Consumer Investigation: This Rochester Renter had a soccer ball-sized hole in her ceiling. She says the city did little

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — If you live in the Flower City, chances are you’re renting your home. And half of Rochester renters live in substandard housing. This is an issue I’ve been investigating for months. While touring rentals I’ve seen everything from rodents to roof leaks to rotting floors. Some renters tell me they’ve been trying to get their homes repaired for years, and the city has done little more than cite violations and issue fines.

In February, the mayor announced the formation of a Housing Quality Task Force. He gave them 90 days to come up with solutions. May 16th was day 90. And for many Rochester renters, those solutions can’t come soon enough.

“It started raining, that’s how it got this bad and it got to the point that the water was running and it got all the way over to here,” said renter Joyce Nelson as she pointed to the water stains on her ceiling and walls.

Indeed there are leaks and then there the veritable fountain that flowed freely from fixtures in Nelson’s home when it rained. She showed me pictures of buckets and bins brimming with the darkened discharge from her ruined roof.

The roof was so rotten, it had a hole big enough for water to cascade through the attic and collapse the ceiling in an upstairs bathroom then flow through the floor and smash a hole in the ceiling below. Nelson says her chose to just patch up the plaster.

“But it still don’t stop the leaking,” said Nelson pointing at the patched ceiling. “It still don’t stop the leaking.”

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!” said Nelson pointing to a gaping grapefruit-sized hole. This is the way Nelson has lived for two and a half years. She says even when an arsonist set her porch on fire the landlord made repairs by nailing a single piece of plywood nailed to the charred exterior. Currently the house has 71 code violations and no certificate of occupancy. And the city’s fine? $650 dollars.

“Some of the landlords think ‘I can just pay the fine rather than fix the problem,’” said Elizabeth McGriff with the City-wide Tenant Union of Rochester. She says these kinds of rental conditions are all too common.

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

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

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

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

Afterall, for her this is far more than a profit-maker in an investment portfolio. For Nelson, it’s her home.

An out-of-state investor bought the house Nelson is living in. And I’ve learned that investor didn’t get a permit for that new roof and the city says the work didn’t meet standards. So the roofers will have to start over.

I called that new landlord, and he says the failure to get a permit was a simple mistake. And he’s committed to making repairs and bringing the home up to code. As for the housing task force’s recommendations, the mayor’s office clarified saying they actually meant 90 business days. That gives them until June 24th.

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

With some help from the Legal Assistance of Western New York, here’s Deanna’s Do List:


  • Always put requests IN WRITING, even if you’ve spoken to the landlord in person. And keep a copy of each written notice.
  • Next call code enforcement and have the property inspected. Make sure you ask for a copy of the inspector’s list of code violations.
  • You can make the repairs yourself and deduct the cost from your rent. You must notify the landlord in writing FIRST. The costs must be reasonable. Keep all receipts. When you deduct the amount from the rent, 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 EVIDENCE such as: copies of all letters to the landlord requesting repairs, pictures of the damage, a copy of the inspector’s report, witnesses who can attest to the need for repairs.
  • YOU MUST PUT THE RENT ASIDE. If you go to court for withholding rent, you must be able to show that you’ve put the money aside and haven’t spent it.
  • If you receive rent assistance, ask DSS to withhold its share of the rent. This tends to carry much more weight with a judge.

It’s important to note that often landlords will attempt to evict you for non-payment of rent. It’s important that you have clear evidence that you have requested repairs in writing. If this happens, ask the judge to postpone your case. The judge is required to postpone 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, don’t hesitate to reach out to the City-Wide Tenant Union of Rochester. On its website you can learn more about how to get help, get involved or donate.