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.
In the building’s lobby, an ever-growing heap of trash bags piles up by the stairwell, a perfect haven for vermin. Last year, in an apartment upstairs, tenant Daniel Viruet tossed a rat out of his kitchen window.
Life in the building is short-circuited in many ways. Evelyn Almodovar and her mentally handicapped daughter live in a three-bedroom apartment with only one working electrical socket, forcing them to jerry-rig wires and make do without lights in their bedrooms. Because the windows are cracked and don’t even close properly, the family has covered them with garbage bags and sheets. It has been like this for a year.
One recent week during a rainstorm, the stairwell was flooding, as usual, from the sixth floor all the way down, and Almodovar slipped and suffered a lumbar spine fracture. Showing the bill from nearby St. Barnabas Hospital, she says, “Why should we pay rent? For this?”
Mitigating factors: City records indicate that the Palazzolo entities have recently reduced their tab with the city for emergency repairs by repaying tens of thousands of dollars. Perhaps more important, some tenant activists and lawyers say they think that Palazzolo-connected entities that controlled about 100 buildings five years ago may now control only 20 to 30. It’s not known whether those buildings were sold or are being run under different company names.
Future: The tenants in 2356 Lorillard Place have already mutinied. So the building management—whoever and wherever they are—shouldn’t expect next month’s rent checks, either.
PUSH COMES TO SHOVE
Landlord: Jacob Bernat (Plaza Management)
Jacob Bernat, through Plaza Management, operates at least two buildings that are on the city’s worst-violations list, but the worst alleged violation involving one of those buildings—273 Lee Avenue in Williamsburg—doesn’t appear on any list: Tenants who aren’t Orthodox Jews say they’re getting the short end of the stick when it comes to maintenance and repairs, and are being pushed out in favor of new tenants who are Orthodox Jews.
Jacob Bernat is identified in government documents as the managing agent and officer of Plaza, which uses a mail drop in a building on Lee Avenue that’s popular with Hasidic businessmen. (Moishe Indig, who was in last week’s batch of “10 Worst Landlords,” also uses the building as a mail drop.)
Bernat is already involved in the conversion of a former school building into a medical facility that caters to Hasidic Jews. In 2008, he and Plaza purchased the old and vacant Fallsburg Central School in Sullivan County to renovate it into a satellite medical complex for Refuah Health Center, which was founded to serve the markedly insular Hasidic community of New Square in Rockland County.
Religion is relevant here, but neither Bernat nor Plaza nor several lawyers listed in documents as having represented them returned repeated requests for comment by the Voice.
Quotable: Juana Moreno, who has lived in the Lee Avenue building for 17 years, says, “I have nothing against Jews, but the fact that they are religious people, and they treat us badly, it’s worse for them. Anyone can see that we are not bad people.”
What it’s like to live there: At 273 Lee Avenue, a dingy, four-story walk-up in Williamsburg, how you’re living depends on whether you’re a Latino or a Hasidic Jew. The building, however, was recently placed on the city’s worst-properties list for non-religious reasons, including a defective chimney and a rotting ceiling that sits precariously above the building’s boiler.
The city specifically points out a serious and basic problem: The building’s front-door lock has been busted since last June—but the door does feature a newish mezuzah.
But it’s not that the landlord is neglecting the building. Tenants say there’s a regular stream of workmen. Inside, three renovated apartments (two inhabited by Jewish families and one vacant) stand in stark contrast to apartments that are infested with roaches and mold. One apartment still has exposed lead paint on three of its walls despite the city’s first having noticed it in 2008.
“They are always fixing that apartment,” says tenant Cindy Reyes, pointing to an apartment across the hall from the one she grew up in and still shares with her mom. “Renovating it, putting in new floors. But not for us.” In Reyes’s third-floor apartment, the bathroom remained full of mold until the city was forced to come in and clean it. The sink is still broken.
In August 2009, the city sued the landlord, demanding that he make repairs on 130 problems judged hazardous, as well as dozens of other fixes on other problems.
The tenants who have sat in frustration, waiting for repairs for years, are Latino—mostly Mexican—while the tenants who live in the renovated apartments are Hasidic families. The names on the rows of metal mailboxes reveal a bit of the history of the building: On half of the mailboxes, you see names like “Oyola,” “Reyes,” “Garcia,” and “Santiago”; the other half of the mailboxes feature the names “Gross,” “Sofer,” and “Friedman.” None of the Jewish tenants would comment or could be reached for comment.
With not even a whiff of anti-Semitism, a Latino tenant simply says, “They want to get us out so they can put in their people.” The Latino tenants say they don’t blame their new Jewish neighbors in the renovated apartments, who are very polite. Their beef, they say, is with the landlord.
Lee Avenue is the main drag of Hasidic Williamsburg. Besides one Assembly of God Church that caters to Latinos, the 10-block stretch of Lee Avenue around the building appears to be entirely Jewish. You want repairs? As tenant Sara Oyola—a cheery 53-year-old grandmother who has lived in the building for 28 years and acts as the de facto super for the other Latino tenants—says, “The workers came and said, ‘You’re not a [VIP], so what do you expect—a great job?’ “
The city is also suing Plaza to make repairs at 325 Melrose Street, a small building in Bushwick that is also on the city’s worst-violations list. The building has only eight apartments, but all together, they have 169 violations. Tenants of 325 Melrose Street couldn’t be reached for comment because there currently are none. In January 2009, the city sued Plaza and Bernat to force them to make repairs. The next month, the city took the rare step of issuing a “vacate order,” conducting an emergency evacuation of the building because it had no water supply or heat, a defective fire escape, and gaping holes in ceilings and walls. The building is still blanketed by a blue tarp.
Mitigating factors: City records indicate that Plaza has taken care of about 90 violations since November 2009 at 273 Lee Avenue.
Future: The Latino tenants say that Plaza representatives have been offering them money to move out—but that the money offered isn’t enough. Cindy Reyes says her family was offered $10,000, but her mother, Julia Sanchez, says, “It’s expensive to move. When we calculated it out, we wouldn’t have had anything left.”
Longtime tenant Oyola says: “They first offered $5,000. Then $7,000. Then $12,500. They were very insistent. But I say, ‘I don’t want to leave my apartment. I just want repairs.’ “
Former Latino tenants couldn’t be reached for comment.
SEDUCED AND ABANDONED
Landlord: Sam Suzuki
Sam Suzuki emerged as a player in decaying Bronx apartment buildings (through an entity called Hunter Properties) in part because of the collapse of New York’s real estate bubble.
The company whose bubble burst was Ocelot Capital. In 2005, New York lawyer Rachel Arfa and her husband, Alexander Shpigel, founded Ocelot as a real estate venture heavily backed by Israeli investors through a Tel-Aviv company called Eldan-Tech. (Accounts in the Israeli press and elsewhere characterize Ocelot as a subsidiary of Eldan-Tech.) In 2006 and 2007, Ocelot received millions of dollars in loans to buy about two dozen rent-stabilized buildings in the Bronx. In March 2007, Real Estate Weekly dubbed Arfa, a former partner in the powerhouse law firm Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, one of the year’s “Residential Rising Stars.”
But the income generated from rents wasn’t enough to support Ocelot’s vast debt. (The city later criticized the properties as over-leveraged, and Fannie Mae later admitted that the loans didn’t meet the agency’s underwriting standards.) As the economy collapsed and Ocelot fell behind on its mortgage payments, building maintenance practically ground to a halt. Tenants and housing advocates describe it as a near total abandonment of buildings by a landlord.
The buildings, plagued by rat infestations and electrical fires, racked up thousands of code violations, records show. Of Ocelot’s 25 properties, 10 made the city’s worst-violations lists published at the end of 2007 and 2008. (No other landlord had as many properties on the list.)
As the problems piled up, Eldan-Tech reported heavy losses and backed out. Amid that acrimonious breakup with Eldan-Tech, Ocelot passed the job of managing 20 of the buildings to Sam Suzuki.
Suzuki, who grew up in Queens, began his career in real estate on the banking side, first with Dime Savings Bank and then at Citibank. In 1993, he founded (and, until recently, controlled) the Vintage Group, which claims to manage more than $300 million worth of real estate, including Chelsea condos. Suzuki is also a prime developer in Flushing. In 2005, he landed on the list of “Outstanding Asian Americans in Business.” In 2007, the Lubavitchers’ Chabad of Port Washington gave Suzuki its “Community Service Award”; he was the only non-Jewish honoree.
That said, the winter of 2008–2009 was another winter without heat for many of the 20 buildings under Suzuki’s control. But the number of violations did go down under Suzuki, in general.
Arfa also attempted to sell the 20 buildings to Suzuki. In November 2008, the two entered into a sales contract, but the deal fell through. A few months later, 14 of the properties went into foreclosure. (Mo Vaughn, the former Met and Boston Red Sox baseball player now in the real estate/rehab business, took over those buildings.)
Records indicate that Suzuki, through a newly created entity called BXP1, did apparently acquire six of the buildings—he and Hunter attorney Alice Belmonte are listed on the deeds as the buyers. Rachel Arfa’s attorney, David Katz, tells the Voice that Suzuki and Belmonte were the only representatives of BXP1 at the closing. But Belmonte says Suzuki is only managing the buildings—and she won’t name BXP1’s principal or investors.
Quotable: “They say a lot of things. And they do a lot of nothing,” University Avenue tenant Thomas Capone says of the landlord and building managers.
What it’s like to live there: The summer of 2009 was unusually—and unnaturally—hot in Ana Almonte’s apartment at 1585 East 172nd Street. Burning-hot, foul-smelling vapors started rising from the boiler in the basement through the cracks in the walls and the floor. At times, the floor grew so hot that you couldn’t stand on it in bare feet. The 29-year-old waitress, who lives in a well-kept two-bedroom apartment with her brother and three-year-old son, Ethan, complained to Hunter Properties—dozens of times, she says. The super came by, but made no repairs, she says. The family was already coping with rats stealing their food after crawling up into the apartment through two football-size holes in the walls.
One afternoon in late November, a water pipe burst while Almonte’s son was playing in the apartment, and the living-room ceiling collapsed. The debris and water damage destroyed the floor, too. Black mildew began to spread over everything, covering an entire wall and creating an overpowering stench. Nearly three months later, the situation remained unchanged, despite the family’s countless pleas for repairs. Finally, in late February, the super patched up the coffin-size hole in the ceiling and laid bare wooden planks over the destroyed floor.
After spending the better part of the 2008–2009 winter without heat, people in 26 apartments in the 51-unit building brought a lawsuit against Hunter Properties. The parties have been in court for nearly a year. The building has 558 housing code violations, and the top-floor apartments get doused every time it rains. In December, a judge gave Hunter two weeks to fix just two of the damaged apartments, but Hunter didn’t do the repairs. So in January, the tenants went back to court, and the judge ordered the landlord to either fix the two apartments or pay damages, says tenant association president Martha Castro. In February, Hunter began the repairs. Tenants in another Hunter building, 1350 University Avenue in Morris Heights, are also in court against the company.
This past November, two of the six properties taken over by BXP1—1640 and 1636 University—popped up on the city’s worst-violations list, and not because one of the stairwells reeks of cat piss. They hadn’t been on the list the year before, when Ocelot still owned them, but since Suzuki came onboard as a manager, residents have filed more than 300 complaints with the city.
The conditions have led to confrontation: A few months ago, a tenant meeting was broken up, tenants say, when an employee of Suzuki’s called the police. Some tenants tell the Voice that they will no longer openly protest conditions in the buildings because Suzuki’s employees threatened them with eviction if they did so. “We had a meeting,” says a tenant who asked not to be identified, “and the next thing you know, people are knocking on my door telling me I could be kicked out of my apartment. I have been here for 42 years—I can’t have that.”
In a fifth-floor apartment in 1640 University Avenue, Luis Correa, a father of six and a contractor, is especially sad because he was raised in the building, and now his apartment has mold splotches all over the walls. An entire bedroom wall is so black with mildew that the family covers it with a curtain. During a visit by the Voice, his daughter was using scissors to chase cockroaches running up the walls, and mice could be heard squeaking below the sink, an area already destroyed by water damage. The bathtub drain has been clogged for six months—after every shower, the Correas have to empty the water into the toilet.
In one of the University Avenue buildings, 38-year-old chef Thomas Capone says he replaced the flooring in his apartment by himself in March 2009 after calls to Hunter weren’t returned. And when his kitchen ceiling collapsed, he adds, he paid a friend to install sheetrock over it because Hunter did nothing.
Mitigating factors: Alice Belmonte, the lawyer for Suzuki, says she was aware of the Almontes’ collapsed living room and agrees that it was a horrible situation. “I’m seeing our guys at the end of the day, and they’re killing themselves,” she says. “There are lots of problems, and every single problem could be solved with a dollar sign.”
Asked whether Hunter is conducting its repairs in a responsible and timely fashion—given that it’s under a court order to make repairs, two buildings are on the city’s worst-violations list, and another tenant lawsuit is pending—Belmonte insists that the company is doing so: “Is it as quickly as the tenants would like? No,” she says. “But there has to be a give-and-take here.”
Along with the court action, tenants in the building on East 172nd Street have withheld rent for about a year and—unlike many other rent strikes—they haven’t been paying into an escrow account. “The tenants can’t simply decide that they don’t want to pay rent and expect the management company to fix things on a dime,” says Belmonte.
Future: Tenant Luis Correa told the Voice, “We’re moving to Florida.” And they did.
Additional reporting by Donal Griffin
FLOODS OF COMPLAINTS
Landlord: Steven Carter (Cronus Capital and Perseus Capital Management)
At the height of the real estate boom, the private-equity firm Cronus Capital, controlled by financier Steven Carter, went on a buying spree, amassing about 30 buildings in Harlem and Washington Heights in just a few short years. Two of the buildings now sit on the city’s worst-violations list. In four buildings, there are group lawsuits against Cronus’s management arm, Perseus Capital Management, demanding that either the landlord and its managers make widespread repairs or a judge appoint an independent administrator. Tenants in six properties have been granted building-wide rent reductions by the state, says Diogenes Abreu, of the Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation. At least 60 additional tenants in 15 separate buildings have enough lingering repair problems that the state has also lowered their rent.
Cronus is an affiliate of HIG Capital, a $7.5 billion European private-equity firm. Carter, the principal of Cronus, lives in the Sabrina, a luxury condo building at West 98th and Broadway, not all that far from the screwed-up buildings under his control.
Cronus boasts the conversion of a Chelsea office building into luxury condos, and also has various real estate ventures in New Jersey, Florida, and Houston. The Bronx and Washington Heights buildings fit one of Cronus’s “investment strategies”: “Acquire underperforming properties and develop a specific turnaround plan.” Benjamin Dulchin, executive director of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, translates: “When you say ‘underperforming assets’ in a rent-stabilized building in New York, that means the tenants themselves. The tenants themselves are the underperforming assets, because they are too poor.”
As for Cronus’s “turnaround plan,” consider, among other properties, 79 Audubon Avenue, which Cronus acquired in April 2007. Earlier that year, before Cronus purchased it, the building had 79 code violations, including a four-foot-wide hole above the row of mailboxes in the lobby, says tenant advocate Evan Hess. Sixteen months later, the number of violations had surged to 217. Seventeen tenants declared a rent strike, placing their rent payments in an escrow account. In September 2008, a judge ordered Cronus’s management arm, Perseus, to complete all repairs in 60 days. But by February 2009, the building had 224 violations—even more than when the judge first ordered the landlord to deal with them. As of March 2010, the building had more than 180 violations.
Quotable: Tenant Lida de la Rosa says of her Washington Heights building: “We’ve got holes, holes, holes—I’m talking about holes!”
What it’s like to live there: Running water, stagnant water, leaking water, no hot water—all are plagues at various Perseus buildings. Liliam Evora, a grandmother and teaching assistant who lives at 184 Nagle Avenue in Washington Heights, has endured a constantly leaking hole in her ceiling. She says she called Perseus every single day for two years, but got no rhythm. So she petitioned the state for a rent reduction—and got it. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio recently used Evora’s building—with its 168 heat and hot-water complaints this past winter—to kick off a campaign in support of a City Council bill that would increase the fines for landlords who go more than five consecutive days without providing heat for their tenants.
At 11 Vermilyea Avenue, also in Washington Heights, Milagros Puello, a 58-year-old home attendant who lives in one of the apartments that sued Perseus, couldn’t get her leaky bathroom ceiling repaired. After six months, the ceiling collapsed. She paid a neighbor $200 to tape it up with plastic garbage bags, but she says that dust from the broken ceiling has brought on asthma attacks. A judge has ordered repairs in 17 apartments in the building.
“It’s like a cat-and-mouse game with them,” Lida de la Rosa, a 46-year-old office assistant who works for an insurance company, says of dealing with Perseus management. “There’s really no use in calling. You leave a message, but you never get through.” De la Rosa lives in 507 West 170th Street, a building with 347 code violations—half of them immediately hazardous—making it one of the 200 worst in New York, according to the city’s weighted scale of serious violations and violations per unit.
“Abandoned—we just feel abandoned,” says Eligio Valerio, a 42-year-old taxi driver who lives in a Perseus-run building at 516 West 169th Street. “My fuse box is broken. There are so many rats, so many broken windows. They just don’t fix!”
It’s not just low-income and rent-stabilized tenants who are having problems. Yoni Etzion, an Israeli musician who shares a one-bedroom apartment with her boyfriend at 618 Academy Street in Washington Heights, says the company never came through on major repairs that were promised before the couple’s September 1, 2009, move-in date. After numerous calls and e-mails, the couple decided to just show up at the company’s Upper Manhattan office, a copy of their lease in hand, and throw a fit. “They just don’t care,” Etzion says flatly. A tenant in Etzion’s building told El Diario that she had to sponge-bathe her children on the fire escape because the company wouldn’t repair her bathtub.
Mitigating factors: Adam Foreman, Perseus’s maintenance director, tells the Voice that the company is “well aware that there are plenty of violations out there.” He says he has done a lot of work to clear the violations from the city books. But, he adds, “We’re just a management company. The investors are the people that own the buildings.” Foreman says the city is also at fault: “[Department of Housing Preservation and Development] generates so many funds for the city. They are more compelled to write violations than they are to come out and clear them.”
In any case, Liliam Evora’s ceiling has been fixed.
Future: The constant threat of stinking black water.
Last summer, tenants say, water collected behind the building at 11 Vermilyea Avenue, creating a stagnant pool so foul that first-floor tenants couldn’t open their windows without being overwhelmed by the stench. The landlord is under a judge’s order to not let the problem recur.
CHASING AFTER RATS
Landlords: Victor and Alan Fein
The Fein brothers have owned 1558 Bryant Avenue, one of the worst buildings in the city, as well as other Bronx properties, since the mid-’90s, under such company names as Cherokee Partners and Apache Properties, according to city records. Neither Fein would return repeated phone calls. At least three of the buildings are among the city’s worst.
Quotable: Pointing to a jumble of electrical wires on the floor, tenant Gladys Gonzalez says, “One day, I came over, and there were about 10 rats, boxing and playing and boxing and playing like they owned the place. I was like, ‘Why don’t they ever get electrocuted?’ It’s our bad luck.”
What it’s like to live there: For seven years at 1558 Bryant Avenue, every time it rained, leaks forced tenant Rosalyn Hall to move her furniture from one side of her apartment to the other. Until a Sunday evening in early December. Hall had just arrived home from the laundromat and was helping her preteen sons gather their materials for school when a flood of water broke through the living-room ceiling. This time, it was from burst pipes, not rain. Other ceilings in the waterlogged apartment swelled up like bubble-wrap and threatened to explode. For three hours, water poured into the apartment, until the Fire Department shut off water to the building, she says. The catastrophe did at last prompt the landlord to start making repairs.
The entrance to 1558 Bryant is a foreboding black door with no handle. The mailboxes are either broken or badly cracked, and trash is strewn in the hallways of all five floors. At last count, the building had more than 500 code violations, making it one of New York’s 200 worst properties, according to the HPD. Other Fein buildings on the worst-violations list include 1926 Walton Avenue and 2239 Creston Avenue, with 307 and 327 violations, respectively. When the gas was out for three months over the summer, tenants shared hot plates with each other because, they say, the landlord didn’t provide them. But in one apartment, in which there are young children, the smell of leaking gas is so strong that it is actually dizzying.
Cheryl Washington, who was raised in the building, endured 32 separate code violations in her small apartment before she moved down the block a few months ago.
Across the street, at 1553 Bryant Avenue—a 62-unit Fein building that at last count had a staggering 990 code violations—Gladys Gonzalez lives with her granddaughter in a first-floor apartment. While watching cartoons, the granddaughter plays a game: spotting rats. The walls in the apartment are full of holes. Within 10 minutes, a visitor sees two rats scoot across the bedroom.
Residents talk of typically waiting weeks, or even months, for basic repairs, and when those fixes are finally finished, the work is shoddy and cheap. Tenants say that when they show up at the management’s offices to complain, they are treated rudely.
Hall says her rent of $1,500 is partially covered by the federal Section 8 program, though she says the conditions had gotten so bad at certain points that federal Department of Housing and Urban Development officials refused to pay. During one visit to management offices, Hall says, she clashed with Nanci Fein, who is presumed to be related to the brothers. “She was acting like her apartment was all that, and I’m saying, ‘Lady, your apartment is not all that,’ ” recalls Hall. Washington, who has also dealt with Nanci Fein, adds, “I say let her come and live here for five days. Let her see what this is like.”
At one point recently, the city had spent more than $200,000 making emergency repairs to the two Bryant Avenue buildings. The landlords, records show, have repaid the city.
Mitigating factors: The seven years of perpetual leaks in Rosalyn Hall’s living room ceased being a problem when the entire ceiling caved in.
Future: Tenant Hall says, “I’m just saving my money so I can get out of here.”
The Feins are apparently also hoping to leave. Both buildings are part of a package of six prewar, five-story walk-up apartment buildings in the Bronx that the Feins have put on the market; they’re asking $13.5 million for the bundle, according to real estate listings. If you’re just beginning a career as a slumlord and are looking for your first don’t-fixer-upper, they can be purchased separately.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 24, 2010