By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
Cestero says in the letter that Vantage's "properties overall were well maintained" and that tests indicated that Vantage's hotline-complaint system was "operational as outlined in the plan."
The letter notes that HPD approved the plan in December 2008. On February 11, 2009, Vantage asked that 21 more buildings be included in the plan to use a hotline and janitorial service in lieu of on-site supers. "HPD's written response on February 12," Cestero wrote, "indicated that further evaluation was necessary and that a response from HPD would be provided within 4-6 months." He added: "HPD has since determined that further testing of the system is warranted, given concerns being raised by advocacy groups indicating that the system was not performing as outlined by Vantage. Further testing has been ongoing."
In September, the city rescinded its approval of the hotline and demanded that Vantage put supers back in the buildings.
Future: The settlement with Vantage aims "to ensure proper protections to tenants in the future," says the Attorney General's Office's lengthy statement on the matter. "Vantage is also required to implement new policies related to processing complaints, initiating legal proceedings, collecting rent, and establishing succession rights. All residents will receive a notice informing them of the policy changes. These new reforms will set a new best-practices standard in the industry."
Beyond these words, Vantage is also required to, among other things, specifically "reform its policies" and procedures before trying to evict tenants; hire an independent monitor and independent auditor (both of them subject to the A.G.'s approval); file regular reports to the A.G.; and provide translators for tenants who need them.
Vantage's Goldin isn't the only one who thinks the settlement is a milestone. Tenant activist Benjamin Dulchin was quoted as saying, "This agreement is simply groundbreaking. Not only does this agreement provide meaningful monetary relief to tenants who were harassed, but it requires the implementation of clear and sound policies and procedures that will protect the rights of tenants. The Attorney General's agreement with Vantage puts Wall Street investors and landlords that do their bidding on notice that tenant harassment is against the law and violators will be sought out and brought to justice."
LANDLORDS ARE EVICTED BEFORE THEY CAN DO IT TO TENANTS
Landlord: Aaron and Solyman Yashouafar (Milbank Real Estate)
In November 2006, the Yashouafar brothers—two Los Angeles real estate developers better known for signature luxury high-rises in Las Vegas and the redevelopment of historic commercial buildings in downtown L.A., Oklahoma City, and other Western venues—ventured into the Bronx.
They were used to far-flung adventures. Solyman, the elder, fled the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and landed in Southern California. Younger brother Aaron had come to the U.S. in 1977 and attended Beverly Hills High School; he entered the family's real estate business when he was 16.
Their high-flying portfolio is based in the Sun Belt, but the brothers, who control a family-owned company called Milbank Real Estate, got a $35 million loan from Deutsche Bank and used it and subsequent loans from other banks to buy about 20 Bronx buildings containing about 1,000 apartments. Many of the buildings, like 1576 Taylor Avenue in Parkchester, are in rough-hewn parts of the borough. And the buildings themselves already suffered from blight, safety violations, and both abandonment as well as squatters. Far from trains and even, in some cases, from bodegas, they were nevertheless billed by the Yashouafar brothers as "positioned for significant gentrification."
The brothers' pitch to investors was to call these buildings "Bronx Collections I & II" and refer to them as "multi-family assets" that had "poor prior ownership with a history of neglect."
Under Milbank, the plan was that "revitalization would occur by infusing the capital necessary to improve the condition of the buildings, as well as aggressively pursuing the collection of past-due rents—allowing for an improved tenant base and increased income from the properties." Milbank further assured investors that it "provides full-service management" that covers, among other things, "evictions, collections, and other legal general matters."
Things appeared to have fallen apart even before the company could put into place its publicized eviction strategy. The company still claims (online, at least) to own 18 properties in the Bronx, but at least 13 of its original 20 are actually in foreclosure proceedings, according to court papers. Milbank's top execs couldn't be reached for comment.
Quotable: Milbank CEO Aaron Yashouafar, recalling for another publication his romance with property: "I loved it. When the other kids were going to McDonald's and Burger King after school to have fun and drink milkshakes, I'd drive to our office and take care of business."
What it's like to live there: On a recent frigid day in the Parkchester neighborhood, a giant boiler-services truck is parked outside 1576 Taylor Avenue, pumping emergency heat into the building. It's too late to pump financial life back into the place; the bank foreclosed on the Milbank building in 2009.
Right down the block, Milbank's building at 1535 Taylor Avenue is not in foreclosure, but it's in constant hot water—if only figuratively: The 41-unit building (formerly controlled by notorious landlord Frank Palazzollo) has 251 unresolved violations at last count. That number doesn't quite capture the ambience of the place: When it rains, the leaky roof discharges water onto the top-floor apartments. Luis Delatores and his wife, Erica LaGuerre, recently moved with their newborn son from their decrepit fifth-floor apartment down to the second floor after she fell down soggy stairs and badly bruised her back.