In early January, John Lindsey awoke to water running through his bathroom ceiling.
He called for emergency maintenance, "but it was days before they got there, and they didn't fix the problem."
The leak spread. Lindsey put out buckets and pans to catch the water. His tub began to fill with black water.
"It was a corroded waste pipe," he said. "It was sewage."
Under the weight of the sewage, Lindsey's waterlogged ceiling collapsed, leaving the tub full of black water, clogging the drain with debris and dust.
"It was weeks before I could get them to look at that," he said. The pipe was fixed. The ceiling was not. In desperation, Lindsey finally called the city of Rochester for help. An inspector came and on Feb. 9 ordered him out of his apartment and put a green "not to be occupied" notice on the door.
"I had to go stay at my daughter's," he said.
Lindsey, who lives in a 48-unit apartment building at 447 Thurston Road in Rochester, is among a group of tenants there enacting a rent strike on March 1 in hopes of forcing their landlord, Thurston Road LLC, to fix serious problems in their dwellings.
According to city records, the property is owned by Thurston Road Realty, LLC. The site has an assessed value of $864,000. The property last sold in June 2016 for $1.1 million.
County documents list "Peter Hungerford" as manager of the Thurston Road Realty LLC. Attempts to reach Hungerford on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
There were 38 outstanding city of Rochester code violations in the building as of Tuesday morning, and documentation shows those included "unknown black growth spreading up the wall," and "carpet pulled up but wood pieces with nails remain," and "sewage falling from above unit, can see tissue and fecal matter."
Additionally, the building had electrical problems, lead paint and overflowing garbage bins out back.
City spokeswoman Jessica Alaimo said inspections were done Tuesday afternoon and 20 of the outstanding violations had been corrected.
Follow-up inspections will be done and officials will "take additional action as necessary," she said. In Brown's case, every time she does dishes in her kitchen, water backs up into her bathtub, filling the apartment with stink. The light fixture in her bathroom is filled with debris and flakes of chipped, cracking paint are falling off her kitchen ceiling. The Rochester Tenants Union is pushing for a Rochester Housing Court modeled on similar courts in Buffalo and New York City, where tenants could seek court-ordered repairs or ask the court to put a building into receivership if landlords are unwilling to provide habitable conditions.
Assemblyman Harry Bronson, D-Rochester, has introduced legislation to create such a court. It was referred to the judiciary committee earlier this month.State Supreme Court Justice Craig Doran said last month that he is considering trying to find a dedicated home within the existing courts for housing issues. In November, 25 local elected officials sent him and City Court Judge Teresa Johnson a letter asking them to appoint a City Court judge to adjudicate housing matters for a one-year term.
Doran said he and Johnson have met with those leaders, as well as with members of the Rochester Tenants Union, to seek a way forward.
"We are working to see if we can find some way within the current structure to make access to the system better for both tenants and landlords," he said.
Alaimo said Mayor Lovely Warren remains interested in exploring the court option as well as any other avenues that would improve housing conditions for city residents.
She "supports the spirit and intention of Assemblyman Bronson's legislation and anxiously awaits details for a specific model," Alaimo said.
"Tenants should not live any worse than their landlords," said Kawanais Smith, a Tenants Union member and president of the Southview Towers Tenant Association. Last month, that building's owner, Landsman Development Corp., repaired a broken heating system there, after Democrat and Chronicle columnist David Andreatta documented the deficiencies.
Residents of the Thurston building "should not have to live with falling ceilings, brown water coming out of their sink, rats, roaches and backed up sewage," said Smith. "If we had a housing court, these things would have been taken care of."
"We shouldn't have to open up our stoves to heat our homes so our families can stay warm," she said, adding that many residents saw a recent rent hike of $50 a month that they were told would go to pay for improvements. "We pay our rent, we're hard-working citizens and we shouldn't be treated like this. There are rodents and the pests in this building, and they haven't fumigated anything out."
The green "no occupancy" tag remained on his door.
"A lot of people here are on fixed incomes, and can't afford a more modern apartment," he said. "I'm an elderly man and it's too much trouble to move. It would cost too much to move. We all want to come together and fight together to make conditions good so we will all be glad to live here, that's what we want."