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Philadelphia Woman Sues Landlord Over Unsafe Conditions, More Lawsuits to Come

by Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- A Philadelphia renter is suing her landlord, claiming she was forced to live in unsafe conditions. The non-profit that represents her says more lawsuits could be on the way.

For two years, Yazmin Vasquez says she paid more than $650 a month for an apartment located in a two-story property at 1122 W. Loudon Street.

During those two years, Vasquez claims she was traumatized by living conditions in her apartment, including bug infestations, cracked windows, defective lights, and more.

"It was horrible," she says, "rodents chewing things throughout the house, the sewage smell that would come up from the basement made me sick to my stomach."

Vasquez has video of an incident where rodents came through her stove and ate her newly cooked dinner right out of the pan.

"It was disgusting," she says, "just gross."

RodentHole_in VasquezApt
A rodent hole found in a wall of Yazmin's apartment. (credit: Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia)

In the winter, Vasquez says there was no heat and she and her mother were forced to walk around the house wearing jackets.

She says when she alerted the landlord, employees brought her a space heater. She had to purchase four additional heaters to keep the house warm.

"You would think if you're paying rent, you should be able to live comfortably," says Vasquez.

She began documenting the living conditions at her apartment on video. She eventually called Licenses and Inspections and says they saw the conditions and determined the apartment was uninhabitable.

When her rental company found out, Vaquez says she was bullied and eventually evicted. So she hired an attorney.

"Certain landlords think they can get away with anything," says Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg, a staff attorney at the Public Interest Law Center.

The non-profit filed the lawsuit against the property's owner, Marc A. Gilbert of New York, and it's management company, Obara Investment Realty Advisors, LLC of Philadelphia.

The claims includes breach of contract, unfair trade practices and a host of state and city code violations. It also takes issue with Gilbert, alleging he's been sued more than a half-dozen times for property violations.

"No matter how poor you are, you have the right to habitable housing," says Urevick-Ackelsberg, "people would be shocked at how many Philadelphians live in conditions like these-- yet few file an assertive claims."

Urevick-Ackelsberg says more than 30,000 people are sued in landlord-tenant court; many of the defendants are poor and have no representation. He believes the system is set up in a way that tenants, specifically, at low-income properties.

"There is a class of landlords that think they can take advantage of low-income people," says Urevick-Ackelsberg, "they know they can just move them out and move someone else in."

That's why Urevick-Ackelsberg says the Public Interest Law Center may file more cases.

"We're filing this case-- and potentially other cases to send a message to landlords-- follow the law or be subject to lawsuits like this," he says.

Vasquez says she's been living with a friend since she was evicted from her Logan apartment a few months ago.

"With what I make and what my mom makes-- it's pretty hard to find a place that's affordable," she says, "but this time-- I will be picky-- I can't just live anywhere. I am still in shock from the last place."

The defendants in the suit did not return requests for comment.

You can see the full complaint against the landlord here.

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