By Albert Samaha
By Steve Weinstein
By Devon Maloney
By Tessa Stuart
By Alison Flowers
By Albert Samaha
By Jesse Jarnow
By Eric Tsetsi
Buckets of sealing compound, drywall, and boards line the front hallway of a third Neophytou SRO, the Continental, located at 330 West 95th, next door to the Pennington. It's been home to Jose Cruz for 23 years. He echoes Dixon's characterization of their landlord. "I know for a fact that they don't take monthly tenants anymore," says Cruz. "They are leaving the rooms open for tourists only." Justnewyorkhotels.com lists the Continental as having 100 rooms, with rates starting at $53.04 per person.
In the building itself, construction dust rankles Cruz's asthma, and illegal partitions, gutted bathrooms, plaster-splattered floors, and locks that prevent tenants from accessing fire escapes and emergency exits are common. The shared bathroom has been inoperable for months. Walkways leading to the fire escapes are pitch-black. Kitchen use has been halted. Cruz's radiator has been broken for eight years and he's been forced to warm himself by the tiny glow of a portable heater.
Cruz invited West Side SRO Law Project social worker Jerry Castro to take snapshots of the living conditions, but Neophytou accused Castro of trespassing and kicked him out of the building. According to Cruz, Neophytou then called him into his office and declared: "Mr. Cruz, I was your friend, I was going to fix your bathroom. Now I am never going to fix it. If you are one day late with your rent, you are out!"
That wasn't the first time, Cruz says, that Neophytou has used threats to intimidate him.
The conditions forced the West Side SRO Law Project to file a suit against the Continental earlier this month. At one court hearing, Neophytou claimed that he didn't own the Pennington. HPD lists Neophytou as the chief officer of the ownership entities for all three properties, and he's the man up front who deals with tenants like Cruz and Dixon. But the ownership documents are a maze, and all three were recently sold on the same day, May 12, 2005. Title went from one limited-liability corporation to another; Neophytou had connections to partners in the companies that bought and sold the buildings. When landlords are allowed to hide under the anonymity of LLCs in what were $6 million worth of deals, fixing accountability for the conditions in the buildings becomes almost impossible.