PICKING UP THE PIECES

A deadly fire, and one woman’s quest to return home

Nitza Bravo claims co-op is making it near impossible to make apartment livable

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It’s been an exhausting and painful eight months for Nitza Bravo.

The former high school educator is still dealing with the loss of her ex-husband Juan Melendez, killed during a fire earlier this year in their Hudsoncrest co-op. Even worse, not only hasn’t she been able to return home, she can’t even make the necessary repairs that would make her 3215 Arlington Ave., apartment habitable once again.

“It’s been really hard for me this year,” Bravo said. “I’ve been trying with everything that I have in me to deal with the stress. But it’s not easy.”

Bravo and Melendez were married for 24 years, but had finalized their divorce in February 2020, just ahead of the coronavirus pandemic. Bravo blamed the parting on Melendez’s uncontrollable smoking habit — the same vice she believes may have cost him his life.

Investigators have yet to officially determine what caused the Jan. 13 fire, but believe the 84-year-old Melendez was smoking near an oxygen tank, according to reports.

Since the divorce, Bravo has rented another apartment at Hudsoncrest, but would like to return to the home she had shared with Melendez since 1996. She’s disabled, relying on a wheelchair to move around. Bravo also suffers from asthma — a condition that doesn’t mesh well with smoking, and the ultimate reason why she left. In fact, she believes that twist of fate kept her from meeting the same end.

“I still loved him and took care of him, but I couldn’t live with him while he was still smoking,” she said. “Who knows, I probably saved my own life because I moved out. I probably could have died in that fire had I stayed with him.”

Now Bravo wants to return home, but she says the management company overseeing the co-op, Hudsoncrest Properties, has made doing so almost impossible. On top of that, Bravo is still responsible for paying $766 in maintenance fees each month, despite the fact no one can live there.

So Bravo decided to get lawyers involved.

When Julie Hyman first stepped in, it seemed Hudsoncrest was willing to help get Bravo back home. The attorney shared a letter she received from the co-op’s counsel, Jack Malley, revealing that not only is Bravo not responsible for a maintenance fee of an apartment she can’t live in, Bravo also would be refunded her July payment.

Yet, when Bravo tried to collect that money back, she says a Hudsoncrest bookkeeper told her no such notice was sent to them by Malley, and nothing was due to her.

Hudsoncrest management did not respond to multiple requests by The Riverdale Press for comment.

“In the beginning, I did pay the maintenance to show good faith,” Bravo said. “I thought the apartment would be repaired very quickly. It’s now August, and there is no sign of movement to make any repairs.”

But there are more issues than just paying maintenance fees. Bravo also is disputing what her homeowner insurance is willing to pay for repairs, claiming it’s nowhere near enough for what needs to be done.

An insurance policy held by Hudsoncrest was supposed to offer up to $100,000 for repairs, she said. Her own policy through Allstate would contribute another $50,000 — all Bravo believes was more than enough to not only make repairs, but help bring the apartment in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The problem is that those funds are administered through Hudsoncrest, and the management company seems only committed to dispersing about $3,000.

“They seem to only be set on patching up the apartment and not actually fixing it up,” Bravo said.

But her apartment suffered structural damage from the fire as well as the water needed to douse the flames, Hyman said. Even worse, with the apartment virtually untouched since the tragedy, mold is growing on the walls and floors.

“What apartment do you know sustains such a large and deadly fire without having the flames put out with an immense amount of water damage?” Hyman asked. “You can’t just paint over the walls if they have mold on them. You have to get demolition to come in and take everything out and put everything new again.”

Paying bills has become very hard for Bravo, who says she doesn’t qualify for any housing assistance and already has been denied for government help to buy groceries. Instead, she’s using credit cards to make ends meet, finding it difficult to keep up with the cost of living.

“My credit is all I have right now,” Bravo said. “I can’t keep using these cards to make it by. I need real help.”

She’s paying not only the monthly maintenance fee on our fire-ravaged unit, but an even higher rent payment on her adopted unit three floors up. It’s a lot for anyone to pay on a fixed income, Hyman said.

“My client is a good person who paid these bills in good faith,” the lawyer said, “even after she was told by the other party’s counsel that she didn’t have to.”

But Bravo fears that good faith won’t be enough, and she ultimately hopes the courts will lend a hand — although she’d prefer it not to ever get that far

“I’m not looking to sue the building or management for any outrageous amount of money,” Bravo said. “I only want for them to stop charging me the fees for the apartment that is currently unlivable.”

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