I Fought the Landlord, and the Landlord Won

An unlikely person stands up for her rights—and pays the price

Samovha's attorneys, Islam says, came to him before they saw the judge. Islam says they made it clear Montealegre would be out by March of 2013, at the end of her lease. Not being stabilized, she had no claim to renewal, and nothing they did would save her apartment for her.

Islam says they proposed a deal where they would forgive the allegedly due back rent if she agreed to leave by mid July. Knowing that the judge could find the case in favor of Samovha, and Montealegre could be fined up to $11,000 and be ordered out of her apartment in as few as five days, he advised her to take the plea.

She did.

Arlene Gottfried
At a Mirabal Sisters Cultural and Community Center meeting, leaders ask the crowd: Who has ever paid their landlord in cash without a money order? Only Maria Montealegre raises her hand.
Arlene Gottfried
At a Mirabal Sisters Cultural and Community Center meeting, leaders ask the crowd: Who has ever paid their landlord in cash without a money order? Only Maria Montealegre raises her hand.

She had 100 days to prepare to leave instead of just five. But she still had nowhere to go.

According to city tax records, Samovha bought 1985 Amsterdam Avenue in 1985 for $55,000. Over the years, it has been in his or a relative's name, co-owned at times with such partner companies as "West Bank Reality" and "Risky Buildings, Inc."

But according to HPD records updated in April for 1985 Amsterdam, Moshe Samovha does own and manage the building, and he resides at 135-36 82nd Avenue in Queens.

The Voice showed up there on a weekday in late June. Mail addressed to Samovha was sticking out of the mailbox of the tattered, multifamily row house. After knocking on the door, a confused-looking Asian man answered.

The man explained that he was one of three tenants at that address, and Samovha (who didn't live there) was their landlord. It was not a real estate office, but the tenant said he puts the mail in the hall, and Samovha comes to collect it a few times a week.

The tenant said he paid rent by check. Asked by the Voice if he knew that Samovha was on the city's list of worst landlords, he said he did not, but he did wonder why so much mail came from courts and lawyers regarding lawsuits.

The tenant only cited one bad experience with Samovha: Last winter, the heat went out, and it took Samovha a couple of weeks to fix it. The tenant said Samovha told them it could have been repaired sooner but blamed the tenant's schedule, as the work crews couldn't get in when he wasn't home.

Samovha had little to say about Montealegre except: "She is a liar. She is a big fucking liar," when the Voice subsequently contacted him on the phone.

But many things the Voice discovered showed Samovha to be less than truthful himself. Asked why he told the city he lived at 135-36 82nd Avenue, Samovha said he had lived there years ago but admitted he no longer did. He said he would accept checks or money orders from any tenant, even though many in 1985 Amsterdam say he will not.

(And though he collects rent from tenants inhabiting a property he is supposed to be living in, Department of Finance records incongruously don't show that Samovha has ever owned 135-36 82nd Avenue.)

Without addressing his 226 violations or restraining order, Samovha hung up on the Voice (twice) saying, "She has to leave my building in 10 days" and that "it's a free country here. Everything is going through the court system."

The Voice reached out to Eric Kahan, Samovha's attorney at Sperber Denenberg & Kahan, to find out Samovha's address, but messages went unanswered. There are a number of properties under Samovha's various names, including "Moshe Samouha" and "Mike Samovha," which all lead back to the address on 82nd Avenue in Queens. There's also a home address listed online to "Samouha" in Great Neck, New York. He's not the deed holder, but he does have a phone number listed there.

A court case against "Samouha" in 1986 states that a tenant of his was overcharged in the amount of $20,945.34. Samovha appealed that case and lost in 1989. He has been sued by other individuals as well as by Con Edison throughout the years. Long Island Jewish Medical Center has an active lawsuit against him.

Montealegre, meanwhile, has tried to maintain some normalcy as her eviction approaches and homelessness looms. She still goes to meetings at Mirabal. Even though no one showed up for her when she needed them, she still volunteers to stand up for others in court.

And, of course, she still works.

On a typical work evening last month, the flower-monger loaded her buckets with flowers in her apartment, while her children gathered black garbage bags full of toys. They took a gypsy cab up to the Bronx.

There, she and her daughters ducked in and out of bodegas and restaurants selling trinkets and lilies. People didn't buy much. It was hard work in humid heat and carried no long-term solution to her problems, but it is the only work Montealegre knows.

They set up underneath the East Tremont elevated station, hoping to catch some sales as people left. A tamale vendor set up next to them, and they shared food and a few smiles.

Despite all the city agencies chastising him, the law is still working in Samovha's favor.

Montealegre's children, meanwhile, have sought therapy and see a psychologist regularly with the help of the Mirabal Center.

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19 comments
TrailsofHarlem
TrailsofHarlem

The reason why the tenants did not petition for the Article 7A is because the not for profit is against this program.  It has nothing to do with the tenants legal status to be in this country.

 

Maxwell
Maxwell

Disgusting.  This story SUCKS on soo many levels.  This woman would have been better off in her own country not being victimized in NYC.  She clearly was not able to take care of herself and now has 4 children?  I mean when does REALITY come into play with Latinos?  My heart breaks for her...but this pattern of reproduction is destroying and entire generation.  When does it stop, when does it end?  

amc32
amc32

even newer!!

amc32
amc32

super interesting

 

southernhospitality0
southernhospitality0

As for this story, that man should be locked up somewhere. He is not the only basely waste of skin doing this to people. I don't care if they are from this country or not they do not deserve to be treated like 3/5ths of a person... which ironically was the policy concerning slaves. Hypocrites will use these people for their labor, but want to kick them out as soon as they have been used up. SHAME really. It's the new slavery.

southernhospitality0
southernhospitality0

I expect nothing less from the commentators here, whose souls are just as jacklegged, bitter, heartless and just about as much of a waste of skin as Moshe Samovha. Most of the commentators under me are what is wrong with America, never mind that many of your ancestors immigrated here, and I bet some illegally too, killed off the Native Americans until they were almost non-factors. Also a people who built a country off the backs of imported slave labor etc. Yeah America is filled with saints.... Really.... and the illegal immigrant is sucking the life out of the country? You can't suck life from souls which died a long time ago.... no compassion, no love, no empathy.... all for greed and the love of money. I cannot wait for China to cash in on their debt. It will be well deserved to take this country and many of its inhabitants out of their misery.

Antony Leon Sturgess
Antony Leon Sturgess

when one of us stands up to injustice, we get squashed. when a whole lot of us stand up to injustice, the ruling class goes into a panic, bc that's called a revolution

edrocky
edrocky

Is this about a crook landlord or someone legal status? Gee....

Well, i believe, criminals like this landlord, should be in jail, beats me, why he isn't in jail yet....

MNasser
MNasser

davert: there is no tax on food from grocery stores in NYC, not that it matters when she's paying for everything with food stamps, receiving a minimum of 700 bucks a month in foodstamps  for having 4 children and no official income. Explains why she's so fat.

MNasser
MNasser

A woman that entered the country illegally multiple times, has never paid income taxes in her life and has 4 anchor babies collecting welfare benefits is complaining the system doesn't work: No Shit.

dparasuco
dparasuco

What happened to all the previous comments?  Oh I know...you misjudged your target audience.  You thought people would feel sympathy for Maria and hatred for the landlord, but instead you incurred hatred for Maria because she's an ILLEGAL.  It's exactly people like her who are here illegally, paying no taxes, with anchor kids, and collecting some type of welfare that's sucking the life out of this country.

Courtney Sampsell
Courtney Sampsell

Wow...the comments on this article reeeeeeally make me feel super proud of my country.

Nick Davis
Nick Davis

So sad. I'm glad I don't live in the US !!

dparasuco
dparasuco

 @MNasser ...and you know she's feeding her kids soda as if it were water.  They will grow up to be overweight and diabetic, and will be a further burden to our health system and society in general. 

cmcm
cmcm

 @dparasuco Oh yeah, totally... brought to America at AGE 13 by an abusive mother, struggling to get by day to day, and trying to organize vulnerable people for the benefit of all of their living situations... What a horrible person she must be.

davert543
davert543

 @dparasuco Illegal immigrants don't pay taxes? Holy crap! Next time I go to the grocery store I'm just telling them I'm from Mexico so I don't have to pay sales tax.

dparasuco
dparasuco

 @cmcmYou mean she's probably trying to help other illegals just like herself?  Instead she should report back and tell them how bad living conditions can be here, and perhaps that will help stem the flow of illegals.

 
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