Volume 74, Number 24 | Octuber 13 - 19 , 2004

Villager photo by Jennifer Bodrow

Emy Louise and Alexander Buxhoeveden, finally back at home

Elderly pair survive lengthy Waverly water torture

By Melanie Wallis

A longtime Village couple are celebrating being back home, after being homeless for three months due to a burst water pipe that led to a dispute with their landlord.

Emy Louise Buxhoeveden, 89, who has lived in the same ground-floor apartment for more than 61 years, is still in the process of dealing with the aftermath of the broken water pipe, which ruined the walls, flooring and precious belongings. Her husband, Alexander, 68, has lived in the apartment with her for more than 20 years.

“It was like Niagara Falls. You could wade through here,” she said looking around her living room.

On the night of June 20, the Fire Department was called to 123 Waverly Pl. at 1:30 in the morning to attend to the burst pipe of the second-floor apartment, which was gushing through and flooding the Buxhoevedens’ entire one-bedroom apartment. It was the Buxhoevedens’ apartment that saw the most damage from the incident.

“The firemen had to go through the upstairs neighbor’s apartment window, because she was away in California,” noted Alexander Buxhoeveden.

Unbeknownst to the Buxhoeveden’s, the trouble had only just started, with the worst yet to come.

Following an evaluation of the apartment’s damage, the Red Cross estimated how long it would take to do the repairs and granted the Buxhoevedens 11 nights accommodation at one of their shelters, which is also a hotel. It turned out to be not long enough.

The couple went back to the apartment following their stay at the shelter and were shocked to see nothing had been done. “It was still damp. The plaster was falling off the walls and there was mold everywhere. We had no electricity,” said Emy Buxhoeveden.

With help from the Red Cross having stopped and no chance of moving back into the apartment, the Buxhoevedens were faced with finding their own accommodation.

Over the next three months the couple moved around to three different places, paying between $90 to $130 dollars a night for a room, not including meals and living supplies.

With the combination of the temporary accommodations eating away at their savings and not knowing how long they would be in their predicament, the Buxhoevedens were reluctant to start buying new items.

“We had nothing. All of our clothes and belongings were in boxes stored in Long Island somewhere. For months we were in the same clothes,” Emy Buxhoeveden said.

Within that time, the elderly couple kept going back to see if their apartment was any nearer to becoming habitable again. “Every time we came back nothing had been done,” she said. “We bought our own dehumidifiers for $150 and put them in each room. They [the landlord] put a floor fan in. The only thing that had been done was the electrics.”

Following a month and a half of seeing no improvement in the state of their apartment, the Buxhoevedens realized they had a fight on their hands.

They began to approach voluntary agencies to seek help. “We trudged all over town to different offices,” Emy Buxhoeveden said. “People were very nice, but we got nowhere.”

They even considered moving. But a new apartment was not a viable option for the Buxhoevedens, whose apartment is rent stabilized. “I moved in 1942 when rent was $55 a month,” noted Emy Buxhoeveden.

Having served in the Navy during World War II, she called the Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs, who then referred her to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

“This case was very unusual. [Tenants] are usually petitioned to court for nonpayment of rent,” noted Reginald Evans of H.P.D.’s Fair Housing Unit of the Waverly Pl. couple’s case.

It was the intervention of H.P.D. that helped the Buxhoevedens get their home back.

“The landlord didn’t fix the property in a timely basis,” Evans said. “We had to force the landlord by taking legal action.”

The Buxhoevedens began to get renewed hope that they would get their home back.

“That’s when the ball started rolling. We filed a lawsuit on Aug. 16, and went to court on Sept. 14,” Emy Buxhoeveden said. The judge ordered the landlord to do the required repairs by Oct. 31.

Following the judge’s ruling, however, the landlord took immediate action and the Buxhoevedens were able to move back into their apartment on Sept. 20.

The Villager phoned Robert Stone, the building’s landlord, and left a message but he did not call back to comment. The couple declined to say whether they thought the landlord’s slow response to fix their apartment may have been intentional.

The elderly couple is now embarking on their next challenge — getting their home back in shape.

Furniture made of wood, including shelves and a wardrobe, has been destroyed from water damage. Their clothes are currently sitting in a heap in the living room and all their other possessions are still in boxes.

“I kept everything in such order that I could get up in the middle of the night and find a pin in a drawer. Now I feel chaotic,” Emy Buxhoeveden said.

Despite the enormous task of putting their belongings and their lives back in order, the Buxhoevedens are pleased to be back in their apartment.

“I’m mighty glad to get home and back in our own neighborhood; so happy to have a bed and a telephone again,” Emy Buxhoeveden said.

The Buxhoevedens can now concentrate on trying to recoup some of the expenses incurred from their time in hotels and have already scheduled a date in Small Claims Court next week.

Emy Buxhoeveden appreciates her home a lot more now since the burst-pipe incident. “I’ve learned how helpless you can be in New York when you’re homeless,” she said.

“I want to live in peace and have no more leaks,” she quipped.

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