This morning the Daily News reported on “nightmare Bronx landlord” Eli Abbott. Abbott owns at least 3 buildings that are so distressed he recently topped Public Advocate Bill de Blasio’s Worst Landlord List. The list is meant to be an easily accessible database of bad landlords. It provides dual services of keeping New Yorkers informed and holding landlords accountable for their actions.
Having a list like this is a great resource for tenants. HPD’s website, though it has valuable information, is somewhat unwieldy. The Public Advocate’s list, on the other hand, is user-friendly. It is easily searchable, and you can filter it by borough. But perhaps most importantly, the website for the list is equipped with forums for tenants to tell their own stories, to reach out for advice about their bad landlord, and to request information on their rights. There is even a link for tenants to report violations online. This list is a great example of how evolving media can be used to increase civic engagement and awareness around local issues.
Beyond the great work that the Worst Landlord List does, we believe that there are some ways in which it falls short. The list names landlords through their limited liability companies, and landlords typically create new LLC’s for each building that they own. That means that Eli Abbott – who owns far more than 3 buildings in NYC – is only held accountable for the three buildings on College Avenue that topped this year’s list. While I can’t say for certain, I could make an educated guess that none of his buildings are in great shape (though these 3 may be the worst.) We’d love to see the list go more in-depth and warn tenants of all buildings connected to this slumlord, rather than just these three.
We also believe that the Public Advocate could further improve the list by more fully vetting the landlords that make the cut. Though many of the buildings are justifiably in terrible shape, at least several of the buildings are actively involved in preservation scenarios with trusted affordable housing developers. For example:
- Number 4 on this year’s list – Kelly St. Restoration LLC – refers to buildings that are vacant and under construction as part of a city-financed preservation deal. Tenants have been relocated (to safe and affordable apartments) and when they return home their buildings will be fully restored. Buildings where management companies have entered into preservation agreements like this are supposedly exempt from the Public Advocate’s list. Mysteriously, Kelly St. Restoration (Workforce Housing Advisers) appears on both the exempt list and the Worst Landlord List.
- Number 14 on the list – JMR 7A 4619 Park Avenue – is not a landlord at all, but a 7A administrator. Bronx Courts have removed the landlord, and in its place appointed Fordham Bedford Housing Corp to manage the building. 7A administrators are appointed by judges to stabilize some of the worst buildings in the city. The program puts pre-qualified agents in place of the management company with the intention of putting a bad building back on the right track. Fordham Bedford Housing Corp is a trusted housing advocacy and community group with deep ties to the Bronx neighborhood in which this building is located.
- Number 38 on the list – Far Out LLC – in a very high profile case entered into an agreement with tenants and with HPD to stabilize this building and the 9 others associated with it. Though this particular preservation deal was very controversial, it was eventually supported by both tenants and by HPD and so far the landlord appears to be complying with reducing violations without passing costs onto tenants.
Now in its third year, the list has made some real improvements, including a new partnership with Craig’s List that allows apartment-seekers to have information about bad landlords close at hand while they search. We’re thrilled that the Public Advocate has taken this project on, and it has definitely encouraged and inspired some of the tenants we work with to fight for their buildings. However, there is room for growth. For example, we’d love to see the list note where buildings are in foreclosure, as it indicates that the building may actually be managed by a court-appointed receiver. We’d also love to see the list get behind the curtain of the LLC and really take slumlords to task for all their properties. We’re excited to watch this resource improve.