Is Your Apartment Building Making You Sick? And What You Should Do If It Is

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Hundreds of New York City apartment buildings are making tenants seriously ill.

"Unfortunately, trial lawyers rarely work on the same side of the aisle with government regulators. But in this instance we will, and do."

Poor people never catch a break in a tough city like New York.

According to a recent article in The New York Times, hundreds of the city’s poorest residents have been catching debilitating cases of asthma simply by living in any one of the hundreds of apartment buildings that are literally making tenants sick.

As a result, one New York personal injury lawyer finds himself in the unusual position of setting aside his typically adversarial role when dealing with the City, and instead is joining forces with local officials in their attempts to bring scofflaw landlords to justice.

“Unfortunately, trial lawyers rarely work on the same side of the aisle with government regulators,” Richard Gurfein, senior partner in the New York personal injury law firm, Gurfein Douglas, said.

“Bureaucrats and their lawyers are usually our adversaries in court," he added." "But in this instance, where we can step in and work with City officials to force delinquent landlords to clean up their properties, and properly compensate negligence victims for their pain and suffering, we will, and we do.”

According to Gurfein, asthma adversely affects the health of up to 400,000 children in the city. Further, this serious lung ailment can also have a domino effect on anyone’s individual health.

In an effort to deal with this growing problem, the New York City Council is focusing its efforts on the worst offenders -- those slumlords who do not fix conditions such as mold, vermin, insect infestation and garbage, all of which are contributing factors that worsen asthma rates in the most poverty-stricken areas of the city.

“Disreputable landlords,” Gurfein said, “have a shameful history of thwarting the city’s efforts. They stall and delay repairs. But they can’t hide from the law after being served with a subpoena demanding they appear in court, or go to jail.”

Gurfein recommends tenants contact a top New York personal injury lawyer when defects, or unsanitary conditions in the building, cause a serious illness, like asthma, or an injury, or even death.

“Claims involving building defects are almost always technical in nature,” Gurfein said. “Both my partner, Preston Douglas, and I have degrees in science and engineering and those degrees hang on our walls right alongside our law degrees. We can speak the same language as the building inspectors who investigate an accident. We are able to quickly direct an expert’s focus to the key issues of the case. As engineers and scientists, we also have a better understanding of the underlying health issues of our clients.”

If someone becomes sick or is hurt in their apartment building, or in their own apartment, Gurfein recommends tenants follow these basic guidelines:

If the injury is caused by a criminal who got into the building because the security lock hadn’t worked in 6 months, then the victim should call the police. A crime has been committed.

If the tenant falls down a flight of stairs because the tread on one of the steps has been loose for months and never fixed, the tenant should first call an ambulance. Then if you think you have sustained a serious injury from the fall, the next call you make should be to a New York personal injury lawyer.

Gurfein said when a tenant notices a building defect, putting a notice in writing to the landlord is effective and often helps get the problem resolved.

“For some defects,” he explained, “certain NYC rules apply. For others, the tenant can call 311 and file a complaint. Usually the city will act swiftly and get on the landlord’s back to make the repair, or risk a violation.”

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Richard Jachetti
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