UAM Tenant Action Plan

Please take the following advice with a grain of salt. I’m not a lawyer, nor have I taken my case against Urban American to Housing Court, seeing as my building was sold to a different company right when I was about to. However, here are some tips I learned when I was pulling my hair out about the hell they put me through:

1. Know your rights.

First of all, read the Attorney General’s Tenants’ Rights Handbook to figure out which laws Urban American is breaking. It’s a tedious read, but well-worth it.

In my case, Urban American had broken the law by keeping broken intercoms, demanding “key money”, and refusing to clean toxic black mold that had infested every room of my unit. Please read this guide — even issues that you may not think are illegal may very well be.

2. Call 311.

Don’t be afraid to call multiple times. You have the right to inform HPD of all of the problems in your building. They will also send Housing Department code inspectors to your apartment to inspect and document the problem, which is crucial if you want any help from Urban American or from Housing Court. Here’s the guide to How To Report an Apartment Maintenance Problem, provided by the city of New York. They are there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – so call them. It’s what they’re for.

3. Document everything.

Photos, videos, audio recordings. Even if you don’t own a digital camera, borrow one from a friend, or buy a disposable camera at your local pharmacy. If you’re not using a digital camera and therefore cannot easily prove which day the pictures were taken, I recommend holding up an issue of the day’s newspaper in order to record the date.

Keep records of all of your correspondence with Urban American, all in one folder. Make copies. Include your lease. Include which laws they are breaking. Evidence is key.

4. Only contact them in ways that can be documented.

If you’re one of their tenants, you’ve likely dealt with their infuriating phone service, which is mentioned in the posts “Fan Mail” and “Unsettling Stories“. If you’ve already called them about your problem(s) and they haven’t done anything in response, stop calling them.

Start sending them letters, with copies of the previously mentioned pictures attached.  Go to the Post Office, and request that you send them via “Certified Mail”. Send them to Urban American’s main office (590 56th St, West New York, New Jersey ( NJ ) 07093).

Email works too, and is cheaper, but regular postal mail is definitely preferable for proving that you did, in fact, contact them.

5. Inform your fellow tenants of their rights.

On the right sidebar, there are a number of links to Tenants and Neighbors and other resources that talk about tenant organizing. It’s your choice whether you’d like to get your neighbors together to fight Urban American management, and these pages all have valuable information on how to do so.

After all, look at the 3333 Broadway Tenants’ Association, who have managed to bring Urban American to court and gain attention about their building in the New York Times.

If you’re not willing, or are scared to do this — believe me, I understand. I had panic attacks when Urban American began harassing me in retaliation for reporting the toxic black mold in my apartment.

However, I ended printing out copies of the city’s How To Report an Apartment Maintenance Problem guide in English, Spanish, Russian and Chinese (the predominant languages in my area), and I used masking tape to post them by my building’s mailboxes.

6. Last resort if they still won’t fix anything: Talk to Housing Court.

Okay, here’s where the “I’m not a lawyer, seriously” part comes in. But you can visit your borough’s Housing Court and talk to someone who is, for free!

Here are some valuable links:

Fair Housing Counselors. The process of seeking legal retaliation against your landlord is frightening, but click this link for phone numbers for counselors in all five boroughs, and in multiple languages.

Housing Court Information Answer Sheets. Available in Spanish, French, Russian, Chinese, and Hindi.

LawHelp.org’s Legal Guide for Low-Income New Yorkers. Just because you’re low-income doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to a lawyer through LegalAid or any other local agencies.

12 Things You Should Know About Housing Court

New York State Court Help

Good luck. I’m here for you. I can’t walk you through the entire process, but I hope I was able to help you out.

2 Responses to “UAM Tenant Action Plan”

  1. Heather November 7, 2011 at 6:24 pm #

    It might also be helpful to note that Urban American is notorious for filing “fake” individual apartment improverments as well as Major capital improvements with the housing and community renewal department. This is so that they increase the legal regulated rent in their stabilzed buildings with intentions to destabilize them. You can go to the housing and community renewal office and request a copy of your rent history for the entire history of your apartment. If you note any discrepencies you can file a rent overcharge complaint. Its a pain as you have to document all the money you have paid to the landlord via rent reciepts and canceled checks as well as you leases and any communications about rent increases to them in triplicate. But you can be compensated 3X the overage if they find the charges invalid. There is also a 4 year staute of limitations so you have to act ASAP. For example the legal regulated rent in my apartment is now over $1900 a month and the previous tenant’s legal regulated rent was $523. There were no improvements made to the apartment when I moved in, in fact there was a dead mouse under the fridge, so they didn’t even clean it or paint. So they will have to prove what they did in the apartment to legally raise the rent.

    Just some advice.

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  1. Fan Mail « Slumlord Millionaires - July 27, 2011

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