of Heat in Chinatown Apartments
From World Journal
February 8, 2003
In this year's long and harsh winter in New York
City, the temperature is usually
below 30 degrees. Lin Chin, a 13-year-old Chinese immigrant,
and her family wore heavy coats in their apartment at 295 Broome
Street. The apartment does not have heat.
Covering themselves with double layers of comforters, the
family was still unable
to keep warm and all caught the flu after a long night's battle
with the cold weather.
The owner of the Chinatown apartment
building had only started to receive complaints from the tenants
after a fire early this month.
But all the tenants could do is complain. Most of them did
not expect anything to be done as the temperature dropped down to
18 degrees at night.
According to Lin's mother, the
indoor temperature in the rundown building has been
almost the same as the outdoor temperature for the last month
because the building does not have heat.
Their Chinese landlord only turned on the heat at 7 p.m.,
then turned it off at around 8 or 9 p.m.
Most of the tenants in the building are new immigrants
from Fujian Province, China.
Many work all day and return to their heatless homes at around
11 p.m. Although the tenants have complained to
the landlord in the past, the landlord would still send people to
fix the boiler room during the coldest time of the year and shut
down the heat when people are in desperate need of warmth.
Lin Bao-jian, a 68-year-old man who moved to the
building in 1981, wore three layers of sweaters and said the landlord
sent him a heater last month. However, he had to stop using it shortly
after because it made too much noise.
Most tenants in the building seem to be getting
used to the lack of heat in their apartments. The newly arrived
Fujian immigrants are generally characterized as people who work
hard and have high tolerance for difficult living conditions.
The majority got the apartments through friends
and thought that the lease states that there would be no more than
two hours of heat in their apartments.
They did not know that it is New York City housing regulation
to maintain appropriate indoor temperature in rental apartments
and that the landlords are obliged to comply. However, they are afraid they will lose
their rent-controlled or rent-stabilized apartments once the landlords
find out who filed the complaints.
Some tenants are outraged by the way they are treated,
saying their rights are not protected and that they are not treated
as human. But many
new immigrants only complain amongst themselves.
Another tenant, surnamed Chen, said it was not
easy for him to find his current apartment and that he had to go
through friends and relatives.
He said he does not want to "upset"the landlord
because he might be forced to leave or asked to pay more rent.
"One less headache is better than one more
headache," he said. "I
already have my immigration status and a lot of debts to worry about. As for other issues, I'd rather ignore them."
Translated from Chinese by Larry Tung.
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