“Report: Landlords pocket city cash; tenants live in squalor”: AM New York

As published in AM New York by Eric Ortiz


Photo credit: Brian Driscoll

They needed a place to live — and all they got was a house of horrors.

Dozens of New Yorkers renting housing through a citywide program have been kept in shabby — and often disgusting — living conditions while their landlords rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer bucks, according to the public advocate’s office.

Its research, provided Monday to amNewYork, shows a dozen properties with nearly 2,000 housing code violations among them.

“There are rat corpses molded into the wood in the kitchen,” said Kevin Gaines, 40, whose monthly rent in the Bronx totals $1,070. “I don’t know how this passed inspection for us.”

Gaines lives in a building overseen by a temporary landlord, Bronx-based Albert Sontag Real Estate. Sontag’s three buildings have gotten a whopping 1,020 violations.

The company, according to the public advocate, receives $221,760 a year from Advantage, a city program that helps pay for housing for 14,000 people.

“These landlords are gaming the system while tenants and taxpayers are left footing the bill,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, adding the problem could be far worse than what the research found.

Gaines moved into Sontag’s Cruger Avenue complex in 2009 with his pregnant wife and two young children. After living in a shelter for four months, the three-room unit appeared safe enough – until the roof started leaking, a piece of ceiling fell on his wife, pipes burst and lead was found, he said.

Things were so bad, the city ordered emergency repairs on Sontag’s three buildings at a cost of nearly $120,000 – which still hasn’t been paid.

Sontag did not return a call seeking comment Monday.

Jolinda Brown, 40, said her family was left without heat and hot water for three weeks this past winter in their Jamaica home. That was on top of a leaky ceiling and mold.

“It was not a humane way to live,” she said.

The two-family home she rents has been cited for 28 housing violations.

But her landlord, Lorraine Hamilton, said she didn’t have money to pay for the home’s heat or hot water.

The public advocate’s office compiles a list of the city’s “worst” landlords, which De Blasio wants the Department of Homeless Services to consult before allowing landlords to receive taxpayer funds.

A DHS spokeswoman said Monday the agency does inspect units, but ultimately the landlord “must be responsible for fixing all violations on their property.”

March 14, 2011

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