Winter is becoming a time to dread for apartment tenants across the United States. When it comes to staying warm, many renters are at the mercy of their landlords.
A family in Pittsburgh became so desperate for heat that they contacted reporter Bob Hazen at Pittsburgh Action News 4 for help.
The Burton family lives in a Polish Hill apartment building where the furnace has been broken for weeks. According to Suzanne Burton, the building’s landlord, Don Dais, started to repair the furnace and then stopped without warning, leaving the Burton family to weather temperatures below 20 degrees without a way to keep warm.
Calls to Dais went unanswered, and while the family waited for repairs, their pipes froze, leaving them without running water. The only message they got from their landlord was an inexplicable text directing them to a law firm.
“We got to get out of here,” an emotional Burton told Action News 4. “My hands are so cold.”
The family’s neighbor has already left, and the Burtons are looking for a place to stay until their landlord shows up again. The Action News 4 Investigation finally prompted the landlord’s reappearance, but the furnace still isn’t repaired.
Meanwhile, landlord neglect actually endangered the lives of Rose Martinez and her 4-year-old son, after a hidden furnace in their Albuquerque apartment began leaking gas.
Though Martinez has been asking her landlords to fix safety concerns like exposed wires, missing electrical outlet covers and cracked walls, she was stunned to find a walled-off heater in the corner of her bedroom.
“Every day, without knowing, I slept on this bed next to the heater that could have blew up,” Martinez told KRQE News 13.
The heater was discovered by a gas inspector that Martinez called in to investigate after detecting a gas smell and experiencing chronic headaches. The heater lacked proper ventilation and was pumping gas into the apartment from right next to the beds of Martinez and her son.
“Some of the health hazards to tenants from improperly vented heaters are dizziness, headaches, disorientation and can even lead to death. These effects are from carbon monoxide which is a byproduct of combustion,” says Jeff Vitt, Lead Technician and Installer at Vitt Heating & A/C Co., Inc. “These health hazards are typically more harmful to younger children and the elderly, a lot of people do not realize these hazards even exist. It would be nice if cities would mandate occupancy inspections on rental properties to protect the citizens from neglectful landlords.”
The gas company red-tagged the furnace and plugged the gas line, and Martinez is currently using space heaters to keep her apartment warm, even though landlords are required by state law to provide heat.
A day after the furnace was red-tagged, Martinez received an eviction notice from landlords Sergio Martinez and Dora Romero, who claimed she was a “trouble tenant” lying about living conditions. They told KRQE News 13 that the furnace wasn’t red-tagged, even though a gas company spokesman confirmed that it was.
Both local news investigations are trying to prompt change for the struggling families, but only time will tell if the landlords help their tenants or leave them out in the cold.