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Rochester tenant’s battle with landlord, rodents persists 

click to enlarge Linda Barger sits in the bed of her Sherman Street apartment with her dog, Bear. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • Linda Barger sits in the bed of her Sherman Street apartment with her dog, Bear.
Mice still scurry inside Linda Barger’s walls. The tiles on her ceiling are worsening. Many of the windows in her apartment remain damaged.

In January, Barger won a pioneering lawsuit against her landlord, Baridi Viator, that resulted in a court order directing him to fix a list of housing code violations in her apartment on Sherman Street, some of them serious, within 30 days.

That deadline has passed, but aside from small repairs — he caulked around Barger’s bathtub, for example — Viator hasn’t done the work, said Mike Furlano, the Legal Aid Society of Rochester attorney who represents Barger.

“He either half-completes something or just comes over, assesses, and then doesn't do anything,” Furlano said. “He duct taped some window frames and he tried to show the city — 'Look, I fixed it.' The city's like, 'No, you can't put duct tape on the window frames to fix that issue.’"

A city code enforcement officer inspected Viator’s property on February 10 to determine whether he could get a certificate of occupancy, which was another directive from the judge. He couldn’t because many of the violations persisted.

His last certificate of occupancy for the property expired in 2017 and the city has fined him for continuing to rent apartments in the three-unit house.

The inspector’s report noted around 20 code violations throughout the property, including windows that won’t open, a broken door frame, leaky or broken toilets, electrical outlets that don’t work, and a mouse infestation.
The Legal Aid Society filed Barger’s lawsuit, which it used to test a state law that its lawyers believed would allow a Rochester City Court judge to order a landlord to make repairs.

City Court Judge Michael Lopez granted that order on January 17 and gave Viator 60 days to get a certificate of occupancy. He also set two dates when Viator was supposed to bring in exterminators in coordination with Barger and Furlano.

Barger has severe chronic pulmonary obstructive disease, a serious condition that requires her to be on a constant supply of oxygen and to largely remain in bed. Her health prevents her from easily leaving her apartment.

Viator, in a telephone interview, said he’s brought exterminators to the property several times, but that each time Barger was in the house and the work could not be completed. All occupants and pets need to be out for extermination work and some other repairs, he said.

“She refused to go away,” he said.

On the two extermination dates set by Lopez, Barger had doctor’s appointments and was going to be out of the apartment for much of the day.

On the first date, however, Viator and an exterminator showed up at the house unannounced, before Barger was to leave for her appointment, Furlano said.

Viator said he’s set up another exterminator appointment for this Friday.

What happens now is unclear.

Furlano has to file a status report with the judge by February 20 and that will outline all of the repairs Viator has made and all of the violations that remain unaddressed. He and Viator are supposed to return to court on March 24 to check in with the judge, but Furlano said he expects he’ll file papers to try to get back in front of Lopez sooner.

“I think it's going to be up to me to propose to the courts some sort of enforcement mechanism,” Furlano said, adding that possibilities could include fines that accumulate each day repairs aren’t addressed or jail time for being in contempt of a court order.

"I was hoping we wouldn't get to this part so early in the process," Furlano said.

Jeremy Moule is CITY’s news editor. He can be reached at jmoule@rochester-citynews.com.

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