Gratuities Included

Among New York’s Wheel Greasers and Palm Ticklers, Real Estate Types Lead the Pack

"It doesn't surprise me at all," says a tenant who lived in the five-story building for three years, moving out in September 1999 after filth and freezing rooms forced her from the apartment where the Chous charged her and her roommates more than $1850 a month. "There were often notices up for inspections and we were like, I don't understand how they pass these things. I mean, we had to stay at other people's places because we had no heat for days in the dead of winter."

Robert Chou was busted after an August DOI sting, which the landlord himself had triggered two months earlier by allegedly trying to bribe a real inspector responding to an emergency complaint. When DOI sent an undercover agent posing as a housing inspector who read through a list of violations, including roach and vermin infestations and trash pileups in the basement, Chou allegedly tried to give him $300 in cash. The landlord was arrested on January 13. Neither Robert nor Katherine Chou or their attorneys responded to requests for comment.

While the West 47th Street walk-up looks squalid, tenants, typically young professionals with many roommates, pay more than $2000 a month to live in a building where a rat-filled basement turned garbage disposal into a sort of athletic event. "You could always hear rodents rummaging down there, so when you went to bring your garbage down, you'd make a lot of noise so you wouldn't see them," says former tenant Ted Kim. "Then you get to the top of the stairs, and kind of chuck it down. And run."

The Chous own more than a dozen buildings from Soho to Yorkville. City officials were drawn to Chou's West Side property not only by Robert Chou's alleged generosity to inspectors. Just three months after the DOI agent was "gifted" by Chou, a plainclothes vice-squad detective visited a second-floor apartment known as Hooterville, which doubled as a bordello. According to an affidavit filed in a lawsuit that the city brought against Katherine Chou, the detective was taken to a rear bedroom and offered intercourse for $180. In December, another undercover agent was offered fellatio for $120.

In court papers, Katherine Chou denied any knowledge of Hooterville, although former tenants say they brought the situation "to her attention more than once," including in writing.

On January 14, Katherine Chou settled the Hooterville suit by promising to evict the offending tenants. One day earlier, her husband had been arraigned on the bribery charges. He is due in court on the charges on March 29, and faces up to seven years in prison.

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