Torched Balcony Goes Unfixed But Landlord Sues Over Missing Rent

The Patch - April 10, 2018

by Kathleen Culliton, Patch Staff

"The kids could fit through that hole, " said Ebbets Field tenant Venice Ishibashi. "We're on the third floor — that's quite a drop down."

CROWN HEIGHTS, BROOKLYN — Venice Ishibashi has been scared since the night she grabbed her two young sons and fled a massive fire in her home. She's scared one her boys will fall through the three-foot hole in her balcony that the fire caused and that her landlord refuses to fix. And she's scared because her landlord is suing her for not paying the rent on her uninhabitable home.

"The kids could fit through that hole, they're skinny little things, " Ishibashi, a resident of the Ebbets Field Apartments, said at a protest against her landlords on Sunday. "We're on the third floor — that's quite a drop down."

Ishibashi, 39, woke up New Year's morning at 1:40 a.m. to the smell of smoke and found an enormous fire growing on the balcony of her third floor apartment at 77 Sullivan Place, she said. She grabbed her two sons — aged 6 and 10 — and fled the apartment as fast as they could.

"The kids and I, we ran out of the apartment barefoot in the cold," she said. "I just thought maybe the whole building was on fire."

It took firefighters more than an hour to extinguish the bright red blaze that sent smoke pluming into the apartments above hers and melted everything on her balcony, according to Ishibashi and city records.

FDNY officials don't know what caused the blaze but Ishibashi said residents often throw cigarette butts over their balconies.

The two-bedroom apartment — and the clothes and furniture inside it — was so badly damaged that Ishibashi, her husband and sons had to move in with her mother for an entire month, she said.

"I wasn't able to work," said Ishibashi, who is currently employed by Medgar Evers, where she's also a full-time student. "My husband took me to the emergency room and I was put on an inhaler for the entire month."

Ishibashi has spent the past three months pleading with her landlords — who operate under a limited liability company called Fieldbridge Associates — to fix the gaping hole in her balcony the fire caused.

But instead of completing repairs, the LLC has filed suit against Ishibashi and her husband, Christian, for not paying their $3,050 rent in January, city records show. Her family has lived in the third floor apartment for five years and never before missed a month's rent, she said.

Patch was unable to reach a Fieldbridge Associates representative for comment.

Ishibashi also filed a suit in small claims court against her landlord for the money to fix her apartment, but she said the potential reward maxes at $3,000, a far cry from the estimated $14,500 she needs in repairs.

She isn't the first resident of the Ebbets Field apartment complex to complain of the buildings' dangerous conditions, which she claims include weekly fires, rats in the hallways and continuously broken elevators.

"There's always a fire here," said Ishibashi. "Just fire. Nonstop."

So many tenants have reported apartments riddled with bed bugs, mice, and leaks with the Housing Preservation and Development, prompting Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer and city councilmen Brad Lander and Corey Johnson chose the Ebbets Field courtyard as the place to host their rally for stronger rent control laws on Sunday.

"The conditions at Ebbets Field have not improved," said James, who filed a lawsuit and organized a rent strike against Fieldbridge Associates when she was city councilwoman of Brooklyn's 35th council district.

"Now what we need are strong laws in the state legislature to protect the interests of the residents of Ebbets Field."

James has been pressuring state senators to pass three bills she says will protect tenants — a repeal of vacancy protection, preferential rent protection and rent control protection — since her office released the 100 Worst Landlords list in November.

But it's unlikely that legislators will act in time for Ishibashi, who must face her landlord in civil court on Wednesday and arrived at the rally hoping she'd find a legal-aid attorney there to help her.

But even if she gets any money from her landlord, it won't stop her sons from being terrified every time she turns on the stove to make them dinner since the fire.

"I cannot cook when they're home, I cannot burn a candle," she said, and added that her sons won't stop asking, "Mom, did you check the fire extinguisher? Mom, did you check the smoke detector? Is it on?"