by Sarah Dadouch and Alejandra Ibarra Chaoul
Ved Parkash spent October 10, the last day before turning 72 years old, as he usually does, working at his desk in his modest office in Jamaica, Queens. The real estate entrepreneur wore black suit pants and dress shirt, keeping a low profile apart from a gold and green-jeweled ring on his left hand. He sat silently looking over paperwork while his son, Anamil Parkash, 32, received visitors and tenants.
The self-made businessman, originally from Punjab, India, came to the United States with nothing but a promise of a job. Forty-six years later, he owns 70 buildings around the city. His name is near the top of Public Advocate Leticia James’ worst landlord list in New York. In April 2016, he was sued by different groups of tenants from several of the buildings he owns in the Bronx.
Tenants in his buildings have divided opinions about him. From Jason Pino, a resident in 750 Grand Concourse, who believes Parkash is a nice guy who generally does a good job, to Jaime Steinberg, a tenant in 2454 Tiebout Ave. who said, “He’s not only the worst landlord in New York City, but in the whole world.”
See the violations over time in Parkash-owned buildings that are part of the lawsuit.
On a recent autumn afternoon, Parkash seemed unperturbed by the dissension. Like every other day of the week, including Saturdays and Sundays, Parkash worked from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. out of his office, a small white two-story suburban house with a double-pitched roof on 89th Street in Jamaica, Queens. A shiny BMW SUV and a pair of Mercedes Benz sedans were parked in the driveway. The small home — christened as the “Lucky House” by Parkash — is the first property he ever owned. It is where he and his wife Shashi raised most of their children during the 21 years the family lived there.
For the past 25 years, the Parkashes have been living in the tony Old Westbury neighborhood on Long Island. But to this day, Ved Parkash still works out of what once was the dining room in the small house in Queens where his family used to gather around the dinner table.
As of October, the businessman owned three buildings in Albany, seven in Queens where his career as a landlord launched 36 years ago and 60 in the Bronx, the borough where he says he is most comfortable doing business. He bought his first building there in 1988.
He accumulated more and more buildings in the Bronx after getting real estate advice from his accountant. “You borrow money from one building and buy the other one,” Parkash recalled from his conversations. “Borrow money on this building for another one, that’s exactly what I did. So I borrowed $1 million on the building on 162nd Street, and bought the first building in the Bronx, 750 Grand Concourse. Then I borrowed $800,000 on the building, first building I bought here. I bought a second building in 1989, 87 apartments, in the Bronx, on 158th Street. So then keep borrowing the money, keep buying the building, keep borrowing the money, keep buying the buildings.”
The real estate owner’s desk is made of imitation wood covered with yellow Post-It Notes filled with handwritten names, addresses, and phone numbers. The old-world information system helps him keep track of everyone from plumbers and electricians to business management consultants. Above his Post-It system, Parkash has a framed picture of himself and one of his four grandchildren. To the right is a plaque that reads, “Rule #1, The boss is always right. Rule #2, if the boss is wrong, see Rule No. 1.”
The right side of his desk holds a bookcase with black, grey, navy, and maroon binders, each with a white cutout of a number on its spine: 750, 2260, 2125, 1125, corresponding to dozens of addresses from the buildings he owns.
When asked why most of his buildings are in the Bronx rather than Queens, Parkash explained that the Queens housing court system was very tough on landlords in the 80s. Judges there were not sympathetic to owners. But in the Bronx, he found after taking some tenants to court, the tables were turned in the landlords’ direction.
“It’s a different ball game here,” he said. “Judges like the landlord and judges help the landlord, so I did not buy any more in Queens.” At 72, the grandfather of four is still active. His most recent acquisition, the 2099 Kingsbridge Terrace building in the Bronx, closed on Sept. 27, 2016.
With the real estate empire he built, Parkash managed to send both his daughters to St. John’s University and three of his four sons — who now work with him — to law school. The oldest daughter, now 42 years old, also works with him, while the youngest daughter, at 26, studies psychology.
Being called “the worst landlord in New York City” has had an effect on the Parkash children.
“This is in essence how I feel,” Parkash’s son, Anamil, said. “When the list came out, we were embarrassed. We realized internally we have to make changes. We have to be more on top of things, more efficient.” He paused. “But at the same time, we knew that we are not the worst landlord in New York.”
Ved Parkash, on the other hand, was less perturbed. “I’m a total gentleman,” he said. “I buy the building with my own money. I don’t borrow anybody’s money, I have no outstanding bills, I don’t take any money from the city.”
Parkash was in fact bumped down to fifth on the most recent landlord watchlist. And yet, when we called recently to discuss a detailed list of tenant allegations reported in these stories, Parkash hung up the phone. After that, repeated attempts to contact his office went unanswered.
THE BEGINNING OF IT ALL
On October 11, 1944, Ved Parkash was born into a poor family in the Indian state of Punjab. He grew up desperate to escape the cycle of poverty. “You walk to the school barefoot, you bike ten miles to go to the college,” Parkash said, summing up his childhood. “I lost my son because of no money.”
Parkash and his wife, Shashi, married in 1969 and soon after, Shashi gave birth to their first son. The infant died six days later, leaving behind an ill mother and a grieving father. So Parkash, 27 years old and armed with a master’s degree in physics, moved to the United States to work as a high school physics teacher.
He arrived in New York in 1971 to find that the school located in Manhattan, on 72nd Street and 3rd Avenue, offered him only part-time work at four hours a week, at a rate of $8 an hour.
His rent was $35 a week, and he would have been paid every three weeks. He could not sustain himself and have enough to save up for the future at such few hours, so he quit and found a job in Hempstead, working the graveyard shift sweeping the floor of a factory at $2.25 an hour. “I was getting the salary every week so I was paying my rent, buying my little food, carrying on my life,” Parkash said.
As Shashi’s health worsened, however, and as Parkash found himself missing her more and more, he decided to go back to India to take care of his wife. He booked his return ticket for three months later, and once he was there, a friend offered to buy his wife a ticket to accompany him. “He said we both have to go back,” Parkash remembered. The friend had his son wire $250 to Parkash, giving him a lifeline he sorely needed.
Parkash used the money to rent a room in Queens. He got a job as a security guard while his wife began working in a factory stitching clothes in Manhattan. “We carry on the life,” Parkash said quietly. “But we were happy together. We were, you know, here together, and we had jobs.”
When Parkash found a second job as a clerk, he got his wife a job in the same office, and the couple worked literally side by side. “She sits in front of me, and I sit in the back,” he smiled. “Life was getting better.”
From his two jobs, Parkash saved $8,000 in 10 months. He found a small, cozy house at 172-14 89th Ave in Jamaica, Queens selling for $12,000. He asked the broker for four months to pay for the rest. The broker agreed, giving Parkash an opportunity that most do not come by. Four months later, Ved Parkash bought his first ever piece of property.
“When I walked through this door,” Parkash pointed, “I had $10 in my pocket. But at least I walked into my house. In 14 months, coming from India with my wife, I have this house. I was in my own home.”
In India, he said, they had lost one son, and they owned nothing. Here, they found themselves with a house of their own and a daughter on the way. “This house is very, very lucky,” Parkash said. Seeing the value of saving, Parkash put away money for five years, collecting enough to buy a grocery store. Located in the North Bronx, the store helped him put aside even more money. “My whole goal was saving, saving, saving,” he said.
And save he did. A year and a half later, with $250,000, Ved Parkash put a down payment on his first building: 9023 171st St., a three-minute walk away from his house. This was in 1980. He bought his second building in 1981, and a third in 1982.
Parkash explained his move from owning a grocery store into the real estate world. He said that, when you own a building, you make money when you’re sleeping. You only make money at the store when you’re there. At his grocery store on Boston Road, Parkash was robbed, was held at gunpoint, had his nose broken. “They rob you, they kick you, they kill you,” he said.
But his desire to own buildings runs deeper than that. Parkash explained that he had always wanted to be in real estate, but his family was just too poor in India. He didn’t just want a house in India, he said. He wanted to feel like he owned something.
Parkash sold his grocery store and bought his fourth building, cementing his luck in the real estate world he dreamed of joining as a child.
ANOTHER DAY IN THE EMPIRE
The real estate business is very much alive in the rapidly gentrifying Bronx and Parkash is in the mix. He didn’t let topping Public Advocate Letitia James’ 2015 worst landlord list faze him. “When the list came out,” he said, “I did not feel bad.” His son, Anamil, said the problem is that most of the people protesting the company are paid activists, not tenants. “We are in compliance with everything,” he insisted. “And so we’re hoping that when the new list comes out, we’re off of it.”
“No, no,” said his father. “We will be on, no problem.”
The following week, when Parkash found out he had been dropped to number 5 on the new list, he smiled but then immediately shrugged it off. “It doesn’t make any difference to me, I don’t pay attention to that,” he said.
Indeed, he recently bought two more buildings on Kingsbridge Terrace in the Bronx, paying $27.5 million for both.
Calixto Chávez, 49, has been the super in Parkash’s most recent acquisition, 6899 Kingsbridge Terrace, for the past 10 years where he lives in the basement apartment with his wife and children. He had been working for Isidoros Sfikas, 64, the previous owner of the building, since he came to the United States, from Honduras, 17 years ago. It was Chávez’s brother who introduced him to Skifas, and after proving his worth as a handyman, he was promoted to super.
On Sept. 27, 2016, Chávez and Skifas’ professional relationship came to an end when Ved Parkash bought the Kingsbridge Terrace buildings. Skifas moved on, leaving behind the place he used to visit twice a week since 2005. Chávez, on the other hand, stayed behind as if after the past decade he had become part of the building’s architecture himself.
Chávez met Parkash, his new boss, shortly after the landlord acquired the building. The rest of the tenants found out the building had changed owners by a letter sent by the Sfikas or by Chávez, who took it onto himself to spread the news. The tenants have not met the new owner.
According to the super, the meeting with Parkash was nothing out of the ordinary. They met in the landlord’s office in Queens, where they both established their demands and came to an agreement. “I committed to keeping the place clean and taking care of tenants’ living conditions like hot water and keeping the boiler running,” said Chávez in Spanish.
As of Oct. 15, 2016, he said Parkash had not yet visited his newest building.
Two weeks after Parkash bought the Kingsbridge Terrace buildings, Ana Jorge, a tenant who has been living in 6899 for the past year, put in a complaint to Parkash’s office. According to Jorge, since she moved into the building, she has not had a working stove, painted walls, or tiles in her bathroom.
She said in Spanish, “I haven’t gotten an answer yet.”