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Tuesday 22 September 2020
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Rochester Tenants Endure Asbestos and Unlawful Evictions

Although Rochester was recently rated the snowiest place in the state, the city was also recognized for its hot real estate market. In fact, the Flower City came in first in the nation. That might make some people seriously consider moving to the ROC, but many current residents are living a very different reality — one that isn’t so rosy.

At first glance, the idea of living in Rochester is looking better than ever. Although U.S. home prices will continue to rise from 2% to 6% over the next few years, the cost of living in this area of the state is still incredibly reasonable. At least, it is for now. Home assessments all across the city were up by 19.3% on average, with substantial increases in the South Wedge and North Winton neighborhoods. While that means properties in the city are technically more valuable, the assessment increase also means that many residents will have to brace themselves for a major property tax increase. Moreover, it means the income gap could be that much more pronounced. Between 2013 and 2017, Rochester’s poverty rate increased from 31.6% to 33.1%, with roughly 32,000 Rochesterians living on a mere $230 per week. Should an owner’s taxes increase substantially, it could make all the difference between owning a home and having to go back to renting.

Roughly 11% of the U.S. population relocated in 2017 — and more people are renting now than ever, thanks to a lack of affordable housing. But that option might not be much better for Rochester residents if recent headlines are anything to go by.

Residents living in Manhattan Square in the downtown area have publicly complained about asbestos work that’s been in process for over a year. While studies have found that levels of several organics can be two to five times higher indoors than outside, the presence of asbestos is far more worrisome. And despite the fact that the construction equipment industry is expected to grow by 12% from 2016 to 2026, it seems as if the owners are taking their time in fixing the issue. The project isn’t scheduled to be completed until 2021, so it’s no wonder that tenants have reached their limit.

One resident told the Rochester News 8 station that she had developed respiratory issues, citing pervasive dust. Another mentioned others with prevalent breathing problems and the presence of black mold in the building. Many have complained about constantly strong chemical odors and a lack of ventilation. Tenants have also complained about the presence of rodents, heating problems, a lack of security and convenient parking, and even human waste in the laundry facilities. And although ownership has released a comprehensive statement officially addressing those concerns, many tenants remain unconvinced — and feel like they’re out of options.

They aren’t the only Rochester renters feeling helpless, either. Tenants living at The Lofts at North Clinton and two other properties have faced major landlord issues in recent months. Following leaks, mildew, a lack of running water, pest infestations, broken appliances, and non-functioning electrical outlets, landlord Ron Zour received more than 200 violations across three different properties. Numerous tenants decided to go on a rent striking, withholding their monthly payments as a means of protest. In response, Zour tried to evict more than 100 residents. Fortunately, the citywide tenant union took up the cause and city councilmembers and local activists became involved. The eviction motions were eventually thrown out — although Zour’s statement to the press saying that those motions had been withdrawn proved to be untrue.

For now, those tenants may still face an uphill battle; they may not be responsible for paying rent, but it’s likely they’re going to need to find safer places to live. That said, residents in similar predicaments may have an easier time getting results. The statute of limitations on personal injury lawsuits in Texas may be limited to two years, but filing a suit against your landlord in a court of law might now be a more feasible option for those living in New York State. Thanks to the new Specialized Housing Expedited Part of Rochester City Court, renters who can prove they attempted to resolve disputes with their landlords through city code enforcement to no avail are allowed to pursue small claims action. These renters would be granted a hearing within 22 days, providing improved tenant rights without any cost to taxpayers.

As Mayor Lovely Warren noted in a statement: “We have some great landlords in our city, but we do have some problems … with landlords who do not care about the quality of life of the tenants of our city. Quality housing is not something tenants … should have to fight for. [It’s something] they would have a right to.”