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Lack 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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