POUGHKEEPSIE–A family of nine, including four young children, has been forced to leave a rental home deemed uninhabitable by the city and is now homeless.
Tenants James Kelley and his wife, Christine Lindner, were told by city inspectors in mid-September to vacate the two-story home at 14 Hammersley Ave. due to a violation order declaring the building a safety hazard.
Defective electrical wiring and furnace issues are among the 28 violations, according to the pair.
The home also has faulty plumbing and mold and mushrooms growing on a rotted, collapsed wall originating from a leak on the second floor, the couple says.
Kelley and Lindner, who were given a 24-hour notice to leave on Sept. 15, have four children ranging in age from 5 years old to 18 months.
Lindner’s 65-year-old mother, Mildred, who recently had surgery to remove a mass in her lung and is confined to a wheelchair, as well as two sisters also lived at the home, which the family had been renting since July 2016.
At the moment, the family is living in a small bedroom at a friend’s house on Lent Street.
“It just seems like everything is unfair, and especially having four kids under the age of five,” Lindner said. “It’s a little hard trying to figure this out and trying to do everything on our own.”
The pair claims the landlord, Miguel Williams, has refused to make the necessary repairs or offer the family alternative housing. The family says he has dodged repeated phone calls and texts.
Williams, however, said he has sent his workers to the home repeatedly to fix the problems. He said while the house was previously cited for violations in 2008, he had made the necessary repairs.
“There are things that happened since they got there. I couldn’t correct them because they wouldn’t answer the door. We couldn’t even get in. They would sleep all day.,” he said.
“I had guys I was paying, knocking on the door and nobody answered. We went through this for a while. I finally stopped coming around to my own house.”
City building inspector Gary Beck did not return calls for this report.
The family recently renewed its lease for a year. They claim to have paid a full year’s rent for both floors in 2016, amounting to $21,000.
Williams confirmed that he had renewed the lease for the downstairs apartment and had gotten last year’s rent upfront, but he said the family now owes him two months rent for both apartments.
“I’m done. I just want them out of my home,” he said.
Williams further claims that the family, which moved to Poughkeepsie from Long Island one year ago, has presented additional problems.
“They were throwing garbage outside the house, My next-door neighbor began calling the city.” he said. “They’re vindictive and you think they’re a victim, but that’s not what’s going on.”
Kelley countered that he is just muddying their names and trying to get out of his obligation to provide safe housing.
“If we were such bad tenants, why did he renew the lease?” Kelley said. “And how can you sleep past 6 ‘o clock when you have four kids?
The couple further claims when the family moved in last summer, the house already had flaws such as broken windows, no running water in an upstairs sink, a nonworking oven and a ceiling fan in danger of collapsing.
“Why did he rent to us in the first place? You’re not allowed to rent while the building is condemned. He basically moved us into an abandoned building, and now, we’re stuck sleeping on somebody else’s floor in their house. If it wasn’t for this lady, we would just be walking the street with our children.”
As far as seeking help, the couple claims they have appealed to every agency in the city and county, including Dutchess County Community and Family Services and Legal Services of the Hudson Valley.
To date, they say they have gotten nowhere.
Rachel Saunders, the attorney in charge of Legal Services, cited attorney-client privilege and would not comment on the matter.
According to the couple’s account, Dutchess County Community and Family Services declined the case, including providing emergency housing, because of failure to fulfill job obligations. They blamed their current crisis.
Colleen Pillus, the county communications director, declined to discuss the case due to confidentiality boundaries.
“In fact, DCFS cannot even confirm if someone is a client,” she said.
Pillus added that there are “specific guidelines” and “eligibility requirements” tied into temporary assistance, and a job search is one of them.
“The case worker establishes the specific objective and job search requirements for the applicant based on their particular circumstances and child care considerations are made.”
Kelley, a skilled carpenter, claims he has been unable to find work. The family has no transportation.
Lindner said she failed to report for a BOCES test because it was scheduled during the time the family had to evacuate the home.
She said they left with just a shopping cart of their belongings, the shirts on their backs and important documents that include their contacts with various agencies.
“We got dealt the wrong deck,” her husband said. “If this was New York City, something would have been done about it a week ago. He (the landlord) would have had to put us up in a hotel, and he would have had to take care of the property right away.
“This city is so small and they’re not gong after him. I feel like it’s a corrupt system. We got fed the wrong dish. It’s not just us. A lot of people go through this stuff, but this system here, I feel like it’s set up for failure.”
Meanwhile, Kelley and Lindner said they may head back to the city, where they believe they will get the help they need.
“If we do, it’s going to be even more difficult to get our stuff from the house and pay for a truck and our storage, put it somewhere and live in a shelter. We’re going to be bouncing back and forth. We were dealt the wrong deck.”
His mother-in-law called the experience, which happened three weeks after she got out of the hospital, a “nightmare.”
“It’s just unbelievable. I wake up each day, and this isn’t real. This isn’t happening,” she said. “Every day, I feel sick to my stomach, and I cry.”
She said she paid Williams upfront last summer from her life savings in order to “feel secure” and had to invest in new appliances at the home.
“I’m losing everything, and I just feel like I’m shuffling from place to place. I’m too old to be doing this, and I don’t have it in me. I’m just scared.”
While Williams said he sympathizes with her, he has had it with her family, which he considers dishonest, slovenly and “devils.”
“I’ve had the house for 18 years, and I’m at the point where I’m done. They’re the worst tenants I ever had,” he said.