Housing activist and renter Juanita Velazquez-Amador commanded attention from aldermen and women and the other 50 renters in the Kingston common council chambers on Monday evening.
The council is holding seven hearings this winter and spring, in order to better shape policy, empower renters and protect landlords.
Each hearing solicits input from tenants, homeowners, landlords, developers and the homeless. Monday, it was the tenants' turn.
"I'm living with feces in my bathroom," Velazquez-Amador said. "I can show you the pictures. We have people who are living with no heat for two weeks on the coldest week of the year."
Velazquez-Amador expressed that their should be strict policy against what has happened to her and several neighbors she was supporting.
Renters said landlords have forced tenants out of homes through eviction without cause, raising rent, and neglect. Velazquez-Amador said the crisis has split up her family.
"My son had to leave New York State," she said with tears in her eyes, "because it's not only here in Kingston. It is all over."
The common council is going to use Monday's testimony to set policy to afford basic human rights to renters and some level of protection to landlords. Several renters said there should be a rule requiring landlords to have a solid reason to evict a tenant. Currently, if a tenant is on a "month-to-month" arrangement, a landlord can evict that person without any explanation.
Almost everyone in the room supported some type of rent control, such as rules that would only allow landlords to raise rent by a certain percentage each year to keep them from pricing out tenants. Most complaints, however, had to do with unsafe and unsanitary conditions that renters said they had reported to landlords who did not fix them.
Velazquez-Amador said she wants the city's building inspectors to conduct thorough investigations when tenants submit complaints about landlords to the city.
"They need to get up, go and get the complaints, take the pictures, write up up, make a caseload, follow up afterward, make sure it's done correctly, and close the case out," she said emphatically. "And if the landlords do not do it, then violate them, fine them, or do not give them a certificate of occupancy in the first place."
There are four more hearings scheduled for this spring. The next one is billed as being for input from landlords. It is scheduled for Monday, April 8 at 6:30 p.m. in common council chambers.