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Moshe Piller: How a New York Landlord Works the System

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, Multimedia1 Comment

Skillet-Wielding Man Shot by Police, Mother in Critical Condition

A Bronx man was shot dead by the police on Sunday night after four officers found him hammering his mother with a frying pan in his apartment.

Police marked a frying pan as evidence in an alleged homicide after bursting into a Third Avenue apartment building Sunday night. Photo courtsey NYPD

Police marked a frying pan as evidence in an alleged homicide after busting into a Third Avenue apartment building Sunday night. Photo by: New York Police Department

The man, identified as Satnam Singh, 27, lived with his mother, Balbir Kaur, 54, on the second floor of the building at 3055 Third Ave. Just after 11 p.m. on Sunday night, a relative called 911 and asked the police to check on Ms. Kaur. A sergeant and three officers responded to the call, according to police reports, and heard noises coming from apartment 2D, where the victim lived with her son. The officers got the keys to the apartment from the superintendent, who lives across the hall, but couldn’t open the door because the security chain was latched from inside.

The officers forced their way in and saw Singh battering his mother with a frying pan, according to the report. The police said that Singh failed to respond when he was told to drop his weapon. The officers gunned him down when he raised the pan to strike his mother again. According to police sources, the sergeant fired once, and when Singh rose up again, one of the officers fired four times.

Singh died on the scene, according to police reports, and his mother was taken to Lincoln Hospital with multiple fractures of her skull and her left arm and was bleeding in her brain. Hospital sources confirmed that she was in critical condition Monday afternoon.

Neighbors said they noticed Singh had some mental disability and was always in his mother’s company.

“I have never seen him without her,” said Aka Obeng, who lives in an apartment across the hall. Obeng also said that the family was very quiet and both mostly kept to themselves. According to a woman who lives two doors down, mother and son spoke little English.

Tenants started moving in at the building as of May last year. The building, called “the dorado” is a part of New York Housing Development Corp.’s affordable housing projects in the South Bronx.

The New York Police Department said that there is no protocol to help officers determine when they should fire to protect another person’s life. It nonetheless declined to comment on whether there will be an investigation into excessive use of force in this case.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods0 Comments

Bronx Mosque Buys Home on Verge of Foreclosure

A Bronx mosque ended a lengthy foreclosure battle Friday when it used $400,000 in loans and donations to secure ownership of its premises.

Abdur Rahman Khan, the mosque’s imam, and his congregation have been raising money to buy the building at 2531 Davidson Ave. since January 2008, a year after they signed a six-year lease with the owner. They bought the house for $365,000 in a “short sale,” a transaction in which a property is sold for less than what is owed on a mortgage in order to avoid foreclosure.

“I am happy and I am tired,” Khan said on Friday afternoon, looking withered under the harsh February wind. “I didn’t sleep last night. But yes, now, we have a home.”

The title to the three-story building was contested by the owner, Gouranga Das, and GMAC Mortgage LLC, which provided the initial $500,000 mortgage in 2006, according to court documents.

For the past two years, the mosque, called the Bronx Muslim Center, has served a largely Bangladeshi congregation from the first and basement floors of the building. About 200 people gather each week for Friday prayers, the mosque’s busiest time. Two Muslim tenants live on the upper floors.

Muhammed Solaiman Ali, the mosque general secretary, said the previous owner had accrued $13,000 in Environmental Control Board violation fines, mostly because he had left trash on the sidewalk.

“This will cost us almost $400,000 after we pay the attorney, pay the closing fees and settle the fines,” Ali said. “We want a clean title for our mosque.”

The building is not in great condition but the mosque plans to renovate it. Photo by Sarah Butrymowicz.

That is not the only issue worrying the imam and his secretary. Most of the money was collected in interest-free loans, known in the Muslim world as Qardan Hassana. Some of the lenders have already asked for their money back; one lender wants his $15,000 repaid in the next two weeks. The mosque will also have to settle another debt of $150,000 with $10,000 monthly installments, starting two months from now.

“We promised to pay back the loans,” Ali said. “We are not going to be liars. We want our mosque set free from debt.”

Only hours after the purchase, the imam called a meeting of his flock to discuss ways to raise more money.

Shak Bulubasar, who lives on the first floor, saw more reason to celebrate than brood over uncertainties. “This is a house of Allah now,” he said. “It is a great day for us and a great day for Muslims who made this happen”

Last Sunday, the mosque was still in a state of panic with $45,000 needed to meet its fund-raising goal the next day. Ali fielded calls from donors eager to assist. One caller wanted to give the mosque an interest-free loan.

“Only Allah will give you the interest,” said Ali, speaking on the imam’s cell phone.

The caller agreed to the terms and set an appointment for a visit the next day. The imam, overhearing the conversation, could not hide his excitement.

“Pray for our mosque and pray for us brother,” he said over Ali’s shoulder, loud enough for the caller to hear.

The mosque finally met its target on Tuesday afternoon. A small white board in the men’s prayer room on the first floor listed the amounts the faithful had contributed on each Friday of the past month.

“We give them a receipt, even if they gave one dollar,” said Ali, referring to a fund-raising committee of a few mosque-goers, the imam and himself. “If anyone steals, they will be punished by God and then by our committee.”

Collection boxes at 12 mosques in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn were also bountiful, bringing in $20,000 on Sunday alone.

Additional money came from social media sites. For two weeks Nazma Khan, the imam’s daughter, focused on raising money on Facebook, YouTube and other sites. She runs the mosque’s Web site (designed by a British collaborator she met online) and constantly updates the figures on a thermometer that shows the total money raised.

“For two weeks, this has been my life,” she said.

Nazma said she was overwhelmed by the number of responses she has received. Through the Web presence she created, the mosque has raised about $20,000, with individuals from all over the world giving anywhere from 57 cents to $5,000. More than 10 people responded to her YouTube video with videos of their own, which they mixed with prayer songs.

“The spirit is a mosque in your country is my mosque as well,” she said.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods10 Comments

Highbridge Man Charged with Murder in Girlfriend’s Death

By Selamawit Gebrekidan and Dan Lieberman

Anthony "Nova" Jimenez's gaffiti  lines many walls on Nelson Avenue in Highrbidge, Bronx. Photo by Selamawit Gebrekidan

Anthony "Nova" Jimenez's graffiti lines many walls on Nelson Ave. in Highbridge, Bronx. Photo by Selamawit Gebrekidan

On Nelson Ave. in the Highbridge section of the Bronx, one side of a rundown store bears the markings of a graffiti artist, who, in blue paint, signed this tribute one month ago:  “Nova loves Anna.”

Last Sunday, Nova – Anthony Jimenez, 30 – was arrested for the murder of Anna Radzimirski, 25, his girlfriend of four years, who was fatally shot in the head and chest, according to the police.

The night before, Jimenez and his friend Jordan Miles, 17, were playing video games in the cramped second floor apartment the couple shared at 1066 Woodycrest Ave., according to Miles. Just before midnight, Jimenez was on the phone with another friend trying to comfort the caller, as Radzimirski slept in the same room.

“He started talking about how things is going to be alright,” Miles remembered. “He said ‘God is great,’ over and over again, and then it got to the point that he was screaming.”

This woke Radzimirski, who complained to him about the noise and tried to calm him down, according to Miles.  She then spoke to a friend on the phone about how Jimenez was not the same person, and that she could “see it in his eyes,” Miles said.

Suddenly, Jimenez grabbed his silver gun, cocked it and shot Radzimirski in the head, according to Miles.

“After he shot her, my eyes were on the gun and my reflex was to grab it,” Miles said on Monday pulling down his sweatshirt to show his bandaged arm and bite marks. He said that he tackled Jimenez and they both tripped over the narrow stairs in the house to the first floor. The gun went off again and grazed Miles on his left arm. Finally prying the gun out of Jimenenz’s grip, Miles ran the two blocks to his basement apartment at 1149 Nelson Ave. and called the police.

Miles was taken to Lincoln Hospital on Saturday night after sustaining a gunshot wound on his left arm. Photo by Selamawit Gebrekidan

Miles was taken to Lincoln Hospital on Saturday night after sustaining a gunshot wound on his left arm. Photo by Selamawit Gebrekidan

Neighbors had different accounts about the night. Hassan Toure, 19, who lives on the first floor, said he heard two shots in the apartment and another down the street. Two other tenants in the two-story apartment said they didn’t hear a single shot.

Toure said that the couple spent a lot of time together and dressed alike in large sweaters and polyester pants. He said that every day, the couple drove off with a heavyset man, who Toure said was Radzimirski’s father.  He would pick the couple up in a white van to take them to work, Toure said.

On Saturday night, Toure was frying plantains in his tiny kitchen on the first floor when he overheard the arguments through the thin walls. Thinking they were fighting over “small stuff,” because they were usually quiet, he ignored the noise and went on to watch a movie but soon heard two gun shots.

“I would never think that this would happen between those two because they were too sweet together,” he said.

According to neighbors, all seven tenants at the Woodycrest Ave. apartment recently moved in after the landlord parceled the single-story, one-family apartment into five separate units in November. Tenants on the second floor share a kitchen downstairs where numerous signs beg for silence and cleanliness. The couple moved in early December. Another neighbor, who asked for anonymity, said she remembered overhearing the couple fight many times.

Friends and neighbors said that Jimenez had a history of drug abuse with a predilection for PCP or “Angel Dust”– a habit they said his girlfriend shared.

Despite his repeated shouts of “God is great,” Miles said, Jimenez was not religious.

According to Toure, Jimenez liked to smoke in the small foyer by the front door. He also brought a lot of friends to the apartment which, Toure said, might have led to a burglary at the couple’s apartment a month and a half ago.

Jimenez was arraigned on Sunday for second degree murder, criminal possession of a weapon and second degree assault. He is now at Riker’s Island prison waiting for his first day in court scheduled for Friday.

On Tuesday, the second floor room was sealed by police and a dripping green paint on the door read “Slime Time.”

Posted in Crime, Southern Bronx0 Comments