City Taking Action to Force Eight Irresponsible Landlords to Fix Their 12 Buildings

May 26, 2016

DSS will withhold rent payments for tenants on public assistance unless violations are resolved

The “Dirty Dozen” buildings in the Bronx, Manhattan and Queens have a combined total of 2,075 violations

NEW YORK–Mayor Bill de Blasio and Public Advocate Letitia James announced today that the City is forcing eight landlords to fix 2,075 building code violations in 12 buildings by threatening to stop paying the rent for tenants on public assistance if repairs are not made quickly. All of the more than 1,800 tenants in these 12 buildings will benefit, not just those on public assistance, since all violations must be cleared. All of the landlords are on the Public Advocate’s Worst Landlord Watchlist.

“Today we are stepping up our efforts to let irresponsible landlords know that their disregard for the health and safety of tenants will not be tolerated in our City,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “This multi-agency effort demonstrates that, by joining forces, we can uphold our commitment to preserve decent and affordable housing for all New Yorkers.”

“New York is not a city that subsidizes mistreatment of tenants, and that is why we are taking legal action today against unscrupulous landlords. For too long, these bad actors have forced tenants to live in dangerous and unsanitary conditions, while receiving public assistance payments – today that practice ends. Together, we will ensure that every New Yorker has the safe and decent home they deserve," said Public Advocate Letitia James.

The City is using the 1962 Spiegel Law which allows the Human Resources Administration/Department of Social Services (HRA/DSS) to withhold rent payments for tenants receiving public assistance if conditions in the building are “dangerous, hazardous or detrimental to life and health.” Property owners are directed to contact the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) within 15 days of receiving a letter from HRA/DSS notifying them that the law is being invoked and request a re-inspection and Dismissal of Violations, official confirmation by HPD that the conditions have been corrected. If they do not meet the deadline, HRA/DSS will start withholding rent payments at these buildings and HPD may ultimately take legal action. Under this law, landlords cannot evict tenants because the rent provided by HRA/DSS is being withheld.

HRA/DSS sent letters to eight landlords who own the buildings deemed to have dangerous violations. The law is initially evoked when HPD sends a letter to HRA requesting that the agency notify landlords of their duty under the law to fix outstanding violations. HRA/DSS sent its letters to the property owners on May 24, 2016. Because their rent may be withheld, separate letters were also sent to the 72 tenants receiving public assistance in the 12 buildings. The letters inform them of the action against their landlords and of additional legal services available to them. The Legal Aid Society, Legal Services NYC and LEAP/Urban Justice Center will provide tenants with legal assistance if the landlords attempt to evict them. HRA/DSS contracts with these organizations to stop tenant harassment and prevent evictions.

If the landlords still fail to correct the conditions after the rent is withheld, HPD’s Housing Litigation Division (HLD) may file what are known as comprehensive cases in New York City Housing Court seeking to compel the landlords to correct all outstanding violations in each building. HPD generally seeks civil penalties in these cases as well as orders to correct the violations. If an owner fails to comply with an initial order to correct, HPD may seek additional civil penalties and contempt sanctions including incarceration.

“Tenants in our City are entitled to a safe and decent home, regardless of how much rent they pay or the source of their income,” said DSS Commissioner Steven Banks. “The 1962 Spiegel Law is another tool that we will use to protect the most vulnerable tenants from recalcitrant landlords who neglect their obligations.”

“By law, every New York tenant has a right to a safe and healthy home – and this administration is using every tool available to enforce the law against landlords who disregard their basic obligations,” said HPD Commissioner Vicki Been. “The property owners we are taking action against under Spiegel are among the worst in the city. We won’t rest until they, and every other landlord in this City, provide tenants the homes they deserve by clearing up well-documented, unsafe and unsanitary conditions in their buildings. Enough is enough, violations must be cleared.”

The 12 buildings have a combined total of 2,075 violations, 358 of which are Class C, considered “immediately hazardous,” such as inadequate fire exits, rodents, lead-based paint, and lack of heat, hot water, electricity or gas.

The “Dirty Dozen” buildings are:


    Landlords Violations
Manhattan

133

Ft. George Avenue

10040

Yecheskel Berman

123

514

West 211 Street

10034

Maurice Sohaye, Robert Farhadian

167

541

West 150 Street

10031

Jay Weiss

379

Bronx

20

West 190 Street

10468

Agron Berisha

143

212

West Kingsbridge Rd

10463

Bashkim Celaj

141

2320

Creston Avenue

10468

Leze Gazivoda, Alex Gazivoda

138

410

East 173 Street

10457

Ferdo Skrelja

139

2015

Creston Avenue

10451

Ved Parkash

172

750

Grand Concourse

10451

Ved Parkash

309

751

Gerard Avenue

10451

Ved Parkash

188

315

East 196th Street

10458

Ved Parkash

128

Queens

90-23

171 Street

10432

Ved Parkash

48

Last year, the City used the Spiegel Law in two test cases before proceeding against this larger number of irresponsible landlords. HRA/DSS sent letters to the owners of two buildings in the Bronx threatening action if they did not fix their properties. Both landlords resolved the violations in their buildings and rent payments were not withheld, as result of their prompt response and remediation of the conditions that HPD confirmed based on inspections.

“It’s no secret that we need stronger laws to defend tenants, but we’ve also needed to make better, more aggressive use of the laws we have,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “I’m glad the mayor is using the Spiegel Law to withhold subsidies to landlords who aren’t living up to their obligations by making repairs, curing violations, and providing safe, clean, livable housing.”

“I applaud Mayor Bill de Blasio and Public Advocate Letitia James for ensuring our neighbors are getting the overdue repairs in their apartments," said Congressman Charles B. Rangel. "At a time when working families are struggling to pay rent and keep a roof over their head, home should be the one source of continued strength and stability. I hope this injustice caused by these bad actor landlords is corrected and litigated in the court of justice. I applaud the city for invoking the Spiegel Law and exhausting every legal option to get these quality of life repairs done for residents who have been held hostage by bad landlords.”

“Landlords are required by law to provide residents with safe and healthy living conditions regardless of their economic background or income. By using the 1962 Spiegel Law as leverage, the City will pressure irresponsible landlords to fix 12 buildings, including 5 in my district in the Bronx. Every New Yorker deserves a decent place to live, and this effort will make sure landlords prioritize the health and safety of their tenants,” said Congressman Jose Serrano.

"By using the 1962 Spiegel Law, our City is taking a critical first step in holding negligent landlords accountable for atrocious building conditions. These seven landlords, who are notorious in our City, should not profit from providing tenants receiving public assistance with dilapidated housing," said State Senator Gustavo Rivera. "I commend Mayor de Blasio and Public Advocate James for putting forth such a common sense measure that aims to ensure that tenants in our City live with dignity, especially those living in the six buildings in my district that are a part of this lawsuit.”

"I commend Public Advocate Leticia James and Mayor Bill De Blasio for taking action against these seven landlords", said Assembly Member Victor Pichardo. “My neighbors and every tenant have the right to live in a safe and clean environment. I look forward to continuing to work with members at the city level to ensure that no New Yorker is denied a safe and livable home."

"Bronxites and New Yorkers deserve to live in quality and affordable homes. I applaud the city for utilizing the 1962 Spiegel Law to pressure landlords to act swiftly in addressing these serious building violations," said Assembly Member Michael Blake. "However, threatening landlords with legal action should not be a requisite for ensuring our tenants have the quality of life every New Yorker deserves. Fighting against housing inequality and protecting our tenants is one of the many ways we are #BuildingABetterBronx.”

“Tenants in the city deserve an adequate and safe environment to live in” said Assembly Member Alicia Hyndman. “I applaud Mayor de Blasio and Public Advocate James for bringing this lawsuit against these irresponsible landlords who place tenant’s lives in danger by the negligence”

Council Member Stephen Levin, Chair of the Committee on General Welfare, said, "There can be no tolerance for landlords who neglect the health and safety of our residents. All too often, our city's most vulnerable are subject to dangerous conditions with little recourse to hold those responsible accountable. This initiative sends a strong signal that tenant safety is an absolute priority"

“Tenants around the city are suffering from the grasping hands of slumlords, and rarely is this more frequent than in Washington Heights and Inwood,” said Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez. “Today’s action marks a win for the little guy, as we take a real step to stop the negligence and despicable behavior hurting our hard-working families uptown. The games played by slumlords to force rent stabilized tenants out of their apartments are well known to uptown residents: make the conditions so bad that they feel compelled to leave, and then make the improvements to lure market rate tenants in. These actions are deplorable and we will do all we can to stop them, ensuring our communities remain stable and comfortable in their homes, as is their right.”

Council Member Mark Levine said, “Today we are sending a strong message to landlords who don't play by the rules - provide safe living conditions to all tenants immediately or you will suffer financial and legal consequences. To tenants we say ‘you are not alone,’ under the leadership of the Mayor and the Public Advocate, this city will use every available tool to protect you and ensure all tenants have a safe place to call home.”

"Unscrupulous landlords who fail to fix violations and make repairs should be on alert. The City is using every legal tool at its disposal to ensure buildings get necessary repairs so tenants can live in safe conditions," said Council Member Ritchie Torres.

“This is a long overdue, common-sense measure that will go a long way in providing hundreds of New Yorkers with safer, cleaner and more comfortable housing,” said Council Member Rafael Salamanca, Jr. “I hope that we can utilize this method to rectify many of the problems we see with landlords who are repeat offenders, and I believe that we will quickly see very positive results.”

“Every tenant deserves a safe and clean place to live. It's truly mind-boggling that 12 buildings could accrue over 2,000 violations, and it is deeply disturbing that the City has had to invoke the Spiegel Law and threaten these unscrupulous landlords with jail time in order to get these hazardous conditions resolved. I thank Mayor de Blasio and Public Advocate Letitia James for their commitment to tenants' rights, and thank DDS Commissioner Steve Banks and HPD Commissioner Vicki Been for helping us rid the City of the Dirty Dozen,” said Council Member Vanessa L. Gibson, Chair of the Committee on Public Safety.

“I am pleased to see the Administration taking action to hold these landlords responsible and supporting the tenants that live in their buildings” said Council Member I. Daneek Miller. “It is not enough that we build housing for low income residents, but as they continue to work and establish themselves, the City should continue to use its resources to ensure they are living in safe conditions. I would like to thank Mayor Bill de Blasio, Commissioner Vicki Been and Public Advocate Letitia James for their hard work in these efforts.”

Michael Leonard, Staff Attorney in the Housing Practice of Urban Justice Center’s Community Development Project, said, “Spiegel is an underutilized defense for tenants to ensure the owner will make repairs. We applaud the efforts of HRA and this administration to hold landlords accountable if they fail to care for the health and safety of the tenants in their buildings.”

“By refusing to keep paying landlords whose buildings are in deplorable condition, the City is taking a stand for New York City tenants,” said Edward Josephson, Director of Litigation at Legal Services NYC. “These landlords have neglected their buildings and their tenants have had to endure unsafe and unsanitary conditions for years. We applaud the City for using the Spiegel Law to enforce the rights of New York tenants and our attorneys stand ready to defend any tenants who face retaliation from their landlords as a result of these actions.”

Judith Goldiner, Attorney-in-Charge of the Law Reform Unit of The Legal Aid Society, said, “We commend the City for standing up for tenants who are living in apartments with terrible conditions that endanger the health and safety of themselves and their families. The Spiegel Law is an important tool for ensuring that landlords are not paid when they refuse to maintain their properties, and The Legal Aid Society looks forward to defending and working to enforce these tenants’ rights.”

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