Hookers, Slot Machines, Rats: Life at the Bronx's 2320 Aqueduct Ave

Life is a gamble when your home is a bargaining chip

Which landlord is better for the building: the old one or the new one? More to the point, which is worse? It's impossible to say. Since SG2 took over the building, the city has had to do 85 emergency repairs because the landlord neglected to do so. Under Selechnik, the number since 2000 was 34. A check of the city's computer records shows a huge increase in violations since the sale. SG2 did get the building off the city's official shit list this past April, yet there are currently 128 open violations—32 of which are considered dangerous. SG2 has brought the number of open violations way down from a high of 831.

One tenant recalls that 2007, the first year under SG2, was "bad," adding, "I called 311 every single week—'cause we had no heat!" On the other hand, 2008 was "so-so"—apparently better.

When Selechnik did do repairs to the building, he personally supervised them—the tenants recall those days as "Jacobo did this" and "Jacobo did that." SG2's execs don't come up to the Bronx and roll up their sleeves as often. Many of the tenants the Voice talked with don't have much use for either landlord—a familiar complaint by tenants across New York City.

Then there's the touchy issue of whether SG2 gobbled up 2320 Aqueduct and the other Bronx buildings solely for the purpose of forcing the current low-rent tenants out and flipping the properties. An informal survey of tenants indicates that no such eviction strategy is occurring. Rents have been raised, but not outrageously, and the tenants interviewed by the Voice say they don't feel threatened with eviction by the new landlord.

For his part, Siegel says that SG2's strategy as landlord is gradual rent increases. Some of SG2's Bronx buildings are reportedly up for sale, which is probably good news for the institutional investors who bought into them. But Siegel says, "We're in it for the long haul. This is a marathon, not a sprint."

Problems at 2320 Aqueduct are cyclical, after all: Like front-door locks, they come and they go. Like pigeons.

There were no birds living full-time on the roof of 2320 Aqueduct when SG2 bought the building, but the super that the big midtown firm retained from Selechnik's reign allowed someone to start raising them. The tenants harshly criticized this super, saying that he hired neighborhood low-lifes to clean the hallways and that he filched appliances when tenants moved out.

Residents complained that they were being extorted for such basics as fixing mailboxes and locks on their doors. They say that every time the lock on the front door had to be replaced—which was often—the tenants were supposed to receive keys for free, but the super would charge them. Eventually, that super was fired.

Finally, a group of five tenants filed a lawsuit against SG2. But they eventually dropped it, with no settlement. "I was going back to court, back and forth," says DeJesus. "Taking days off work, spending too much money on lawyers. After a while, you become frustrated. You get tired. I refused to dish out any more money. When I went back to court, I saw it was the same charge, and I just gave up."

Santana didn't give up on his own fight with SG2. He brought his own suit over for repairs not made in his apartment. He won the suit, and SG2 has offered to relocate him to another building. Since he's disabled and lives on the sixth floor, the constantly broken elevator is even more of a pain.

The pigeons on the roof have already flown the coop. A super finally kicked out the man who had built the coop and was raising hundreds of them. The guy wasn't even a resident, but he bragged that he paid $300 to the previous super to allow him to stay up there and raise them. With all the pigeons, the building became infested by rodents, but despite tenants' complaints, the man managed to keep them up there until one day, a rival neighborhood pigeon-raiser sneaked up onto the roof and killed 90 of them with rat poison, Santana says. Soon after, a new lock was put on the door to the roof, and, according to tenants, the super used the wood from the dismantled coop to build floors in his basement apartment.

Sometimes, it takes more than a landlord to solve problems.

edwoskin@villagevoice.com
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