by Caitlin Mota for The Jersey Journal

March 28, 2017

Updated January 16, 2019

JERSEY CITY - Gladys Ortiz has repeatedly gone to court over lost rent checks. Heavy rain often flooded Candice Johnson's basement apartment, damaging most of her belongings. Kathy Green was forced out of her home when a massive fire tore through her apartment building.

The three women, who live in separate Jersey City buildings, all have one thing in common: their apartments are owned by River Edge Management, recently rebranded Trendy Management.

But a number of people who reside in the buildings owned by the Clifton-based company say their living space is anything but trendy.

Residents around the city began confiding in pastors and religious leaders about deplorable living conditions - mold in bathrooms, leaking ceilings, lack of heat. Jersey City Together, a multi-faith social justice organization, met with hundreds of residents who live in Trendy Management buildings and documented the conditions inside.

The organization found many living with bedbugs and some being forced out of their homes for allegedly violating rent control laws.

On Sunday afternoon, nearly 200 people gathered at St. Paul Episcopal Church to call for action against Trendy Management, with hopes of finding solutions for unsafe living conditions. The company's owner, Esther Kaplan, was scheduled to attend the event, but cancelled hours before the meeting.

Kaplan did not directly address any of the allegations when asked for comment by The Jersey Journal.

The Rev. Jessica Lambert, from St. Paul's Lutheran Church, said Jersey City Together met with hundreds of residents over the past nine months. Trendy Management is responsible for dozens of buildings around the city, some that have not had heat all winter.

"If these were isolated incidents we could maybe hand Trendy Management a list of plumbing problems and needed repairs," Lambert said. "Maybe chalk it up to some missed communications and missed messages, a few bad supers and call it a day. But no, what is most egregious and most unconscionable is all of these stories seem to be a part of an overarching business strategy."

Ortiz often pays the rent for her Gifford Avenue apartment months in advance, but still she frequently gets court notices from the management company. Her most recent notice came in December and was dismissed when she arrived at the courthouse.

"I'm very tired and angry," Ortiz told the group. "On top of the rent I have to pay for these lawyers, the court fees."

There was never a solution for the constant flooding in Johnson's basement apartment on Bergen Avenue that destroyed her belongings, forced her to sleep elsewhere some nights, and led to mold inside. She moved after one year.

"There was no way I was going to put up with their negligence longer than that," she said.

Green has lived on Garfield Avenue for more than 30 years. Two years ago, a fire ravaged the building and the management company was slapped with 48 fire code violations. One resident fell through the fire escape trying to evade the blaze and officials said several smoke detectors were not working.

Many of her longtime neighbors never returned, with new tenants paying more than double what previous residents had paid, she said. Addressing Mayor Steve Fulop - who was sitting in the front row alongside half of the city council - Green said the city "can't let this continue to happen anymore."

"Mr. Mayor, River Edge shows a total disregard for humanity and that they don't adhere to the laws that offer protection to common citizens," she said. "And by doing so they denigrate peoples civil rights."

Fulop vowed immediate action would be taken against the management company. He told The Jersey Journal after the meeting last week was the first time he had heard of the conditions at the management company's properties.

"I'm at a loss for words," the mayor told the group. "I don't really know what to say because I don't think anyone should have to live in that sort of situation. And while Esther Kaplan may not realize today her commitment, we will help her this week with city inspectors.

The group then marched to 205 Monticello Ave. to tour one of the company's buildings, some carrying signs calling for tenant rights. The basement of the building had black mold and a partially collapsed ceiling. There was visible water damage in some of the apartments.

Residents at that building reported not having heat, so the management company brought in space heaters. While that solution provided heat, one resident told Jersey City Together that his electric bill skyrocketed from roughly $78 a month to nearly $325 for one month.

Kaplan, when returning an email asking to speak about Jersey City residents' living conditions, said the company has "many happy tenants and tenant satisfaction is our priority."

"We're actively addressing the current specific tenant concerns as they are brought to our attention, and are committed to resolving these expeditiously."

City inspectors were at the Monticello Avenue building on Monday. Officials could not immediately comment on whether any violations were issued.

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