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Consumer Survey: This Rochester tenant had a football-sized hole in her ceiling. She says the city has done little

The roof was so rotten that there was a hole big enough for water to leak through the attic and collapse the ceiling into an upstairs bathroom, then leak through the floor and smash a hole in the ceiling below. Nelson says she chose to just patch up the cast.

“But that still doesn’t stop the leak,” Nelson said, pointing to the patched ceiling. “He still won’t stop the leak.”

When our cameras documented the damage in March, we found moss-covered shingles, rotting shingles, and areas with no shingles at all.

“You can see the hole! Nelson said, pointing to a gaping hole the size of a grapefruit. This is how Nelson lived for two and a half years. She says even when an arsonist set her porch on fire, the homeowner made repairs by nailing a single piece of plywood nailed to the charred exterior. Currently, the home has 71 code violations and no certificates of occupancy. And the city is well? $650.

“Some landlords think, ‘I can just pay the fine rather than solve the problem,’” said Elizabeth McGriff of the City of Rochester Tenants Union. She says these types of rental terms are all too common.

“You don’t get a response from landlords primarily because they live out of state,” she said.

Nelson’s owner also lives out of state. And Nelson says that rather than make repairs, he sold the house as is for $40,000.

So we went back there on May 23. And we found that the new owner is repairing the roof, perhaps a positive sign of his willingness to make the necessary repairs. But for Nelson, after years of suffering in substandard housing, she is skeptical.

“And if they’re doing this to sit down and line their pockets and keep their bank accounts thick, that’s not good because they wouldn’t want to live like this,” she tearfully said.

After all, for her, it is much more than a profit in an investment portfolio. For Nelson, this is his home.

An out-of-state investor bought the house Nelson lives in. And I learned that the investor didn’t get a permit for this new roof and the city said the work was substandard. The roofers will therefore have to start over.

I called this new owner and he told me that not getting a permit was a simple mistake. And he pledged to make repairs and bring the house up to standard. As for the housing task force recommendations, the mayor’s office clarified that they actually meant 90 business days. That gives them until June 24.

If your landlord refuses to make repairs, you don’t have to live with it. You have rights. Careful record keeping is absolutely essential.

With the help of Western New York Legal Assistance, here’s Deanna’s to-do list:


  • Always put requests IN WRITING, even if you’ve spoken to the owner in person. And keep a copy of every written notice.
  • Then call the code application and have the property inspected. Be sure to request a copy of the code violation list from the inspector.
  • You can do the repairs yourself and deduct the cost from your rent. You must first notify the landlord in writing. Costs must be reasonable. Keep all receipts. When deducting the rent amount, send the landlord a copy of all receipts.
  • You can also withhold rent until repairs are made. You must notify your landlord in writing. YOU MUST HAVE PROOF such as: copies of all letters to the owner requesting repairs, photos of damage, a copy of the inspector’s report, witnesses who can attest to the need for repairs.
  • YOU MUST SAVE THE RENT. If you go to court to withhold rent, you must be able to prove that you saved the money and didn’t spend it.
  • If you receive rent assistance, ask the DSS to withhold their share of the rent. This tends to carry a lot more weight with a judge.

It is important to note that often landlords will attempt to evict you for non-payment of rent. It is important that you have clear proof that you have requested repairs in writing. If this happens, ask the judge to postpone your case. The judge is required to adjourn the case for at least 14 days. This will give you time to gather your evidence and contact a lawyer if necessary.

If you need help, please don’t hesitate to contact the City-Wide Tenant Union of Rochester. On their website, you can find out more about how to get help, get involved, or donate.