Slumming for Landlords

A pair of Bronx pols try to shoot down the latest in tenant protection

"I called her office and asked for a meeting," said Jackie Del Valle, an organizer for CASA (Community Action for Safe Apartments), which is based on Townsend Avenue in the West Bronx. "They said they'd get back to me. Then we heard nothing for two weeks."

To get Baez's attention, Del Valle brought a couple dozen residents last Tuesday to form a picket line in front of Baez's office at 176th Street and the Grand Concourse. They marched around an immense red dollar sign made of wood chanting about tenant rights.

Among those present was Harold Dell, 65, who lives on nearby Morris Avenue. "Right now the landlord is a bank, and they keep taking us to court," he said. "We can't even find a super to call when things break." Maggie Silva, 72, limped to the rally from her top-floor apartment on the Grand Concourse. Her ceilings have collapsed repeatedly in the past three years. "She has had to go to housing court every time to get repairs," said Del Valle. "With this bill, she could file for harassment and, hopefully, get some justice."

Baez wasn't at her office to meet Silva or hear the chants. At City Hall the next day, the councilwoman was asked why she'd introduced the countermeasure. "For balance," she said without breaking stride as she walked through the rotunda. Had she met with the RSA, the landlord organization? "No. Never met with them," she said.

Frank Ricci, the longtime lobbyist for the RSA, remembered the process differently. "We met with her, and with Rivera," he said in a telephone interview. "Our concern with the Speaker's bill is that there's a potential for a lot of frivolous cases and no one to screen them."

Had he just been passing through when he met with the council members? "No," he said, "it was a meeting. It was at City Hall. Baez and her staff, and Rivera and his staff, were there."

Under term limits, both Baez and Rivera are in their final years as council members. Baez's future plans are unclear, but in the game of musical chairs that term limits creates, Rivera is expected to run for Bronx borough president. Is that true, he was asked? He is an agreeable young man, and his face crinkled into a smile. "That's something we are looking at," he replied.

Such a race will cost at least $1 million. So far, Rivera has raised $155,000 toward that goal. Half of it has come from the real estate industry.

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