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Major Rent Strike Against Millionaire Slumlord Catches Fire in Brooklyn

As foreclosures continue to put historic pressure on the nation’s rental market, slumlords now have more opportunity than ever to prey on the most vulnerable of tenants.

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 The building has had problems for years, but the conditions have worsened since the buildings fell into foreclosure.

 “In the summer, it’s so hot that I lie in bed and cover myself with ice cubes,” said Riccey Trelles. “And in the winter, I slept with four quilts, a pair of sweats, a sweater, a scarf and two pairs of socks.” Others tell stories of mice, rats, roaches, bed bugs, and no exterminator to be found despite daily 311 calls. The mounds of garbage piled in the locked basement fester and stink when the temperature soars. With a broken boiler, the showers are freezing when the temperature plummets.

The city is well aware of the problems. On the Department of Buildings Web site, the entry for 553 46th Street reveals a slew of violations described as: “OPEN—NO COMPLIANCE RECORDED. Severity: HAZARDOUS.” At 545 46th Street, Petito has racked up more than $100,000 of debt in fines for violations—all unpaid. The entry for 557 46th Street shows a complaint issued a few days ago: “Caller states that the electrical power for the building is defective [and] that FDNY responded and stated that wiring upgrade was needed for 553, 557 & 545.”

Residents say a fire marshal recently declared the building an imminent hazard and suggested that Lopez call the Red Cross and see if she could get all the tenants temporarily relocated, yet the Department of Buildings has yet to send an inspector.

“It could take anywhere between three to four weeks to get the inspection,” said a source inside the Department of Buildings. “The city is slowly getting things done, but there are so many buildings and properties, I think some things fall through the cracks.”

Can anything make the city move faster?

“When it comes to a slum landlord,” she said, “what happens a lot is it gets exposed in the media, and then the city gets involved because the media is involved.”

On Thursday, residents invited television crews into the buildings and testified to Petito’s many abuses. Then, just in case the city still didn’t get the message, dozens of tenants paraded through the blistering heat—signs, canes, sun umbrellas and all—to Assemblyman Felix Ortiz’s office, where they occupied the building. One resident’s sign read in Spanish, “In the winter we freeze and in the summer we roast." An hour later, the group emerged victorious, having scheduled a sit-down meeting with Ortiz for the coming Monday.

The parade of women then shuffled the 10 blocks back to their sweltering apartments, hoping to sleep despite the heat, hoping their work would keep the apocalypse at bay.