Public Advocate Tish James’ 2016 Worst Landlord Watchlist: A Rally for Truly Affordable Housing

The sun was shining down brightly on Foley Square last Thursday, October 13th, 2016, as NYC Public Advocate Letitia “Tish” James presented the 2016 100 Worst Landlords Watchlist to a crowd of supporters. The rally included a wide range of speakers: community organizers and activists from across the city, city council members passionate about this issue, and tenant leaders speaking out about their living conditions and housing struggles. All were speaking about the desperate need for a continued fight to keep housing truly affordable in New York City.

The Watchlist shares the names of the 100 worst landlords in NYC, and two of them own buildings that house tenants UHAB organizes with. Efstathios Valiotis (Alma Reality) owns 8 buildings that appear on the list. These building have 237 units, and while there are 1,077 HPD violations recorded, this is likely far less than the actual number of violations. Nasir Sasouness had 60 of his units show up on the list, with 473 recorded HPD violations—also a low estimate.

Early on in the program, Tish James said, “We are putting bad landlords on notice that this has got to stop and that there is a team—that there is an army of individuals—who are going to stand up to bad landlords in the city of New York.” Throughout the event, chants of “Tenants, united, will never be defeated!” and “Fight, fight, fight! Housing is a right!” erupted and filled the square.

Towards the end of the program, Donna Mossman, a founding member of the Crown Heights Tenant Union, (which is supported by UHAB), spoke fervently about the Watchlist. Mossman said, “Usually when I have to speak, I do not smile. But today, I can smile. Thank you, Public Advocate, for releasing this list. The Public Advocate’s list of the 100 Worst Landlords is a reminder to landlords that you are not housing cattle, you are housing people.” At this moment, the audience cheered and applauded. Mossman continued, “The Crown Heights Tenant Union was formed in part to help tenants fight against landlords who do not provide adequate living accommodations for which we pay. The Public Advocate’s Worst Landlords List provides the Crown Heights Tenant Union, and all tenants, with a means to find their landlords and hold them accountable.”

nancys-photo-of-donna
Donna Mossman of Crown Heights Tenant Union addresses the crowd on October 13, 2016. Photo by Nancy Torres. 

Mossman went on to discuss the new documentary, America Divided, which includes a segment about housing inequality called A House Divided and features the Crown Heights Tenant Union. “America Divided is about our community. It is about us. It is about the struggle that happens everywhere. But understand this: Crown Heights is ground zero for gentrification. We have so many different fights on our hands. Yes, they have money, but we have people power.”

During the question and answer portion at end of the rally, a reporter asked Tish James if there was more the city and city agencies could be doing. James emphasized the points that had already been made, and she solidified some specific policy pleas. James said, “Particularly, I’m concerned about individuals who are accepting cash buyouts, that they know their rights. That needs to be in writing. We need to pass the law which would give every tenant the right to counsel in housing court, we need to make sure that that is passed in the city of New York. So I would urge the mayor to come out in support of that 214, which is sponsored by council member Rodriguez. All of these issues and more, we need to work with these wonderful advocacy groups, to preserve affordable housing and to build affordable housing….We need to really look at Area Median Incomes and make them subject to zip codes as opposed to geographic areas that include Suffolk County and Nassau County and parts of Westchester…..What we need is to have a sit-down with the administration, with HPD, with the Mayor himself, to advance a platform on affordable housing in this city.”

As the crowd dispersed and Foley Square emptied out, there was an energy of determination and steadfastness in the air. Tenants and tenants’ rights organizers, advocates, and activists are fighting for their homes, and they are here to stay.

Tenants Fight Back in Seryl LLC Foreclosure

Over the past couple of months, UHAB organizers have been working with tenants in 10 Westminster Road, a building near Prospect Park South whose mortgage is owned by Seryl LLC, the same private equity company that owns the mortgages on 545, 553, and 557 46th Street. With an HPD violation count of 205 for only 21 units, 10 Westminster is in the Alternative Enforcement Program. The building is in foreclosure and under the control of a receiver named Harry Horowitz who, according to tenants, is doing nothing to improve conditions. On the contrary, there is evidence that he may be trying to illegally raise rents.

Living here has been a long, rough journey for many tenants. Orazio Petito, the building’s landlord landed the building on Bill de Blasio’s Worst Landlord Watch List. One tenant had a ceiling fall in on her, sending her to the hospital and making her unable to work. Some of the apartments once went without running water for five days straight, others have gone without power for hours at a time, and when trying to contact management about such problems, tenants are treated disrespectfully.

The good news is, the people of 10 Westminster have not given up hope. With the help of South Brooklyn Legal Services, several of them are now in the process of entering the foreclosure case so their voices can be heard in court. We support the families in this building as they fight to make their home liveable, and to have some control over their surroundings. Seryl cannot get away with its irresponsible action! Stay tuned as this campaign moves forward!

Tish Wins!

Marina Metalios is a long time UHABer who has worked in the New York housing and tenant justice movement for over 25 years. In addition to working at UHAB, she serves on the board of TenantsPAC, on the Steering Committee of the Real Rent Reform Campaign and on the Leadership Committee of NYS Tenants and Neighbors. As Marina says, “local politics is like a bowl of sesame noodles, once all the noodles are gone and its just the sauce that’s life. It’s the real good stuff. It’s so rich, so delicious.”  

Marina is a tireless fighter for tenants’ rights, and we’re thrilled to have her thoughts on the recently-wrapped-up NYC primary season. 

Three cheers for tenants! We just got Tish James loaded into our quivers. She won big in the Public Advocate run-off. Really – WE won big in the run off.

I’m cheering because Tish will be great for tenants. Once I heard her speak about establishing an Office of Landlord Harassment as Public Advocate, I was hooked. I loved that she so consistently opposed Atlantic Yards and is still flamed up that not one single unit of affordable housing has yet been built. I loved her campaign slogan: “legislate, litigate, agitate” when talking about her plan of action as Public Advocate. I knew she (alongside the tenants) was the reason Tivoli Towers’ 320 units stayed affordable even after they left the  Mitchell Lama Program. And I know Tish herself – as  a Councilwoman – has spoken door to door with tenants to tell them their rights and make sure they know getting organized and forming a tenants’ association is not grounds for eviction.

Tish is one of real estate’s favorite targets. She was called “anti-development” for clogging up the “BAM South” construction project until the public library scheduled for demolition was saved, prevailing wage was in the mix and the amount of affordable housing that would be created was upped.

Tish James was endorsed by TenantsPAC. I sat in on her interview in my role as a TenantsPAC board-member, and she was electrifying.

So three cheers for tenants. And three cheers for the union members and outer borough-ites and community activists and under-heard NYers who dared to dream of Tish James. She did win big, and so did all of us. Hip Hip Hooray!

Friday News Round Up!

Made it through another week. Here’s some things that happened in New York while nothing good happened in Washington. 

  1. Big developers and the Department of City Planning are rushing to finish up their final projects before Bloomberg leaves office. Its looking very likely that the next mayor will be a little bit less friendly to big ticket development (and ideally in favor of more affordable housing.) 
  2. Speaking of development: Greenpoint is currently facing a debate that underscores all debates around affordable housing in New York. What does affordable mean? Affordable to who? How much “affordable” should developers provide? Is the AMI even a useful measure of income? 
  3. What does Tish James as Public Advocate mean for the race to be the next City Council speaker? 
  4. Glenn Beck claims that the media focus on Anthony Weiner was simply a distraction, a communist plot to take over the government. It’s funny. 
  5. A coalition of tenants have been fighting against their notorious Predatory Equity landlord, Pinnacle, for years. They charge their landlord used widespread practices to illegally raise rents and push out low income tenants. Though tenants will now be able to seek compensation from their landlord for this malfeasance, tenants are disappointed. This week, a federal judge turned down tenants attempts to appeal an earlier settlement which excluded certain types of claims that Pinnacle could be liable for. We know they’ll keep fighting. 

NYC Worst Landlords Watchlist 2.0

Bill DeBlasio recently updated his worst landlords list in NYC. Check it out! If your landlord is on this list and you are a tenant that wants to organize – let us know.

DNAinfo reports that in

HARLEM — A vast majority of Manhattan’s worst buildings are in Washington Heights, Inwood and Harlem, according to a watchlist by Public Advocate Bill Deblasio, which details the worst landlords and their properties citywide.

Some 45 of the borough’s 56 buildings included on the list — for violations ranging from mold to lead paint — are located in the area, according to the report. Four of the five with the worst record are in Harlem, one is in Washington Heights and all have at least 240 violations each, the report said.

Topping the list is 307 W. 153 St. in Harlem, which has racked up 398 violations, while the second worst building, at 206 Audubon Ave., has 367 violations, according to the list.

The landlord who has racked up the most violations citywide is Josh Neustein of 1071 Home Corp., who has eight buildings, including four in Upper Manhattan, and a total of 1,187 violations, 753 of them considered hazardous, according to the list.

Read More