break. In July 2022, reporters visited the building after the only working elevator in the South wing had been out of service for over a month. Senior and disabled tenants with units in the South wing of the building had to use the only operable elevator at the other side of the property, then walk across the roof and down several flights of steps just to access their units. Tenants like Denise Wright, who is a senior and uses a cane, wound up essentially homebound during the two months it took to repair the elevator.
Professor Greg Baltz, co-director of the Housing Justice & Tenant Solidarity Clinic, said, “These East Orange families and seniors are fighting hard to defend their homes. The City of East Orange has done a tremendous job documenting the code violations at 75 Prospect and we look forward to their support in establishing the existence of these conditions before the court. As a government sponsored enterprise with a substantial financial stake in 75 Prospect, we also hope that the Federal National Mortgage Association (“Fannie Mae”) will exercise their influence in the receivership lawsuit to ensure the prompt appointment of a responsible manager to make repairs.”