I Fought the Landlord, and the Landlord Won

An unlikely person stands up for her rights—and pays the price

"As an organizer, I feel a lot of responsibility because I told her to fight," Muro says. "And she's a fighter. She's a remarkable human being. She's very eloquent and articulate. She was able to organize these meetings, but the landlord was able to out-organize us through intimidation and threats."

Muro, who recently got laid off from the Mirabal Center because of a lack of funding, consistently speaks out on behalf of Montealegre, translates to her the latest developments in the case, and reaches out to those who might be able to help her, including alerting El Diario la Prensa, New York City's Spanish-language daily newspaper, which first reported on Montealegre's ordeal.

Still, "I feel like I dropped the ball," Muro says.

Arlene Gottfried
At a Mirabal Sisters Cultural and Community Center meeting, leaders ask the crowd: Who has ever paid their landlord in cash without a money order? Only Maria Montealegre raises her hand.
Arlene Gottfried
At a Mirabal Sisters Cultural and Community Center meeting, leaders ask the crowd: Who has ever paid their landlord in cash without a money order? Only Maria Montealegre raises her hand.

The Urban Justice Center seems to be out of ideas as well. The Public Advocate and HPD simply note Samovha's violations but have yet to hold him accountable.

Unmoored, Montealegre has been searching for a new room to rent, but no one will take in her entire family. She also notes that she has been turned away because landlords say she is listed as a bad renter. With nowhere to go, she will stay until the end of the month and hope for a miracle. Her options after July 31 will probably lead her and her kids to a shelter. She's afraid her children's schooling will suffer from this.

In the end, Montealegre's efforts resulted in improvements to the apartments of neighbors who didn't vouch for her when she needed them in court. She doesn't seem bitter about it—just disappointed.

Would she do it again?

"Yes," Montealegre says. "I did it for my kids."

acruz@villagevoice.com

sthrasher@villagevoice.com

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