When the Voice got Jacob Selechnik on the phone recently, the 62-year-old landlord with 15,260 housing-code violations on 110 properties immediately announced that he was retiring. He said he would do it “any day now.” Asked why, Selechnik, who has been sued five times by HPD since 2004 and probed by the Department of Investigations, said simply: “I’m too old.” In any event, his daughter Ellen and son-in-law Michael Goldberg have been increasingly involved in the vast, Bronx-based family business for years.
As astronomically high as Selechnik’s current 2.2 violations per unit is, he had an even more shocking 23,127 violations, or 3.6 per apartment, until he was forced in the past two years by one court order after another to try to correct them. A printout of these violations could wallpaper an entire apartment. He also owes HPD $91,428 for emergency repairs made on 68 of his buildings.
Selechnik’s other specialty is stealth. The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation blacklisted him a few years ago, refusing to sell any of its foreclosed properties to him. So other landlords who were not on the “exclusionary list” bought properties Selechnik coveted and then flipped them to him. Similarly, when the family of an infant allegedly damaged by lead paint in one of his buildings sued him, he tried to get the case tossed by distancing himself from the ownership of the property. Bronx Supreme Court Judge Patricia Williams said his deposition was “rife with statements of ignorance” about the building, but she found enough evidence of ownership to sustain the suit.
Mold is still another specialty. Maria Fonseca is suing him for the chronic asthma and dermatitis she’s suffering from stachybotrys, a toxic mold caused by excessive moisture that was described by an expert witness in the case as “highly allergic” and that has apparently contaminated the bedrooms and bathrooms in her Bronx apartment. Selechnik’s response? “Sometimes they don’t open the windows and let the walls breathe,” he told the Post. Meeka Bhattacharya, an organizer with the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, connected the Voice with tenants in other buildings whose kids got sick, allegedly because of mold. “Northwest and HPD have done building-wide inspections” in specific Selechnik properties, Bhattacharya said, “and found multiple violations, years of violations. We have been trying to work with Selechnik but he never responds.” The history is also bleak: HPD sued him 20 years ago for a failure to provide heat and hot water and had to buy heat in 40 of his buildings.
Nicknamed Jake the Snake by the Coalition, Selechnik was described in an article in The Bronx County Historical Society Journal in 2002 as having “an alleged 20-year history of tax foreclosures” and “poor management and inadequate services to tenants,” a one-man wrecking crew who’s left his mark on the city’s most blighted borough for decades.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 27, 2006