By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
How many bad landlords are there in New York City? Who can count that high? But we can count to 10, so we assembled this group of really bad landlords—listed in no particular order—only after months of research. We combed through records of unresolved violations, lawsuits, eviction notices, and court documents. We spent thousands of hours in deeply depressing apartments and interviewed wave after wave of equally gloomy tenants. We also talked with scores of landlords, city bureaucrats, prosecutors, defense attorneys, housing advocates, and others. In the end, these are the 10 landlords we would want to rent from the least. Last week, we gave you five. Here are the other five.
Landlord: Frank Palazzolo
Westchester businessman Frank Palazzolo is believed to be sitting at the helm of a network of deteriorating apartment properties, many of them in the Bronx, but city officials can't say how many buildings. Even some tenants in buildings thought to be his aren't sure who their landlord is.
In the past, Palazzolo has insisted that he's just a dealmaker for landlords—not a landlord himself. But the Voice noted in 2004 that former housing commissioner Jerilyn Perine considered him to be one of the city's worst landlords, and The New York Times reported at the time that city officials contended Palazzolo owned 95 buildings and that buildings linked to him had 19,000 code violations. Palazzolo was quoted as telling the Times back then: "Helping other landlords obtain financing does not make you a landlord. I do not own them. I do not manage them. I do not control them."
Two notorious Bronx buildings—2356 Lorillard Place and 2710 Bainbridge Avenue, both on the city's current worst-violations list—are owned by Palazzolo Realty II Corp. and Palazzolo Realty IV Corp., respectively, according to city records. Those two companies and several others listed in current city records as building owners and bearing the Palazzolo name share the same corporate address in Scarsdale with an entity called Palazzolo Plaza Corp. State Division of Corporations records for that company list Frank Palazzolo as the "chairman or chief executive officer."
Complicating matters is that some of the buildings appear to be midway between the owner's hands and those of the banks that hold the mortgages. For example, city property records show that the deed to 1820 Grand Concourse—which is also on the city's current worst-violations list—was issued to Palazzolo Management II Corp. and that Ridgewood Savings Bank initiated foreclosure proceedings on it in April 2009. Numerous calls and letters to Palazzolo's office by the Voice were not returned.
Quotable: "When I call 3-1-1 and they ask who my landlord is," says tenant Daniel Viruet, "I say, 'I really don't know. I have a phantom landlord.' Every time we have a complaint, we're told to call, like, 10 different numbers. It's a goddamn mess."
What it's like to live there: The 31-unit building at 2356 Lorillard Place, near the 183rd Street strip known as the Bronx's Little Italy, had, at last count, more than 700 code violations (one of the highest totals of any building in the city), of which about 130 were considered "immediately hazardous." In the worst cases, of which there are many involving landlords throughout New York, the city will make emergency repairs and then bill the landlords. At last count, the city is still owed tens of thousands of dollars for repairs just at 2356 Lorillard Place and 2710 Bainbridge (though the landlord has repaid some of the money).
At Lorillard Place, just about every bathroom in the building has serious water damage. There are apartments infested with roaches and mice, and an apartment in which paint has tested positive for lead. The city can't even get to the building's broken boiler: Earlier this month, the city gave the landlord a violation for failing to identify just who exactly has the key to the building's heating system.
Some tenants say they have long since given up trying to figure out who is responsible for their building and have stopped visiting the management offices to demand repairs. After telephoning 10 to 12 times a day, tenants say, they've also given up on 3-1-1.
All that's left is damage. Seventeen-year-old Justin Muñoz's bathroom looked as if it were just wrenched free from the Titanic's rotting hulk. Almost a year ago, a pipe burst in the wall, and scalding-hot water gushed nonstop from the showerhead. Months later, it was still nonstop, and the bathroom felt like a particularly unhealthy steam room, with black mold seeping out of the walls. As the 24/7 steam experience deepened over the summer, tiles around the toilet came loose, and then the floor caved in. On Christmas Day, the ceiling above the shower collapsed, exposing the rafters.
Justin and his mom have tried to practice good hygiene by crouching in the far side of the bathtub from the gushing showerhead and using a bucket to catch some of the scalding-hot overflow. The trick is to take a sponge bath in the tub without getting splashed.
The bathroom was still an ersatz steam room into 2010. The landlord has claimed to have fixed the problem, but the city still lists it as an unresolved violation.