Mayor de Blasio and Public Advocate James Announce City Withholding Rent Subsidies from Landlords of Two Buildings to Force Repair of Hundreds of Violations

December 1, 2016

Threat of similar withholding resulted in repair of nearly 1,200 housing code violations in 10 other buildings, home to 1,000 tenants

NEW YORK—Mayor Bill de Blasio and Public Advocate Letitia James today announced the City is withholding rent payments for tenants on public assistance in two buildings where the landlords have failed to repair hundreds of violations. The landlords are Jay Weiss, at 541 West 150 Street in Manhattan, and Agron Berisha, at 20 West 190th Street in the Bronx.

In May and using the Spiegel law, the City threatened to withhold rent payments to twelve “Dirty Dozen” buildings with a combined total of 2,081 code violations, the most serious of which included the presence of mold, leaks, broken windows, and missing window guards. The City’s action has resulted in 1,194 of those violations being cleared since May in 10 of the 12 buildings. As a result, the more than 1,000 tenants are living in significantly improved buildings.  

“It’s simple, when you pay the rent, you should get a decent place to live. We are hitting unscrupulous landlords who refuse to repair their buildings where it hurts the most – their wallets,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “We will continue to use every tool at our disposal to force property owners to follow the law, to clear housing code violations, and to ensure that every tenant in New York City has a safe home that they can afford.”

“New York City will no longer bankroll landlords who force their tenants to live in dangerous and unsanitary conditions,” said Public Advocate Letitia James. “By withholding rental assistance payments to these landlords, we will ensure that tenants are protected from hazardous conditions. Over one thousand tenants are already living in drastically improved buildings due to our actions six months ago, and we will not stop until every New Yorker is living in a safe and decent home."

The 1962 Spiegel Law allows the Human Resources Administration (HRA) to withhold rent payments for tenants receiving public assistance if conditions in the building are considered “dangerous, hazardous or detrimental to life and health.” The law specifically prohibits landlords from evicting their tenants for rent withholdings by the City. All of the owners of the “Dirty Dozen” buildings, listed below, were on the Public Advocate’s Worst Landlord Watchlist.

“By enforcing the Spiegel Law, we are sending a strong message to landlords who disregard the safety and health of their tenants that their actions will not be tolerated in our city,” said Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks.  “If property owners refuse to repair the violations in their buildings after receiving sufficient notice to do so, we will not hesitate to use every possible legal resource available to us to protect their tenants.”

“The Spiegel Act provides us with an additional tool to improve the conditions of the city’s most severely distressed properties and to protect our city’s tenants.  Many of the owners were quick to respond to our calls to improve conditions, and already we’ve seen violations reduced more than 75 percent in those buildings. HPD will continue to work with the Public Advocate and HRA to use all the available enforcement powers to ensure that landlords fulfill their responsibilities and properly maintain their buildings to keep New York families living in safe conditions,” said Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been

Last May, the eight owners of the “Dirty Dozen” buildings received a letter from HRA notifying them that the Spiegel Law was being invoked against them. They were directed to contact the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) within 15 days to request a re-inspection and Dismissal of Violations, which is an official confirmation that the conditions were corrected.

Six owners of 10 buildings have made substantial building-wide repairs since May, reducing the number of total violations in the buildings by 76 percent, from a combined total of 1,559 to 365. As a result, all tenants of the buildings, not just those on public assistance, are benefiting. The City will continue to monitor these buildings to ensure that the remaining violations are cleared.

Landlords Weiss and Berisha made some repairs but still left a substantial number of violations, including some of the most serious violations uncorrected. As a result, the City is stopping rent payments, totaling $4,710.42 a month, for the tenants receiving public assistance starting on December 1.

  • 541 West 150th St. has a total of 155 outstanding violations, 5.9 violations per apartment, 59 of which are Class C, considered “immediately hazardous.”
  • 20 West 190th St. has a total of 84 outstanding violations, 2.2 violations per apartment, 19 of which are Class C.

HPD’s Housing Litigation Division (HLD) has already taken legal action against the owners of these properties, and is considering filing comprehensive cases against them in New York City Housing Court. Additionally, HPD is considering the pursuit of a court appointed 7-A Administrator, a qualified third party administrator who manages residential properties and provides essential services through the 7A Program. 

Under the Spiegel Law, landlords cannot evict tenants when HRA withholds rent. The Legal Aid Society and Legal Services NYC, legal services organizations contracted by HRA to provide legal assistance for low-income tenants to stop tenant harassment and prevent unlawful evictions, will assist tenants if the landlords attempt to evict them. HRA contracts with these and other organizations as part of its $62 million investment in legal services programs for low-income tenants.

In addition, the Mayor’s Tenant Support Unit has gone door-to-door in the “Dirty Dozen” buildings multiple times, informing tenants’ about their rights and the actions the City is taking against their landlord. The Unit is working in collaboration with HPD and HRA to get tenants’ legal and repairs issues addressed, holding building owners accountable.

In addition to the 10 buildings where rent will not be withheld, the City successfully used the Spiegel Law with the landlords of two buildings in the Bronx in 2015. Both landlords resolved the violations in their buildings, and rent payments were ultimately not withheld. The law is a powerful enforcement tool, and one that had not been used for 20 years.  

The ten buildings where most violations were corrected and their landlords are listed below:

 

Landlords

Violations as of 5/19

Violations as of 11/30

Manhattan

133

Ft. George Avenue

10040

Yecheskel Berman

123

17

514

West 211 Street

10034

Maurice Sohaye, Robert Farhadian

167

49

Bronx

212

West Kingsbridge Rd

10463

Bashkim Celaj

140

64

2320

Creston Avenue

10468

Leze Gazivoda, Alex Gazivoda

138

41

410

East 173 Street

10457

Ferdo Skrelja

139

2

2015

Creston Avenue

10451

Ved Parkash

172

40

750

Grand Concourse

10451

Ved Parkash

308

88

751

Gerard Avenue

10451

Ved Parkash

196

28

315

East 196th Street

10458

Ved Parkash

128

28

Queens

90-23

171 Street

10432

Ved Parkash

48

8

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