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.

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.

"What are we supposed to do?" asks Schiro. "He chases my wife into traffic, paces outside our door at all hours... What do you tell a cop who just came off a triple murder? That they stole my UPS package?" he says, noting that often, expected packages never arrive. "It seems like a lot of petty stuff, but the cumulative effect is devastating."

Kramarchuk Jr. has allegedly told neighbors that Schiro smokes crack—an incredible charge, considering that Schiro, an amateur runner, ranks third in the country in the 400-meter sprint for his age group; he's 46. Kramarchuk Jr. denies spreading rumors, saying he "wasn't brought up to partake in gossip."

"I can tell you one thing," says Schiro. "Even in this retarded city, burning incense is not going to get you evicted. The real issue here is $430 a month versus $1200."

Ever since Margeta moved into 524 East 5th Street in 1977, Kramarchuk Sr. has been the landlord; he owns another walk-up across the street at 529 East 5th. His company, Zenila Realty, is a family enterprise; Kramarchuk Jr. is its secretary. Tenants say 38-year-old Junior's habits include bringing female tenants plastic roses, going on occassional tirades against fornication and crack smoking, and incessantly posting memos in triplicate on tenants' doors.

"Everybody's afraid of the Kramarchuks because they're unpredictable and you're unsure of what they'll do," says one man who recently moved after six years in Zenila properties. "I've seen Senior lose his temper many times. And Junior would always talk about evicting people who simply had friends over."

Amanda Weiner, who "sublet" an apartment from Kramarchuk Sr. in 1994, once had a dispute with him over a broken lock. "He stopped me on the street and was coming at me," recalled Weiner. "The man is a lunatic, running after me saying, 'I'm going to have you evicted!' Later on, Junior came to my door and told me that I need to be nice to his father and if I wasn't they would put me on a list of bad tenants and I'd never get an apartment in the city again."

Another subletter, NYU student Anne McKilligan, documented her bizarre experience as a Kramarchuk tenant in a letter that is part of Margeta and Schiro's eviction case. McKilligan, who sublet the apartment Weiner had occupied, wrote that the "downward sprial" of her tenancy began in October 1997 when Junior knocked on her door late at night "unannounced as usual. I said I was not dressed and he replied, 'That's even better.'" McKilligan moved out. Junior told the Voice, "I made a stupid joke and the joke has come back to haunt me. I wasn't thinking."

The sublet scheme has afforded the Kramarchuks a valuable prize: vacancies. "I never get any vacancies; I never even try," says David Giddens, who owns a building next to Kramarchuks'. "But next door, I know how they are about the tenants. The younger man has said things to me like, 'You're not hard enough on your tenants. You don't really push them a lot.' It's what gives landlords a terrible name."

Last October, Giddens says, he was concerned about a possible rat infestation because the Miliczenko sisters left food for pigeons, squirrels, and stray cats in a yard that adjoins his building. Says Giddens, "The food was spoiling, and people had been seeing rats."

Tenants and neighbors describe the Miliczenko sisters as "reclusive" and "just really weird." In another letter filed with the Margeta-Schiro eviction suit, Paul Steinman, who moved from Margeta's building last year, wrote that the Miliczenkos would 'throw foul-smelling sticky substances on the stoop outside my door," attracting ants into his street-level apartment. Law enforcement sources say, during conversations, the Miliczenko sisters make faces at them and stick out their tongues.

Complaints from the Miliczenkos spurred the pending eviction suit against Margeta and Schiro. In court papers, Junior alleges that the Miliczenkos are bothered by the "strong-smelling, offensive, and sometimes suffocating odors" that come from Margeta and Schiro's apartment when they burn incense.

"There is clearly a conspiratorial relationship between the landlord and the Miliczenkos," says Maddy Tarnofsky, who is representing Margeta and Schiro. "Mary Miliczenko is the star witness in the eviction case. The Miliczenkos are clearly the landlordhenchmen."

Miliczenko laughs at the theory, and says when she first complained about Schiro, "The landlord did not take any side at that time. It was after a year when he decided they were damaging his property that he stepped in."

It was at an October court date in the eviction suit, says Margeta, that Kramarchuk grabbed her by the arm and screamed at her—a move that convinced police to arrest him three days later. According to the D.A.'s criminal complaint, Kramarchuk Sr. shook Margeta, screaming "Give me my money!" But Zenila Realty has returned Margeta's rent payments each of the past four months.

The D.A.'s charges include three other incidents. On July 21, the landlord confronted Margeta on the street, waving his hands in her face and screaming at her, enraged that she had called building inspectors; when Margeta tried to run, he chased her into oncoming traffic. Kramarchuk repeated the performance the next day, according to the complaint. Two weeks later, the D.A. alleges, Kramarchuk tried to block Margeta as she left the building, shoving her and calling her a bitch, a motherfucker, and a piece of shit.

"The real kicker is that you have a woman who has stayed here for 22 years, when nobody would come near this neighborhood, and now these audaciously greedy bastards want to chase her out," says Schiro. "It's amazing. We're living here, we have a lease, we're paying our rent and we have to put up with this?"

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