Categorized | Housing

1512-1524 Leland Ave.

by Shefali Kulkarni and Leslie Minora

The super at four decrepit Leland Avenue apartment buildings is looking for a new job. Management gives him barely enough garbage bags to keep the residences tidy, he said, let alone materials to make even the simplest repairs.

“It’s like a captain and you give him a ship with a big hole in it, and you hand him a Band-Aid,” said James Totterman, who can’t even fix the leak in his own ceiling at 1516 Leland Ave. Everytime he patches it up, the leak doggedly returns.

“The property is just in debt,” said Totterman, of the four buildings he is supposed to maintain between 1512 and 1524 Leland Ave. Fannie Mae foreclosed on all these buildings in August. The court appointed Bronx lawyer, Edward Koester, as the receiver. His duty is to collect rent and make necessary repairs. At the beginning of October, Fannie Mae advanced $50,000 for repairs, Koester said, because many people were not paying their rent.

How far does $50,000 go? “Not far,” Koester admitted.

Totterman laughed at the amount, calling it “offensive.” He said that he has yet to see contractors making any repairs to the buildings’ 57 apartments. Totterman speculated that people in charge may be neglecting the buildings so that tenants will move out, and the buildings can be sold.

These four properties tell part of the tragic story of the mortgage crisis that sent the U.S. economy into a downward spiral a year ago. A company connected to Ocelot bought the buildings (and one other building) for almost $7 million in July of 2007, at the top of a property market that was awash with easy credit.

The cycle of blame is so difficult to trace that it makes residents’ heads spin. Delia Guzman, who lives on the first floor of 1520 Leland Ave., said that people from so many city departments have knocked on her door that she cannot even tell who is responsible for what. The one thing she does know is that she is still living in an apartment with roaches, mice, mold, and leaks. Her bathroom ceiling has caved in, and her living room floor is buckling from water damage. There are mice feces in her kitchen, and her walls are literally crumbling.

As management of the four buildings shifts continuously, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development has sent officials to enforce building codes and coordinate with tenants, but unsuccessfully. Their efforts through the Alternative Enforcement Program brought teams of officials to inspect hazardous residential houses.

“But I gave up on that,” said Guzman, who found the city’s housing program ineffective. With an uncertain future and little confidence in the management structure after foreclosure, residents of the Leland Ave. apartments are left in limbo.

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