The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

Leaks Turn to Ice at 2401 Davidson Street in the Bronx

Last year, tenants who live in the Three Borough Pool cautiously celebrated a victory. With help from the Attorney General, organized tenants forced owner Westbrook Partners to fire Colonial Management and bring in a new property manager. The new property manager – Langsam Property Management – was charged with making repairs in the run-down buildings and giving every tenant a one-time $600 rent rebate to make up for the significant harassment tenants suffered under Colonial’s tenure.

The tenants’ woes haven’t ended, though. Many tenants still haven’t received their $600 check and Langsam Property Management isn’t treating the buildings well at all. As tenant leader Debra Cooper told the Guardian recently, “There was ice outside the building and drug addicts in the stairwells, she said. “They [the owners] are not doing anything. They’re just glossing over. When it rains in my kitchen, my sink backs up like a geyser – Old Faithful. There is no reason that I should have rain water from the roof in my kitchen sink. That’s nasty, that’s disgusting. I have to disinfect everything,” she said.

Today, one of the coldest days this winter, tenants in the Three Borough Pool fare no better. Check out this video from Liza Ash. A leaky pipe in her bathroom has caused her bathtub to flood. Her apartment is so cold that the bathtub is now filled with ice. After pouring anti-freeze on the ice-leak, the ice still does not go away.

Angry tenants are putting pressure on Westbrook Partners across the Atlantic: the company has recently come under fire from actor Russell Brand, who is decrying the groups efforts to privatize public housing in the London suburbs. After a long battle, London tenants forced Westbrook to sell their buildings. Last month, Brand reportedly visited Mayor de Blasio and called on him to speak out against Westbrook’s neglectful, speculative businesses practices. Tenants can’t stand another cold winter at 2401 Davidson. If Westbrook isn’t going to fix these buildings they should sell them to someone who will.

RGB: We Need a Rent Rollback!


Every year, the Rent Guidelines Board votes to decide how much, if any, rents can increase. According to the law, the RGB can make “rent adjustments, if any.” The board is NOT required to raise rents – but with a Real Estate Lobby in New York that’s like Big Oil in Texas (powerful!) that’s exactly what they’ve done. For the past 12 years, under Mayor Bloomberg, landlords made money hand over fist while wages went down, unemployment went up, and working class New York City tenants struggled to get by.

There’s a new boss in town, and there’s a new RGB. (Read about de Blasio’s progressive appointments to the RGB here, and here.) This means that tenants are closer to winning a fair deal from the RGB than we have been in over a decade! But now is not the time to stop fighting.

Join UHAB and tenants rights groups from across the city at the RGB’s preliminary vote on Monday, May 5th at 5 pm at 1 Bowling Green. Let’s hold de Blasio to his campaign promises, and pack the room with tenants demanding justice.

WHEN:  Monday, May 5 at 5 PM
WHERE: U.S. Customs House, 1 Bowling Green 
For more information, contact the Real Rent Reform campaign at 718-864-3932.

7A Program Fades from Relevance, to Tenant Dismay

Yesterday, tenants gathered at 755 Jackson Avenue with newly elected Public Advocate (takes office January 1st) Letitia James to demand that the owner of their building, Stabilis Capital Management, walk away from the property. (Read about it in the Mott Haven Herald.) Tenants are hoping that Harry DiRienzo of Banana Kelly be appointed as a 7A manager of their building. The property is extremely distressed and effectively abandoned. That the city would appoint a 7A administrator for this building seems like a no-brainer.

However, tenants have reason to be wary. In order to secure a 7A, they have a long fight ahead of them. Last year, tenants from 1058 Southern Boulevard traveled from their homes in the Bronx to Mill Basin to evict their landlord. They were living in serious slum conditions: fuzzy black mold coated the walls of their apartments, their ceilings leaked and it was so cold inside the building that the water leaks froze. One apartment was so terrible that a reporter visiting the building to cover the tenants’ fight began to cry.

Tenants at 1058 Southern Boulevard were hoping to “evict” their landlord through the same 7A program. Unfortunately, the City and the Housing Court did not heed their plea, and slumlord Miriam Shasho still runs the building. (The building eventually got repairs though the City’s Alternative Enforcement Program, but the repairs are patchwork the building is already returning to a state of squalor.)

This morning, City Limits published an article detailing this same experience, but at different buildings, in the Bronx. In the buildings profiled by City Limits, the failure to bring a 7A action baffles even HPD. The 7A program is an amazing opportunity for organized tenants to hit landlords where it hurts the most: in their checkbooks. However, if the City and the Courts are unwilling to invoke this power, it takes a serious tool away from tenants. City Limits talks about how this changed:

In earlier years, when judges ruled in favor of 7As for troubled properties, landlords frequently stayed out of the way and new managers made critical repairs. Owners may even have been glad to have someone else worry about their building. But now, because of the sweeter financial prospects of most Bronx buildings, landlords don’t want to hand their profitable properties over even temporarily. So it takes an even greater push from activists and HPD, particularly when judges seem more reluctant to rule in favor of 7As when buildings that could benefit from the designation are not part of a community crisis.

Tenant leader Lisa Ortega of 1058 Southern Boulevard speaks of her experience fighting for a 7A bitterly:

Its quite obvious that Judge Klein is on the side of the landlords. Landlords with long histories of neglect to buildings are allowed to do and giving financial help and incentive. If a parent neglect or abused their child, the court would remove them immediately. Slumlords control the health and well-being of some of the city’s most vulnerable populations — Why is this not the same for them??

Lisa mentions an important point, one that UHAB has been fighting legislatively for some time. A landlord licensing program could prevent bad landlords and negligent property managers from buying up extremely distressed housing and treating like an ATM. How could something like that work? Only qualified developers would be able to purchase housing that meets a certain level of physical distress. The 7A program could be expanded, and automatic: one’s license to manage property could be immediately revoked if building’s level of distress meets a certain threshold. If a restaurant owner is serving up unsafe food, the Department of Health shuts them down immediately. Bad landlords are allowed to keep their property no matter what psychological or physical warfare they are taking out on their tenants. This doesn’t make sense.

Make sure to check out the article in City Limits, and stay tuned!

Public Advocate-elect Letitia James, Members of the New York City Council, Bronx and Queens Tenants, and Advocates Demand that Investment Firm Stop Putting NYC Affordable Housing at Risk

IMG_4806For Immediate Release

Kerri White (UHAB), (212) 479-3371, (520) 507-5863 (c),
Ian Davie (Legal Services NYC-Bronx), (718) 928-2889, (917) 751-5992 (c),

Fed-up tenants, sick of Stabilis Capital Management speculating on their homes while conditions worsen, call for the firm to transfer distressed properties to capable owners.

December 3, 2013, Bronx, New York — Public Advocate-elect Letitia James and tenants from eight buildings across New York City gathered this afternoon outside 755 Jackson Ave in the Bronx to demand that Stabilis Capital Management transfer various buildings to city-approved preservation developers. The tenants were also joined by the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB) and Legal Services NYC (LSNYC) and representatives from the offices of Council Members Maria del Carmen Arroyo and Diana Reyna.

Stabilis Capital Management (Stabilis), a private equity company which holds the mortgages on, or owns, the eight deteriorating buildings, has been acquiring distressed debt on multifamily buildings in foreclosure across the City. Tenants residing in the buildings, many of whom are elderly or disabled, have struggled to endure hazardous, substandard living conditions because Stabilis has neglected to complete repairs or assist with court orders to address housing code violations.

“I am incredibly concerned not just for the safety of the families in these buildings, but for tenants throughout New York City who find themselves facing deplorable housing conditions as winter sets in,” said Council member and Public Advocate-elect Letitia James. “We will continue to fight to ensure that residents are not the victims of such dangerous lending practices.”

Conditions at 755 Jackson Avenue have declined dramatically since Stabilis took ownership in June of this year. Residents suffer from lead paint contamination, asbestos exposure, rodent infestations, and chronic water leaks. In October, the stairwell collapsed, injuring two tenants. The New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) has identified 221 open code violations, an astounding number for an 11- unit building. The building is in such poor condition that it has been placed into HPD’s Alternative Enforcement Program, which is reserved for the 200 most distressed and hazardous buildings in New York City. Tenants plan to advocate for Harry DiRienzo of Banana Kelly to be appointed as an administrator to manage the building.

The announcement came the same day that tenants at 836 Faile Street, also in the Bronx, filed a motion in Bronx Supreme Court demanding that Stabilis provide funds to complete repairs in their building. Stabilis purchased that 36-unit Hunts Point building’s mortgage in March 2012; the building currently has 138 code violations.

“These buildings exhibit the worst effects of predatory equity in New York City,” said Ian Davie, an attorney with Legal Services NYC-Bronx. “Stabilis manages over $500 million in investments, but somehow continues to ignore and evade common standards of decency, to the detriment of all New Yorkers. These brave tenants are taking a stand to protect their families and maintain their right to live in safe homes.”

“It is horrible that my young children and I have had to contend with rat infestations, mold contamination, water leaks, and spotty heat and hot water during the winter,” said Joanna Paulino, a longtime tenant at 836 Faile Street. “Nobody should have to live with these conditions for one day, let alone the months and years that we have endured. We are ready to put a stop to this.”

The Bronx tenants were joined by tenants from other buildings who have experienced the detrimental effects of Stabilis’s lack of management. Stabilis also purchased the mortgages on a 36-unit Queens portfolio in February 2012 – 1821 and 1894 Cornelia Street, 18-14 Linden Street, and 1673, 1675 and 1726 Woodbine Street – which currently list a total of 380 code violations. Tenants fear that if Stabilis continues its involvement as a lender or landlord, it will continue to neglect and mismanage the buildings until they become uninhabitable. These tenants have appeared in bankruptcy court to hold Stabilis accountable, with the assistance of Queens Legal Services (a program of Legal Services NYC) and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP.

Tenants in all eight Stabilis buildings face serious health concerns, including cancer, asthma, and injuries caused by falling staircases. Those health problems are exacerbated by their living conditions. The tenants are working with responsible developers who are interested in preserving the properties and are attempting to negotiate with Stabilis. They hope that Stabilis will sell the debt or the buildings to these preservation developers, who would prioritize the health and safety of residents.

“This isn’t investment, this is disinvestment and it harms New York City,” said Kerri White, Director of Organizing and Policy at UHAB. “Stabilis should stop this destructive ‘business’ model and transfer these buildings to a responsible developer who can maintain them and keep them affordable for the families who call them home. We’re standing here today – tenants, advocates, and elected officials – to reiterate that we cannot continue to permit this predatory behavior to exist in our city.”

“For the past 12 years, I have seen too many unscrupulous and predatory real estate investments severely undermine the livelihoods of working families throughout New York City,” said Queens Council Member Diana Reyna. “Stabilis Capital Management must understand that we won’t accept more predatory speculation of land in our communities. I urge Stabilis to consider a bid from a non-profit developer that will ensure the affordability of the properties in question and provide security to the current tenants.”

“The residents of these buildings deserve better,” said Assemblyman Marcos A. Crespo. “No individual or corporations financial interest should depend on the suffering of children and families in our community. Stabilis must allow a preservation developer to take over as soon as possible and complete much needed repairs.”

“There shouldn’t be a place in our community for neglectful landlords,” said Assemblyman Eric Stevenson.


Public Advocate-Elect Letitia James, Council Members Maria del Carmen Arroyo and Diana Reyna, Bronx and Queens Tenants and Advocates Demand that Investment Firm Stop Putting NYC Affordable Housing at Risk



Kerri White (UHAB), (212) 479-3371, (520) 507-5863 (c)

Ian Davie (Legal Services NYC-Bronx), (718) 928-2889, (917) 751-5992 (c)

Government leaders, tenants from eight distressed buildings across New York City, attorneys, and advocates will call on Stabilis Capital Management to stop speculating on rent regulated housing and transfer the properties to capable owners.

Tuesday, December 3rd, 3PM

755 Jackson Avenue, Bronx, NY (Map) 

Stabilis Capital Management
is a private equity company that has been acquiring distressed debt on multifamily buildings in foreclosure across New York City. Many of these buildings are suffering from extreme neglect, yet Stabilis has refused to complete meaningful repairs to protect the well-being of tenants and their families. Conditions at 755 Jackson Avenue have declined dramatically since Stabilis took ownership of the mortgage in June 2013. Stabilis’s practice of speculating on properties to the detriment of the tenants is known as predatory equity.

Tenants at 755 Jackson Avenue have invited elected officials including Public Advocate-elect Letitia James and Council Members Maria del Carmen Arroyo and Diana Reyna on a tour of the building to demonstrate deplorable housing conditions and tenants’ concerns about Stabilis’s inability to manage these properties. The tenants are also inviting residents from seven other distressed New York City properties controlled by the firm. The tenants are calling for Stabilis to sell the debt and/or buildings to preservation developers who will prioritize the health and safety of the current residents.

Photo, video, and press availability.


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