Patch News

BROOKLYN, NY — Just before Christmas, Lisa Mitchell was asleep in her sixth-floor apartment on Washington Avenue when she was jolted awake in pain.

“I woke up at 2 a.m. with searing pains — my legs were paralyzed, I couldn’t move, the pain was so crazy,” said Mitchell, who has back problems and neuropathy, or nerve damage in her legs and arms.

Suddenly, Mitchell somehow got dressed and called an ambulance. Once the elevator was out, rescue workers carried her down six floors, she said.

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The journey was one to which Mitchell had grown accustomed, although she usually struggled on foot – by December it had been 11 months since her elevator was out of order.

The elevator, which landlords told her would be replaced in six weeks, was the latest straw in a series of problems Mitchell faced in her 26 years living at 475 Washington Ave. lives on the Clinton Hill border, brought in and out of court and Bed-Stuy, she says.

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Her health issues, which made it difficult to walk, carry groceries, carry laundry, or simply walk up and down the six floors for nearly a year, would have brought her pain to a level she had never felt before, said Mitchell.

The night she called an ambulance came after two visits to the doctor for back pain that week (Patch reviewed medical records for those visits) and a fall on the stairs earlier in the month. In November, she cried at a judge because of the pain.

“I said [the judge]’I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up,'” Mitchell said.

Mitchell’s landlord, Barry Leon, told Patch that delays at the Department of Building and the company replacing the elevator caused the prolonged outage, which he hopes will end in the next week or two.

The elevator, which was built in 1986, needed replacing, said Leon, who has converted all but five rent-stabilized units at 475 Washington to condos in recent years.

Leon claimed the elevator had only been out of service for a few months, although he wasn’t sure of an exact date. (Emails with management and signs posted in the building shared by Mitchell and Patch show the elevator was shut down between January and February 1, 2021.)

“I had every incentive to finish that stupid elevator,” Leon said, noting Mitchell’s grievances and his ongoing work in the building. “This is in no way addressed to them, shape or form.”

The elevator problem is the latest in a decades-long saga between Mitchell and Leon.

Mitchell — one of two original tenants left in her 30-unit side of the building — claims Leon stopped caring about the remaining rent-stabilized tenants to “force” them to leave, likely their units as well into luxury condominiums.

(Courtesy of Lisa Mitchell). Mitchell says the building was under construction “24/7” when Leon converted it into condos.

In addition to the elevator failure, she has dealt with rodent infestations, piles of rubbish, water and heating outages, a broken intercom and a kitchen repair that took years, she said. The building had 87 open violations with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development as of Friday, only five of which were specific to Mitchell’s home, city data shows.

Mitchell says Leon offered her more than $200,000 to leave the building, but she’s asking for at least $3 million given the years of damage.

“Why would I leave my 26-year-old neighborhood?” She says. “This is not just an apartment, this is my home.”

(Courtesy of Lisa Mitchell). Mitchell says garbage heaps have been common since compactors were removed.(Courtesy of Lisa Mitchell) Mitchell said a hole behind her stove let rodents into her apartment.

Leon – who admits he’s selling most of the building after becoming “disillusioned” with New York City real estate – claims Mitchell is exaggerating or fabricating allegations to demand a payout without paying the rent, which is what she’s in several cases has not years.

He alleges that Mitchell complained about problems at her home and then refused to allow tradesmen to fix it and delayed the court proceedings several times. Court records show that Mitchell’s most recent case against Leon has been postponed 11 times over the past year, although no reason is given.

“She thinks if she creates enough trouble and weirdness, I’ll give up — at this point, however, I don’t want to philosophically succumb to what I consider blackmail,” Leon said. “…I’m going to refuse and let the courts finish and make them pay their debts.”

Meanwhile, Mitchell moved into a friend’s house this week because of her health issues and the condition of the building, she told Patch.

Her back and leg pain has meant she has worked as a hairstylist for weeks, including the usual holiday rush, and will likely take several weeks to fully heal, she said.

“I’m a trapped woman,” Mitchell said. “That’s what he wanted, what he wanted – to put the pressure on. At first it was like, okay, this is business, but he wants us to get out and he definitely wants me to get out.”