This is a personal account of my experience renting an apartment from Cindy Chow (AKA Mei Ling Chow, Chow Mei Ling) in Bushwick, Brooklyn, from 2015 to present. I will be adding documentation of the ongoing mistreatment, harassment, and negligence perpetrated by Ms. Chow against my neighbors and me.
In the Beginning . . .
When I first rented my current home, eight years ago, the premises consisted of a duplex apartment on the ground floor and basement levels of a six-unit building. At the time, two of my neighbors' apartments were rent stabilized, but mine had been de-regulated by my landlord, sometime after her acquisition of the building, in 2011. Records show her as the sole owner of (shares of an LLC that owns) the building. Public records also indicate that she owns at least six other multi-family buildings, within the 5 boroughs of NYC.
On the ground floor, there were two bedrooms, a living room, full bath and kitchen, from which the basement area can be accessed via a super narrow staircase. When I say, "super narrow," I mean it's merely 24" wide and obviously not built to code, but okay for a small person, such as me. At the time of my first lease signing, the basement area was about 2/3 the length of the space I rented on the ground floor. As such, there was a flimsy closet door that had been nailed shut, partitioning off space that was rented to another tenant, underneath my back bedroom. My basement area had two, front facing windows, gas and water hook-ups and drain (but no fixtures), and a half bath.
It seemed as if there was little to no insulation between the floor of my back bedroom, and the basement, so I'd often hear musicians practicing, and could even hear full conversations. My back bedroom has also always been freezing cold in the winter months. But I really liked the apartment and location, so like most New Yorkers, I was willing to make due with some "oddities" and inconveniences. That said, it's significantly more expensive to run space heaters all winter, and time consuming to constantly be sealing and unsealing drafty windows, filling holes chewed by rats (oh, yes - there are entire colonies of rats living inside my walls and between floors. but I digress. . . )
About Me, as a Tenant
Before I go further, I'd like to say that over these past eight years, I have never been a day late with rent, until I I recently began placing my rent payments into a separate (escrow) account. I could also say that I have never made a single complaint to the city, regarding the building or my landlord. I keep on good terms with my neighbors, am tidy and respectful, and never make any special requests. I've asked for maintenance only a handful of times, and only with critical issues.
Background: My Landlord & Neighbors
As I mentioned, two units in my building are/were rent stabilized. My neighbor "MR" from 3R and her husband, had lived in the building for over 30 years, until he died of Covid, in March of 20. Prior to her leaving the building, MR used to regale me with pitiful stories about the abuse she and her husband suffered at the hands of our landlord. It was the usual stuff: neglect, refusal to make repairs, harassment. She had been in and out of court many times with Ms. Chow, and even provided me with a copy of my apartment's rent history, thinking that maybe my apartment hadn't been de-regulated. In March of 2020, right at the beginning of the pandemic, my neighbor, MR's husband passed away, due to Covid. The grief was terrible, for MR, so she moved out of her apartment (I think of nearly 30 years) and in with her daughter. Following her departure from the building, the landlord began piling MR's furniture in various areas of the hallways and in the backyard. I would occasionally trip over a desk, a dresser, a bed frame, or any number of other furnishings that the landlord claimed to be storing for MR. Many of these things are still in the hallways, but several items ended up in the yard, cluttering the deck (which no longer exists) and piled up by the shed, exposed to the elements. There are several doors, sinks, toilets - the list goes on and on. After MR moved out, Ms. Chow installed her "nephew" as the tenant in Apt. 3R, in an attempt to have the unit deregulated. Ms. Chow then wrote a "sublet agreement" to a woman KP, who currently resides there. I have only seen the nephew on the premises a few times, and KP told me he moved out. I recently informed her of the fact that the apartment she's being illegally rented is actually a rent stabilized unit.
My neighbor across the hall, in 1R (we'll call him MO) and his family, have lived in the building for quite some time, as well. He routinely expressed similar complaints. He told me that when Ms. Chow first started "harassing" him and his family, in hopes that they'd move out, he asked "what do you have against us?" Her reply was blunt: "It's nothing personal. I bought this building to make money." (More on "the fight for Apt. 1R" later)
The Erosion of My Relationship with My Landlord
It happened at about 8:30 pm, on June 2nd, 2022. My boyfriend and I were redecorating the (first floor) back bedroom, when my drill hit a small, copper water pipe. Water started gushing out of the 1/4" hole in the wall. Dave ran downstairs, to attempt to turn off the water, since he'd seen a valve, a few weeks prior, while helping me deal with the ongoing (severe and extremely dangerous) rat infestation. Meanwhile, I ran to grab a bucket. After successfully turning off the water, we knocked on the door of 1R, and MO told us that their water was no longer working. He was very understanding -- we all noted that the placement of a water pipe, directly behind the sheetrock in my bedroom, seemed unusual and incorrect (possibly another code violation). We talked about calling the landlord to repair the pipe. He was certain that based on his interaction with Ms. Chow, over the past 11 years, she wouldn't "fix it for weeks." He continued to lament the fact that he and his family would likely have to go without water for an extended period. I felt terrible about that, but also feared what was sure to be backlash from the landlord, towards me. The subsequent decision to call a (well reviewed, purportedly licensed) emergency plumber, who I'd used in the past, and pay for it myself, was an easy and immediate one.
When the plumbers arrived about an hour later, they went right to work, opening a hole in the wall, so that they could patch the copper pipe. I'll never forget saying to Dave "We probably shouldn't just stand over them. Let's go in the other room -- I'm sure they know what they're doing." And so we decided to fold some laundry, in the front bedroom, all the way at the other end of the apartment. About 15 - 20 minutes later, the plumbers started speaking loudly to one another. We heard one of them come into the kitchen, to use the sink. We kind of looked at one another and shrugged. Then their voices got louder and they were back in the kitchen, filling a bucket with water. We hesitated for a few moments, but when it became obvious that something was wrong, we went in to inspect. As we entered the living room, we were met with the smell of smoke, despite the fact that none of our (landlord provided, hard-wired) smoke detectors sounded. The plumbers both said something like "we can take care of it! Don't call anyone!!" Of course, I ignored them immediately and called 911. I then ran downstairs to find my cat, while Dave alerted my neighbors (thankfully, all people and animals were able to get out safely) Though firefighters arrived very quickly, there was severe damage to all six units in the building. The neighbor in 2R later told me that one of the plumbers had come upstairs and asked her for a bucket, to put out the fire that he had started inside the wall. She didn't have one, but gave him a mixing bowl. As if that would somehow help. Apparently, unlike me, she listened to a stranger, trying to put out a fire with mixing bowls full of water, and rather than calling 911. It should be noted that not a single smoke detector, in our entire building, ever sounded the night of the fire that nearly destroyed all six apartments.
That night, Dave helped me try to save as many of my belongings as possible. We worked from about 1am til about 5, trying to salvage what we could. There was a lot of water damage to everything on both floors. The firefighters had also busted in through one of my basement doors, and there were multiple holes in ceilings and walls. When we finally called it quits, we went to sleep at Dave's place about 6 am. At 9:38AM, I received a text from Ms. Chow, saying that they were having an inspector come at 10am. This was a lie.
After the fire, the landlord turned off all of the main electric breakers, to every single apartment, in an effort to make tenants think that the electricity wasn't working. Seeing this, and having spoken to all of my neighbors, I switched their power back on. All tenants wanted to stay in their apartments, until they started dealing with Ms. Chow, who basically made it difficult to impossible for anyone to stay. When my apartment was finally inspected by HPD (NYC Housing Preservation & Development) I showed the inspector