Terror on East Fifth Street

Low Rent in a Hot Neighborhood Spells Trouble for Tenants

On October 26, for the first time in a long time, Darlene Margeta went to bed with her mind at ease. Earlier that day, police had arrested her landlord, 67-year-old Zenon Kramarchuk Sr. for harassing her. The 45-year-old seamstress finally felt confident that her message had been made clear: the landlord had to stop bothering her.

The respite, however, was short-lived. Only hours after she fell asleep, Margeta says, Kramarchuk was outside the door of her second-floor apartment on East 5th Street, pacing loudly in an effort to let Margeta and her husband, Frank Schiro, know his displeasure. "The cops let him out at midnight, and by 2 a.m. he was outside our door," says Margeta. "I hadn't really slept for months until he was arrested. And then he came right back."

Kramarchuk's midnight menace was just a taste of what Margeta and Schiro call a years-long reign of terror perpetrated by Kramarchuk Sr., his son, and a neighbor. The antagonism is prompted, says Margeta, by her status as a long-term, low-rent tenant in a trendy neighborhood. "They just want to get me out. That's the whole thing," she says, having lived in her studio at 524 East 5th Street, between avenues A and B, for 22 years. She pays $431.25 a month rent.

An order of protection forbids landlord Zenon Kramarchuk Sr. from bothering a tenant; he faces other criminal charges as well.
Hiroyuki Ito
An order of protection forbids landlord Zenon Kramarchuk Sr. from bothering a tenant; he faces other criminal charges as well.

Last week, Kramarchuk Sr. was charged with unlawful eviction, second-degree menacing, and three counts of harassment by the Manhattan district attorney. Cited in the D.A.'s criminal complaint are two July tirades in which the elder Kramarchuk chased Margeta into oncoming traffic and an October outburst in which the landlord grabbed Margeta at a housing court appearance. (Kramarchuk Sr. is trying to evict Margeta and Schiro, alleging, among other things, that they burn incense that bothers neighbors.) Kramarchuk Sr. pleaded not guilty and has a January 14 court date. He did not return calls for this story.

In court last week, Margeta also won an order of protection against her landlord, who lives across the street. Margeta says the order has ended his habit of pouncing on her in the morning as she heads to her Ludlow Street studio, where she and Schiro make a living sewing decorative pillows.

Even though the protective order includes "third parties," a judge instructed that Kramarchuk's son, Zenon Kramarchuk Jr., who lives in and manages Margeta's building, should deal with Margeta. The tenants say that's small comfort, since they believe Junior is part of the problem. "As a matter of policy we consider all these affairs private and we don't air them with anyone," Kramarchuk Jr. told the Voice. "It's a matter of respect."

Besides the owner and his son, Mary Miliczenko, who for 12 years has lived next door to Schiro and Margeta with her sister and parents and whose father does janitorial work for the landlord, is also involved. Margeta says Miliczenko and Kramarchuk Jr. slam doors in the middle of the night and lurk in the hallway. Once, Margeta says, she heard her neighbor screaming obscenities outside her door at 4 a.m. The next morning, Margeta found a rotting baby rat crawling with bugs at her door.

Miliczenko denies having anything to do with the rat. "You try to put a rat under her door," says Miliczenko. "It doesn't fit. There's no possible way." As for screaming, Miliczenko says, "Oh, please! I know she's going to say that I did this and that, but of course I'm going to say it's not true because I didn't do it. I don't even talk to her."

Miliczenko says the fallout stems from her complaint to police that Schiro was making noise outside the building, and that Margeta and Schiro "stalk" her. On the contrary, Margeta and Schiro say Miliczenko monitors their every move—indeed, Miliczenko eyed a Voice reporter who had visited Margeta and Schiro from her window. NYPD detective Richard Antonacci, who has patrolled the building, says Mary Miliczenko and her sister, who variously calls herself Anna or Marie, are under investigation, but declined to comment further.

While this East Village roil is indeed idiosyncratic, it also has elements familiar to tenants citywide, especially those who pay affordable rents in desirable neighborhoods. Margeta says the troubles heated up last year after state legislators rewrote the rent laws to allow a minimum 20 per cent hike in rent-stabilized apartments that become vacant; Kramarchuk Sr. offered her $1000 to move out, or tenancy in a vacant building on Avenue C he was considering buying. "We said no to all this, and that's when it all really began," says Margeta.

Long-term tenants are not the only ones to encounter trouble on East 5th Street. In at least two instances, apartment shoppers responded to Kramarchuk ads for rentals, but found the landlord would allow them only to "sublet" for a few years, listing himself or his son as the prime tenant. The results are frequent vacancies—and rent hikes. One tenant was directed to Kramarchuk from New York University's office of off-campus housing.

For Margeta and Schiro, seeking redress has itself been hellish. Trips to the local precinct and calls to inspectors from a variety of city agencies are regular chores. In July, the hired an attorney and filed a harassment complaint with the state housing agency. The complaint is pending.

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