No Bad Deed Goes Punished
A recalcitrant Brooklyn landlord with a history of tenant abuses appears to have escaped punishment despite her conviction in criminal court on five counts of unlawful eviction. Sue Simmonds, owner of a landmarked Crown Heights mansion that was long ago divided into apartments, has ignored all but two of the 11 conditions of her probation set forth in her March 2000 sentencing.
According to the order of Brooklyn criminal court judge Richard Allman, who sentenced Simmonds to three years' probation, the landlord was supposed to look for a job, perform 20 days of community service, provide tenants with leases and offer renewals, give access to the boiler room of her building at 96 Brooklyn Avenue, and not enter apartments without consent. Allman also ordered Simmonds to abide by an order of protection issued on behalf of tenant Elizabeth Parks, whom the landlord has repeatedly tried to evict, and forbade her from suing Parks for eviction without his approval.
"I have done everything that Judge Allman asked me to do," Simmonds told the Voice before abruptly hanging up.
But according to Parks, other tenants, and even the city's probation department, which is in charge of enforcing Allman's order, Simmonds has done none of those things. In fact, she appears to have honored only two of Allman's conditions: She has refrained from changing the locks on the front door and has generally provided heat, hot water, and electricity.
"She was supposed to give a lease, but she never did," says Natalie Johnson, who has lived in the building since 196530 years before Simmonds bought it. "She doesn't do what she's supposed to do unless someone keeps on her."
That was the task of the city's probation department. Jack Ryan, an agency spokesman, acknowledged that Simmonds has not met Allman's terms. "All of this is being investigated now," Ryan said, adding that it is unusual for the department to handle cases against landlords. "I don't know why she hasn't met the conditions. We should have filed a violation report against her a long time ago, and that is also being investigated. We will file for a hearing before a judge, who can give her a simple admonishment, add more hours to her community service, or revoke her parole and send her to jail."
Parks was prescient about the possibility that Simmonds would continue to act with impunity. After the sentencing last year, Parks said she was "happy," but added, "I'm also hoping that something really does come of it. She's harassed me and shown no remorse. It's taken up four years of my life." Last week, Parks's assessment was similar. "I've gone through the entire legal system, and it's six years later, and I'm asking, what will they do to enforce this? Everyone continues to pass the buck. It's really a joke is what it boils down to."
Simmonds was convicted in part for busting up the bathroom fixtures in Parks's apartment and moving them into the kitchen; she is currently trying to evict Parks, claiming that the apartment is not her primary residence. Indeed, Parks had moved into a condo in Fort Greene in 1991, partly because 96 Brooklyn had so degenerated under a previous landlord. In 1998, two years after Simmonds bought the building and tried to evict Parks and other tenants, a housing court judge ruled that Parks is indeed a legal tenant and should be treated as such.
Simmonds has also moved against other tenants, claiming in some cases that she needs their apartment for family members. The long and the short of it, says Johnson, is that Simmonds "just really wants us out of the building. She always tells us we're not paying enough." Rents range from about $150 to $300 a month, low in part because of the years with unreliable heat and poor conditions. Rent payments go to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to cover the $20,650 in fines it has levied against Simmonds for violations including two months without hot water.
In 1998, Simmonds said on a local cable show that she wanted to use the mansion as a senior citizens' home, which would require booting the tenants. Ten years earlier, a Brooklyn judge shuttered a day care center Simmonds ran with a partner after they were accused of neglect and sexual abuse of five children, including two girls, aged three and four, who were found to have vaginal chlamydia. The four-year-old also had gonorrhea of the throat. Simmonds in the past has told the Voice that neither she nor her partner perpetrated abuse, saying the charges were contrived because she was a critic of the child-welfare system. She was not criminally prosecuted. The children were taken away, but because the records are not public, it is unclear why.
Simmonds's career as a landlord might be coming to a close even without renewed attention from the probation department and HPD, which says it will reinspect the building to evaluate if it should revive a lawsuit against her. That's because Simmonds's unpaid real estate tax bill has ballooned to $107,644.35, winning 96 Brooklyn a spot on last week's Department of Finance list of delinquent properties headed for a tax lien sale. Unless Simmonds pays the bill by May 31, the taxes on the 1888 mansion will be sold to a trust that can in turn foreclose on her. Records indicate Simmonds has not paid her property tax bill since December 8, 1995.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.