Ernest Bishop April 3, 2018

Tenants of the Church Street South apartments in New Haven have filed a lawsuit seeking class-action over deplorable living conditions.

Tenants and former residents of a a low-income housing complex in New Haven filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against one of Connecticut’s largest landlords, alleging deplorable living conditions.

The complaint, which seeks class-action status, was filed on behalf of residents of the Church Street South complex against Northland Investment Corp. and its chief executive, Lawrence Gottesdiener. Northland owns the Hartford 21 tower and major rental complexes in Enfield and Manchester.

The residents lived in the federally subsidized, Section 8 complex over the last three years and said they faced conditions such as mold growing on walls and out of electrical sockets, broken windows and walls so soft and wet from leaks that they sag, according to the complaint.

Repairs were either inadequate or not made at all, the complaint alleges.

“Northland didn’t buy this property in order to provide housing for the people who lived there,” David Rosen, the New Haven lawyer who is representing the residents, said Thursday. “It wanted to empty it and knock it down. The way they are emptying it is demolition by neglect. Years of serious neglect have created unliveable conditions and have sickened many of the residents and displaced most of them from their homes.”

The complaint names 271 current and former residents but, if certified as a class action, could cover as many as 1,000, Rosen said.

Northland declined to comment Thursday, citing the pending litigation.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in New Haven, seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, plus attorney’s fees.

Northland, based in Newton, Mass., purchased the complex in 2008 for $4 million and receives about $3 million a year in federal rent subsidies. Northland intended to redevelop the complex, across from Union Station, but has not been able to reach an agreement with the city on what percentage of housing would be set aside for low-income tenants.

A year ago, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development inspection of the complex resulted in citations for over 1,000 health and safety deficiencies and a grade of 20 out of 100. HUD started relocating families, but with the tight rental market in New Haven, families often were forced to live in motels, some for months at a time.

The story of Luz DeJesus, one of the plaintiffs named in the complaint, was typical. DeJesus and her two teenaged children lived in Church Street South for 14 years. Water leaking into their apartment, plumbing problems and flooding got so bad that the conditions forced them from their apartment in September 2015 when it was deemed unliveable — seven years after Northland purchased the property.

They lived at the Clarion Inn in Hamden and later, the Premier hotel in New Haven, both times in cramped quarters. They didn’t move into an apartment in West Haven until September, 2016.

“The apartments made people sick, and they became homeless,” Rosen said. “They lost many of their possessions that were damaged by water and mold. The displacement led to kids having to change schools and parents not being able to get to work.”

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