By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
During their first four months in the building, their shower didn't work, so they had to take the subway to Erica's mom's apartment on Mosholu Parkway to bathe. Delatores estimates that the building has had heat this winter for about 20 days.
Tenants at 2427 Webster Avenue, near Fordham, say they endured six consecutive months last year without heat or hot water before rebelling in late November. In a protest preserved on YouTube, tenants rallied in front of the building, carrying "No Hot Water! No Heat!" signs and displaying rats they'd caught in their apartments. As the melodrama continued, Milbank's field manager, Ray Radpadvar, showed up at the protest and, while ripping down the protest signs, told State Assemblyman Nelson Castro, who had joined the protesters, "Tell the fucking tenants to pay their fucking rent." The heat and hot water weren't restored until after Fannie Mae started foreclosure proceedings on the building in January.
The day of the Voice's visit to 1535 Taylor Avenue, Radpadvar, the field manager who co-starred in the Webster Avenue protest video, is in the building to oversee the repainting of a stairwell. He says he's doing his best to take care of the countless repairs, but that funding is tight—in short, the banks and the company aren't giving him enough money to do his job. The Bronx portfolio was a stupid deal, in his opinion. When the California owners came to New York for a few days before purchasing the buildings, he says, they were shown only the best properties. "We were lied to," he says. "Some of the apartments looked vacant on paper, but they were really full of squatters!"
Listening to Radpadvar is tenant Delatores, who later says, "I can't feel sorry for that man. How can you buy a building and not know who lives there and who doesn't? He's seen what goes on."
If life weren't tough enough in Milbank's Bronx buildings, busted elevators are a theme: Tenants at 2427 Webster say they recently went through a whole year without a working elevator—elderly fifth-floor tenant Leonides Correa says she suffered asthma attacks from trudging up the stairs in the chronically underheated building.
The only elevator in Milbank's six-story building at 780 Garden Street (which has a startling total of 584 unresolved violations) was broken for at least six consecutive months last year; its tenants include the elderly and at least one disabled veteran of the Gulf War who can negotiate stairs only with great difficulty. The tenants were so desperate that they contacted "Help Me Howard" at WPIX. He couldn't get through to Milbank's executives, either. In December 2009, the bank initiated foreclosure proceedings on the building.
Mitigating factors: Of the five Milbank buildings that the banks haven't seized, two have front-door locks.
Future: Now it's up to court-appointed receivers, for the buildings that are in foreclosure proceedings, to try to pry money from the banks for repairs."It's triage, you know? I almost feel like I'm on a battlefield with the wounded coming in," says Joe Cicciu, the court-appointed receiver for 10 of the Milbank buildings that have gone into foreclosure proceedings. "Not everyone is shot up. Sometimes these are only flesh wounds. So we go to some of those apartments and try to fix things, patch things up, to give people a chance to live in decent apartments. But for people with the collapsing ceilings, we are trying to relocate them into vacant units. The problem is, most of the vacant units need a gut renovation! And we don't have the dollars for that anymore."
HALLS OF SHAME
Landlord: Bahram "Danny" Hakakian
Openly branded a "slumlord" by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Hakakian owns at least five buildings in Washington Heights. His 34-unit building at 206 Audubon Avenue has 338 code violations at last count, and 76 are classified as "immediately hazardous"—no fire alarms, exposed wires in apartments, no locks on front doors.
In 2006, and again in 2008, the city sued Hakakian, demanding that he make hundreds of repairs. The city has been awarded $382,730 in civil cases against him. He has repaid $159,000, records show, meaning that he still owes the city nearly a third of a million dollars. The tenants at Audubon just ended a four-year rent strike.
Hakakian's buildings have more than 5,000 total violations. One Hakakian building, 1534 St. Nicholas Avenue, is on the city's worst-violations list, which is weighted by the seriousness of the violations and the number of violations per unit. The 28-unit building has 399 violations. A nearby 14-unit building has 290 violations (That's an average of 20 violations per unit. To give a sense of scale, landlords who average only three violations per unit qualify for de Blasio's Slumlord Watch List.)
Hakakian didn't return numerous phone calls from the Voice. During last year's election campaign, de Blasio (then a City Councilmember) used Hakakian as his whipping boy. Showing up at one of Hakakian's Washington Heights buildings in early September—with other public officials and a gaggle of media in tow—in an attempt to shame Hakakian, de Blasio told reporters: "It makes a lot of sense in a case like this to lower the boom to make an example of a landlord who would do something like this."