Tag Archive | "housing"

Fire in Soundview building leaves tenants with holes in the walls

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Engines 54 and 41 gathered up in front of 1591 E 172nd street to extinguish a fire that started in an apartment on the first floor. (DIANE JEANTET /The Bronx Ink)

Smoke overcame the odor of fresh paint as six apartments were damaged by a fire that started on the first floor of a five-story building in the Soundview section of the Bronx shortly after 3.30 p.m on Monday, October 17. No one was injured.

The cause of the fire in the first floor apartment at 1591 East 172nd Street remained unknown about two hours after firefighters from the Engine 96, Ladder 54 put out the blaze. A fire department official said it may have been caused by maintenance error.

“It appears the crew was using a torch to remove the tile from the floor,” said fire chief Raymond M. Stanton. “We had to open walls and put water in two apartments.”

An hour before the apartment caught fire, three men were seen removing the flooring in one of the apartments using a torch with a flame-spreader nozzle. In the basement, the building superintendent, who gave his name only as Allan, was working on fixing the boiler, which, according to the residents had been out for a week.

At around noon on Monday, Evelyn Dejesus, 49, noticed a small amount of smoke coming out of the apartment that was being repaired by the crew. Dejesus, a 13-year resident living on the second floor, said she alerted the two men, who assured her several times they had everything under control. “They told me it was only a few towels burning,” said Dejesus smoking a cigarette frenetically, standing on a pool of water in the first floor landing.

The resident then witnessed the workers’ attempt to stop the smoke by throwing small buckets of water on the fire.

Moments later, the smoke had blackened the hallways on the first and second floors. That’s when Dejesus decided to call the fire department. “I knew the workers were doing something wrong,” she said pointing out at the negligence of the maintenance team that had left the building by the time the firefighters arrived on site.

In September 2011, Anthony Gazivoda, the powerful Albanian real estate developer acquired the Soundview apartment complex which according to New York City’s Department of Buildings’ website, has 11 open violations mainly for boiler malfunction. The workers told reporters two hours before the fire that they had been hired by Gazivoda to renovate the building.

After the firefighters left, three men representing Gazivoda arrived at the building to talk to the tenants and assess the damages. All refused to identify themselves. When asked who the workmen were, one man said: “We don’t know, we’re trying to figure it out just like you.”

One of the three Gazivoda representatives said the workers were not licensed. The man answered to the name Henrik but refused to give his full name to the BronxInk reporters. One of the two brothers who own Gazivoda Realty Co Inc, is named Henrik Gazivoda. A number of tenants angry at the damage caused by the fire, complained to the representative and identified him several times as the owner of the building.

Edward Maldonado, who has lived in another apartment on the first floor for 10 years, said he believed the workers were questionable. “They take workers off the books,” said Maldonado, as he moved his sofa out of the living room, left in ruins by the firemen. “I’m going to be waiting, gentlemen,” he shouted as the three representatives were leaving the building, promising they would be back in the morning.

Dozens of tenants were affected by the fire that started in between the walls of the buildings, which meant firefighters had to demolish sections of the walls and ceilings of six apartments around and above the epicenter of the fire.

Residents said they were worried about the coming nights. “Both my children are asthmatic, my door locks are broken, I can’t find my cat,” said Zoerain Siugzda, a resident living on the second floor. “Tell me what I am supposed to do.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Featured, HousingComments (0)

Tenants sue landlord for moldy building, NY Daily News

Tenants in an East Tremont building announced Thursday that they were suing their landlords over the living conditions in their apartment, reports the New York Daily News.

The building at 2097 Webster Avenue, they say, has been plagued by leaks, cockroaches and rats.

The tenants are hoping for a Bronx Housing Court to appoint an administrator to manage the building. Housing court judges can appoint private administrators to unsafe buildings under state law.

 

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Bronx lacking building inspectors and funds to keep homes safe, NY Daily News

New York City’s buildings department lacks funds and personnel to respond to Bronx housing violations and maintain safety codes, reports the New York Daily News.

Three district managers of community boards and a councilman in the Bronx charge that the city is neglecting the Bronx when it comes to allocating funds and assigning inspectors to assess building code complaints.

If these complaints are not investigated, the Bronx will be prone to more fires linked to illegal subdivisions for example, the local officials charge.

According to data in the recently released Mayor’s Management Report cited by the Daily News, average response time for nonemergency complaints grew last year.

 

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Bronx apartment buildings continue through the wringer with latest sale, reports Crain’s

A group of Bronx apartment buildings is going through their fourth sale in five years, reports Crain’s business news. Bluestone Group had purchased the buildings for $10 million a little more than a year ago after they’d been foreclosed on, and promised tenants that the buildings would be renovated.

Turns out, they were bluffing. The buildings were sold to Bronx-based Gazivoda Realty Co. for $17.6 million, which Crain’s attributes to a notice that tenants received late last week and to the real estate trade publication Real Deal.

Department of Housing Preservation and Development officials told Crain’s that they’ve been in contact with the new buyer to make sure they “take the interests of current tenants to heart.”

The six building-struggle started in 2006 when Ocelot Capital Group, which no longer exists, bought the buildings for $16.5 million, but then abandoned responsibilities.

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Heat and plumbing: Key 311 complaints for the Bronx

Heat and plumbing: Key 311 complaints for the Bronx

The new 311 map displays calls by community board

Kingsbridge Heights and Norwood lead the borough with the most calls made

By Manuel Rueda

Bronx residents call 311 to complain more about plumbing and heating issues than anything else, according to an analysis of the latest numbers released by the city last week.

For the first time since 2003 when the city launched the 311 hotline, New Yorkers can pinpoint what 311 callers are complaining about—by borough, zip code, community board, even buildings and streets—on a colorful interactive, online map.

Until recently, the city just used tables to show what type of complaints New Yorkers made and where the 60,000 daily calls originated.

Through a brief analysis of the City’s 311 Online Request Map, we found that Bronx residents frequently called 311 over the last three months to report housing problems, such as bad plumbing or lack of heat. But during the same period, Bronxites filed few complaints about environmental problems like air quality.

Residents of Community District 7, an area that includes Norwood and Kingsbridge Heights, made the most calls of any other district in the borough with 3,946 complaints filed over the past three months. According to the map, 839 of these calls related to heating, while more than 1,000 had to do with plumbing issues, such as leaks.

In other low-income areas of the Bronx, complaints related to tenants’ rights numbered in the hundreds, but were significantly lower than those made in Community District 7.

Residents of Community District 9 in the eastern Bronx made 438 heating

The 311 Call Center in Midtown (Courtesy DoITT)

complaints, while Community District 2 which includes Huntspoint and Longwood, only made 221 heating requests.

Greg Faulkner, a former chairman of Community District Board 7, and currently the chief of staff for City Councilman Fernando Cabrera, says the high numbers of housing complaints in his district reflect a struggle between low income tenants living in  buildings with housing problems and landlords who are unwilling or unable to guarantee basic living conditions. But he also sees the high number of complaints in CB7 as a sign that people in this part of town are learning to call the city and elected officials.

Sergio Cuevas, a tenants’ rights organizer chuckled with satisfaction when he heard about the high number of complaints coming from the northwest Bronx.

Cuevas lives in 3018 Heath avenue, one of ten dilapidated buildings recently acquired by real estate impresario Steve Finkelstein.

He is part of a group of community organizers that encourages people in these buildings to call 311 and hands out 311 flyers to fellow tenants. For Cuevas these calls are a first step towards putting landlords on the city’s watch-list.

“People are basically lazy sometimes. They get frustrated and they don’t understand they have to call 311,” he says. “They cannot fathom ten minutes of their time doing this.”

Cuevas claims 311 calls have helped some tenants to get housing problems fixed and sometimes calls on behalf of people, who don’t understand how to use the touchtone system.

Environmental issues on the other hand don’t seem to be as pressing an issue for Bronx 311 callers. According to the interactive map, residents of the Bronx have filed less than 50 complaints on indoor air quality since November.

Indoor air quality complaints include lack of ventilation in a building, or bad air quality due to construction, renovation or the use of chemicals.

The number of outdoor air quality complaints, including concerns over car fumes, dust from a construction site, soot or pollution, is even lower. Only one outdoor air quality complaint was registered in the entire borough over the past three months.

Miquela Craylor director of the environmental group Sustainable South Bronx, says local residents are not filing air quality complaints because they don’t understand that they have a right to fresh air. She also believes many are so frustrated with pollution and the response of local government that they don’t bother to complain.

“There’s awareness about the problem when you talk to people in the streets” she says. “But there’s a feeling there’s not much we can do to change it, a sense that this is what happens because we’re poor.”

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Rezoning confusion for Norwood’s business owners

A view of Webster Avenue in Norwood. Photo: Elisabeth Anderson

A view of Webster Avenue in Norwood. Photo: Elisabeth Anderson

Many business owners in the Norwood section of Webster Avenue were caught unaware last week when the city began its formal approval process for a rezoning plan to revitalize the commercial stretch.

“What rezoning?” asked Maurice Sarkissian, 40, whose Sarkissian Food Service Equipment & Supplies, a restaurant supply business, has been in his family – and on Webster Avenue – for 50 years.

If the plan is approved, Sarkissian and his business colleagues along the corridor may soon find out that it involves less commercial use on Webster Avenue from East Gun Hill Road to the north to East Fordham Road to the south.  The cutbacks would make way for the development of nearly 740 units of affordable housing and 100,000 square feet of retail space.  The goal is to make Webster Avenue a safe, lively and walkable corridor.

The Department of City Planning certified the plan last week, offering it for public review for up to 60 days.  From there, the plan faces several more levels of approval before making it to city council for a final vote.  Community Board 7 District Manager Fernando Tirado, 40, estimated that the vote could happen by March, and that construction could begin as early as the spring.

Sarkissian believes Webster Avenue’s wide boulevard will never be safe for children.  He believes that crime is not caused by businesses, but by poor policing.  The 52nd Precinct reported a five percent increase in crime complaints from early September to early October as compared to the same period last year. Sarkissian blames businesses that are open until 2 or 3 a.m. “They need to cut out all the hangouts,” he said.

Sarkissian defended most of the businesses in the area.  “We keep the neighborhood nice, clean,” he said, adding that businesses like his were vital to the local Norwood economy because they bring customers into the big retail hubs along 204th Street and Gun Hill Road. “To make a neighborhood, you can’t chase good people out,” Sarkissian said.

But Tirado said that the area has to look ahead. “We want some smarter development,” he said.  According to a city planning spokesperson, existing businesses would be grandfathered into the new zoning plan.  They can remain and invest in their properties, and potentially benefit from an expanded customer base and revived corridor.

A number of business owners, like Sarkissian, still felt their futures were in jeopardy, unsure if the changing dynamic of the neighborhood would create public pressure for commercial businesses to leave.

“That’s not too good cause we don’t know where we’re going to go,” said John Joe Bennett, 51, of the plan.  Bennett, a 51-year-old Jamaican immigrant with a wife and eight children to support, owns John Joe Auto.   His shop has been on Webster Avenue since 1992, and he said he felt secure only until his current lease ends, in December 2012.  “My customers are mostly local,” Bennett said.  “If we move, will they follow?”

One customer at an unmarked auto repair shop a few storefronts north of John Joe Auto thought the move was a good one.  Miguel Alcantara, 45, who drives a taxi for New College Car Service, praised the plan, saying “It needs to be safer here.” He said in the future he wouldn’t mind driving to a repair shop further away.

Public pressure could be a factor for Bennett, as his business does not fall within the confines of a three-block sliver of Webster Avenue north of 205th Street that will remain zoned for exclusively auto-industry businesses.

Neither does Edmund Tierney’s business.  Tierney, 50, owns Tierney’s Auto Repair in the same building as Bennett’s.   “if it brings more people to the area, it has to be good,” said Tierney, who lives in Yonkers with his wife and three children.

Residents tend to share Tierney’s optimism.  “It’s not safe at night,” said Floyd Middleton, 44, who lives around the corner from Webster Avenue on 204th Street with his wife and two children.  “There’s a lot of gang-related violence at night.”  He believes the uptick in crime is related to fewer jobs; he has been looking for work himself for nearly a year.  Middleton thinks that bringing more retail positions to the area will help.

“If we develop, it’ll be a good thing,” he said.  He hoped to see large chain stores and a supermarket on Webster Avenue, so his family would not have to trek to Fordham Road or 125th Street in Manhattan for clothes and groceries.

But Chris McDonald, a 43-year-old Jamaican immigrant who is an apprentice auto mechanic at John Joe Auto, scratched his head over that notion.  Norwood is already awash in retail, he noted.  Not to mention his prospects for future work.  “I’ve just started,” McDonald said.  “I’d like to stay a while.”

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, Housing, Money, Northwest Bronx, PoliticsComments (0)

Moshe Piller: How a New York Landlord Works the System

By:
Selam Berhe, Sonia Dasgupta, Dan Fastenberg, The Bronx Ink
Laura Kusisto, Clare O’Connor, Thorsten Schier, The Brooklyn Ink

After 18 months of rehabilitation for a broken hip, all that Eta Eckstein wanted was to go back home to her Brooklyn apartment. The 92-year-old Holocaust survivor had lived at 8750 Bay Parkway for 40 years, but when her son visited her apartment while she was still at the Shore View Rehabilitation Center, he found a red eviction notice on the door.

Her son, Zvi Eckstein, continued to pay her monthly rent, but the landlord, Moshe Piller, evicted the long-time resident, claiming she had vacated the apartment. The building superintendent had told the neighbors she was dead. But according to her son’s affidavit, his mother could instead not move back in because the apartment was in such disrepair.

With the help of her family, Eckstein fought the eviction all the way to Housing Court. Piller settled the case after Judge Candy Gonzales warned him: “You’re playing with fire.”

Along with the right to live in her apartment, Eta Eckstein won the right to reclaim belongings that had been stored in an unlocked basement or scattered on the building’s landing. But she also won the right to live with faulty wiring in the living room, a collapsed ceiling in the bathroom, and clogged plumbing, according to her son’s affidavit. Victory for Eta Eckstein meant being allowed back into a building that currently has 99 open violations with the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, or HPD.

Why would anyone fight so hard to get back into 8750 Bay Parkway? Since Piller took over the building in 2005, tenants say that conditions have deteriorated. But five years of decline do not matter as much to a 92-year-old woman as a lifetime of familiarity. “It’s been her home for over 40 years,” said her grandson, Idan Eckstein.

Like Eta Eckstein, tenants all around the Bronx and Brooklyn live in buildings that have rodents, collapsing ceilings, no heat in the winter and windows that don’t open in the summer, and unlocked security doors that allow people in to urinate and do drugs in the stairs. The system makes it almost impossible to demand better.

They are afraid to make trouble because they lack the language skills to make sense of the complaint process or because their work schedule makes it impossible to go to housing court during the day. The city’s housing bureaucracy struggles with a system that makes aggressive enforcement difficult. And landlords learn how to fly under the radar, paying fines or making minor repairs rather than making expensive improvements.

Eckstein is hardly an isolated victim, and her landlord, Moshe Piller, is not unique. In fact, there are far worse landlords: Piller does not appear on the Village Voice’s list of “10 Worst Landlords,” nor do any of his holdings appear on the HPD’s list of the 200 worst buildings in New York City. Piller, who occupied a berth on the HPD’s 2003 “Major Problem Landlords List,” with 7,313 open violations at 29 buildings, now escapes the agency’s sanction, and his current violations are down to over 1,700.

In an effort to understand how landlords like Piller work the New York housing system, The Brooklyn Ink and The Bronx Ink spent several months following the same process that many tenants do. Like them, reporters from the two websites talked to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the Department of Homeless Services, the Department of Buildings and the district attorney’s office. They all provided different versions of the same answer: He hasn’t broken the law; there’s not much we can do about the condition of housing for many tenants.

Also like many tenants, we went to Piller’s office to talk to the landlord himself. We made several trips and finally spoke with his property manager, Mike Ross. Ross said they constantly making improvements to the properties, including beginning renovations in three apartments at 119 East 19th Street in the last month since we began investigating the building for this story.

“We’re trying our best,” said Ross. “There’s always more, more and more work.”

***

When a faucet is leaking or the oven is broken, the first step for tenants is to phone the landlord or superintendent and ask him to come fix it. But if residents wait and remind him and nothing is done, the next step is to complain to the HPD.

Under New York law, a landlord is not fined—even if a violation isn’t fixed—unless a tenant or the HPD takes the landlord to housing court. But often tenants cannot take time off work to go to court, according to Legal Aid chief litigator Judith Goldiner, who represents tenants in housing cases. Legal aid can only represent about one in eight tenants who come to complain, due to a lack of resources. For those who go to court unrepresented, the success rate is low.

Numbers don’t tell the whole story of what it means to live in a Piller building, but they do tell a compelling part of it. The Piller apartment buildings we identified in Brooklyn have 829 open HPD violations . Of those, 219 are Class C violations, which include lead paint and a lack of child safety bars. The buildings in the Bronx have 995 violations, with 297 Class C violations, the most serious violations.

(To see the violations by building, click here)

Piller’s tenants have taken him to court more than 95 times in Brooklyn and the Bronx since 1989. Many of these cases settled, with the landlord agreeing to perform repairs.

Still, the extent of the landlord’s holdings, and therefore the number of violations in his buildings, is impossible to determine, even for city officials. New York City keeps records of all the buildings in the city, but not of the individuals who own them. One of the problems that organizations like HPD face in regulating a landlord like Piller is that he registers his holdings under a corporation, not individual, name. He registers most of his holdings under separate corporations. Eckstein’s building, 8750 Bay Parkway, for example, is registered as “8750 Bay Parkway L.L.C.,” which we confirmed by checking the sign in the lobby.

The Brooklyn Ink identified 14 buildings that Piller owns in Brooklyn and seven in the Bronx. The buildings that are listed under his name were purchased in the early 90s. Most of them are small two- or three-story brick homes in the Borough Park area. They have no violations, and tenants we spoke to generally said he’s a good landlord.

But after the early 2000s, Piller stopped registering buildings under his own name. We searched the names of Piller’s family and his employees, but nothing came up. The only way to know for sure is to visit the buildings themselves, where the registration on the wall says the name of his company, “MP Management,” and his name, Moshe Piller.

After hours of searching city records, old news clippings, and reports by city agencies we found as much as we could about the buildings he might own. Then we went to the boroughs to confirm which buildings are still his, and to find out what it’s like for the people who live there.

Life at 119 East 19th from Brooklyn Ink on Vimeo.

From the outside, nothing seems amiss at 119 East 19th Street, in Prospect Park South, Brooklyn. The railing protecting the flowerbeds outside is freshly painted and the building’s light brown facade has been redone recently, according to the building’s manager, Mike Ross.

Inside the lobby, on white paper with black marker is noted the name of the landlord for the building: “Moshe Piller.”

In the stairwell, the smell of urine is overpowering and at the bottom of the stairs, there’s a rat hole, just one variety of the vermin—such as bedbugs, cockroaches and mice—that crawl throughout 119 East 19th.

The elevator had been out of order for a month when we visited—not for the first time, according to residents. When we came back two weeks later it was still not working.

The building on 19th Street has 152 open violations as of this week, according to HPD. Of those, 52 are Class C, the most serious violations. This is more than twice the number of violations in any other building in the neighborhood, and three times the majority of buildings in general.

Piller purchased the building for $218,000 in 1995. He currently has over $9,000 in Department of Buildings’ fines, mostly for the broken elevator. He charges most tenants between $900 to $1,200 in rent. He pays some of his fines, enough to stay out of trouble with the department.

The first thing that’s noticeable when entering Desmond Fontenelle’s small one-bedroom apartment 6J is a chair placed awkwardly in the middle of the room, which conceals a gaping hole big enough for a person’s foot. “I don’t wanna break my neck walking to the bathroom at night,” said Fontenelle, a gregarious man in his early 40s, with pale brown eyes and a St. Lucian accent.

In the bathroom, a broken faucet has been dripping water into a bucket for years. The floor is soaked and a towel has been placed over the wet patch where the bath leaks. When Fontenelle showers, it floods the apartment of the neighbor below him, so he tries to bathe as little as possible.

The bedroom windows are barred with a locked metal gate and the smoke detector does not have a battery. The stove has also been out of order for years. “I eat mostly at mother’s place these days,” said Fontenelle.

But for other problems, such as the disarray in the apartment and rotting food in the refrigerator, Fontenelle also bears responsibility.

Fontenelle has been living at 119 East 19th for 20 years, before Moshe Piller purchased it 15 years ago. He said he has confronted the landlord numerous times about the repairs. In the last week, men have brought paint buckets up to his apartment and the building manager, Ross, has arranged for someone to come fix the broken oven door.

Fontenelle has tried withholding his $900 rent to pressure Piller to fix the apartment, but this has led to numerous court cases and eviction notices in the mail. Piller has taken him to court 16 times in 15 years for late rent payments – although Ross said they only do this once the rent is at least three months overdue. Fontenelle always agrees to pay, but also uses the opportunity to complain to the judge about the lack of repairs in his apartment, according to court documents we read.

Finally, at the beginning of this year he contacted HPD, which gave Piller a month to do some of the repairs. More than a month later, nothing had changed, so Fontenelle took the landlord to housing court.

“He’s gonna keep taking you to court until you move out,” said Fontenelle. “Then he’ll fix up the place a little bit for the next people and jack up the rent.

“I mean the man deserves his money, but he’s got to give me some services.”

In a phone interview, Ross said that keeping on top of all the repairs in a building with 50 units is a challenge, but that they are constantly working to make conditions better for their tenants. Since we began working on this story, management has renovated two of the units. They’ve arranged for workers to come and paint Fontenelle’s unit and fix the broken stove door.

But the need for repairs is ongoing. Since these problems were fixed, the number of HPD violations in the building went from 148 to 152 this week.

The building has 50 units. Three complaints per unit is standard for buildings around the city, said Ross. But of the buildings in the neighborhood of similar size, most we found had around one-third of the violations in Piller’s buildings.

***

Life at 2860 Grand Concourse from Bronx Ink on Vimeo.

At 2654 Valentine Ave. in the Bronx, men loiter in front of the grilled gate that closes off the front courtyard. The front door of the building gapes open, as if by a strong wind.

Many windows in its upper floor windows are broken and what glass remains is covered with blue-ink graffiti. Rodent feces are visible on the ground floor. On a recent Saturday, a woman sat on the steps leading up to the fourth floor with a syringe beside her, bobbing her head and mumbling, too lost to notice the disdainful look a tenant shot at her as he climbed down the stairs.

Inside the apartments, tenants complain of mold, caving ceilings, crumbling walls, mildew and sinking floors. The building has 164 open HPD violations, of which 44 are hazardous Class C violations. These include rodents, lead wall paint, cascading water from a seventh floor bathroom leak, and lack of heating, among others.

Piller owns 2654 Valentine Ave. and the adjacent 237 E 194th St., registered under Valentine Apartments L.L.C. He owns more buildings under different company names—2860 Grand Concourse and 2874 Grand Concourse, five blocks away, and 2501 Davidson Ave., on the other side of the Grand Concourse. But of all the buildings Piller owns in North Fordham, Valentine Apartments is the most visibly distressed.

William Plasenia and his wife have lived in apartment 4D for the past 13 years. A corner of the ceiling in one bedroom has burst open. The adjacent wall bulges with the weight of water pushing down. The kitchen floor slopes towards toward the center, like an upturned roof pitch. Plasenia says it is sinking. The bathroom ceiling sags and its peeled plaster flails mid air.

Plasenia, who hails from Cuba, speaks little English. He gestured to say that he fears the bathroom ceiling will collapse on his head soon. None of the violations in his apartment, however, show up in HPD files because he doesn’t know enough English to understand the system so said he does not file complaints.

At the buildings we visited, many tenants were non-English speakers who were unwilling to open their doors to strangers. In other cases, tenants were confused about the process for filing violations. Many said they simply call 311, which does not keep track of the number of complaints.

***

How can landlords get away with scores of violations? from Brooklyn Ink on Vimeo.

Even if tenants complain to HPD—Piller’s tenants have made thousands of complaints—there is nothing the HPD can do to bar a landlord from owning or renting property out to tenants.

Under HPD’s Alternative Enforcement Program, introduced in 2007, the HPD can enforce repairs on buildings it deems “distressed” or “hazardous.” Failure to comply could result in a lien being placed against the building. Of the 200 buildings on the most recent list, published on Feb. 15 of this year, none were Piller’s.

HPD can also refer buildings on this list to the district attorney for prosecution. The Kings County DA’s office could find no record of Moshe Piller in their referral files. The HPD declined to comment on whether they had referred Piller to the prosecutor.

In the meantime, the city continues to send some tenants to buildings we identified as Piller’s as part of its housing program for the homeless.

“You know, it’s very bittersweet sometimes as we send people into these buildings,” said Juanita Fernandez, a housing specialist at The Concourse House Shelter, who sent tenants to 2860 Grand Concourse, a Piller building, as recently as four months ago.

“We have no choice but to move people out after six months,” she said. “But yes, some of the places we send them to. I wouldn’t want to live there.”

***

In the absence of a clear enforcement mechanism, some tenants have organized to put pressure on Piller to fix the buildings.

In 2006, tenants drove two school buses to Piller’s home in Brooklyn and picketed there for a day, according to Xiamara Mejias, 40, who lives in apartment 3B at 2654 Valentine with her husband and three daughters. She’s the tenant organizer for the building and has been fighting the landlord for the past 10 years, relaying tenants’ grievances to authorities and the mortgage holder.

When they went to Piller’s house, his neighbors poked out of their homes to ask what was going on. “We told them your neighbor is a slumlord,” Mejias said. “And they started throwing eggs on us. Eggs!”

Since tenants took their paperwork and pictures to the building’s mortgage holder, the New York Community Bank, Piller has gotten better at repairing violations, according to Mejias. The open violations listed at the HPD today are half what they were in 2006.

Mejias said her bathroom still leaks and the hair salon beneath her apartment has complained. “This has been broken for a year,” she said pointing to her front door, which looks like someone had broken in. What is worse, the front door still doesn’t lock.

But Mejias also sometimes makes it impossible for repairs to get done. The piping in her bathroom is so old and rotten that it needs to be replaced. But when the super agreed to repair it, she told him, “I got three daughters who need to bathe every day. You can come in this morning … you can dig whatever, but when I come back home. I have to find a bathroom in there.’”

The hair salon eventually installed a ceiling to remedy the problem, but full repairs were never done.

Other tenants also get in the way of keeping the building in good repair. A week ago, all the hallway walls were painted a fresh round layer of brown yellow but someone has already sprayed graffiti on the fourth floor walls.

“It is like [the tenants] see this disrepair and they add on it,” said Mejias.

***

Moshe Piller was once one of the city’s most notorious landlords and has now become one of dozens that the city’s agencies just don’t have the time or resources to deal with. But though he may have receded from the public gaze in the last few years, for his tenants the problems in his buildings are real and unlikely to go away any time soon.

More shocking is that these problems are common in far too many buildings in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Like Eta Eckstein, many of the city’s residents have decided that for reasons of financial necessity and fear they’d rather make due than make trouble. Thanks to the weaknesses in a system that was meant to protect them, a place doesn’t have to be comfortable, clean or even safe to call it home.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Housing, MultimediaComments (1)

New Landlord for Troubled Building but Tenants Are Skeptical

A week after residents of 2710 Bainbridge Ave. announced that they were filing a lawsuit against their landlord because the building was falling apart, signs of improvement could be seen throughout the structure. The changes came about after Semper Fi Management 4 Corp. previously owned and run by Frank Palazzolo — was bought Thursday by another company,  Damberly Realty Services, said city and Damberly officials as well as tenants. The sale took place the same day as several news articles about the conditions of the building and the lawsuit.

“It seems that we are finally being heard, but we needed a courtroom and the help of the media to achieve that,” said Trina Guzman, who lives on the second floor of the Fordham building.

2710 Bainbridge Av.

The building was listed by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development as one of the 200 worst maintained in the city.

On Friday, the two front doors, which tenants said had been broken and without locks for years despite  repeated  complaints, were being replaced. For the first time in almost a year, tenants said, they received official rent statements in their mailboxes. “Before that,” said Cruz Maria Renvill, the daughter of a couple that has been living in the building for 27 years, “the management would simply send someone randomly every month to collect rent.”

Among other fixes that tenants pointed out to the Bronx Ink were new waterproofing on the roof,  repaired walls and ceilings that had been  collapsing and replaced water pipes and radiator valves.

“We are fixing the most urgent problems first,” said Omar Quintana, who works for Damberly Realty and supervises the repairs of the entire building at 2710 Bainbridge Ave. The building, according to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, has more than 200 violations. “We have work for more than six months here,” Quintana said.

A year ago, the building was listed by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development as one of the 200 worst maintained in the city. Palazzolo was listed by The Village Voice as one of the 10 worst landlords in the city.

Sean Curoy, who heads the new management company, went to the building to introduce himself to the tenants on Friday and reassure them.  “We pay our superintendents to do a job,” Curoy said to a Bronx Ink reporter. “If they don’t do it, they don’t keep their job. It’s as simple as that.”

Although the news was received among the residents as an encouraging sign of improvement, many remained skeptical. “Since I moved in three ago, I received more than five letters telling me a new management was to take care of the building,” said fifth-floor tenant Edgar Sandoval. “I never saw a difference.”

This skepticism was also shared by Garrett Wright, staff attorney at Urban Justice Center, which is representing the city in the lawsuit against Semper Fi Management 4 Corp. “The fact that it’s a new person running the management company doesn’t change a thing,” he said. “If on May 12, which is when the first court appearance is to take place, the judge decides there are still too many violations, the building will still be taken off Semper Fi’s hands.”

The fact that the work had already started was not enough to reassure some residents. “I believe it when I see it,” declared Enriqueta Garzon, also one of the fifth-floor residents. She pointed at two men fixing the entrance doors and added: “Today, they are removing the doors, but I wouldn’t be surprised if tomorrow they didn’t come back and they left it all like this, without installing new ones.”

Interviews with several residents echoed this sentiment. Toneisha McFadden, who moved into the building six months ago, said she hasn’t been able to cook once in her apartment. “We had a gas leak, and after weeks of complaining about it, they finally came and fixed it,’’ she said. “But they left without connecting us to the gas line and we still haven’t got a meter! They just never came back!”

Two years ago, when workers were sent to repair the leaking ceiling in the Revills’ bathroom, they left all the repairs showing, said Theodora Revills who has been living in the building for 23 years. “It looks terrible, but at least we don’t need an umbrella anymore when we use the toilet,” she said with a grin.

In the stairwells, all of windows are stuck, making it impossible to open or close them; the glass is cracked and the frames are covered in mold. As Enriqueta Garzon climbed the stairs to show her fifth-floor apartment to a reporter, where the ceiling is cracked and leaks whenever it rains, her foot hit a syringe that had been left on the floor next to the wrapping plastic it came in. “We’ve seen everything here; I even found condoms once!” she said, explaining that the presence of the unwanted visitors was a result of the broken front door: “Anyone can come and go as they please, I don’t feel secure at all,” she said.

But the worst, tenants said, is that during last winter, the heating system broke down and wasn’t repaired until the last week of December. “No heat, no hot water; we bought several electrical radiators, but with the winter we had, it just wasn’t enough,” said Theodora Renvill. Her husband, Crucito, continued: “The hot water disappears very often, so we are used to simply boil up two saucepans and washing ourselves like that.”

Edgar Sandoval said he was dealing with a whole other set of problems. His bathtub is blocked, and every time he takes a shower, he has to take out the water with buckets and throw it in the toilet. All this in a bathroom where the faucet doesn’t run and where no light has ever been installed. He said he called the city’s information hotline, 311, hundreds of times, but the HPD “couldn’t do anything because the landlord refused them access to the building.”

These are only some of the complaints residents cited last week. Others include rats running around, mold, holes in the ceiling and in the floor, broken windows, destroyed intercoms, leaky faucets and unlighted hallways.

Frank Palazzolo, the previous landlord, could not be reached for comment.

Curoy, also owner of six other buildings in the Bronx, told the residents that “workers [would] be there every day until the building is finished.” As soon as he heard that, Fidias Gonzalez, from the fifth floor, said: “It’s about time! There’s human beings living in here, too. Not just the rats!”

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