Op-Ed: Holding bad landlords accountable

In January, more than 60 families in the Bronx parted ways with the worst-rated landlord in New York City: Eli Abbott of College Management. Through tenant organizing and public pressure, these tenacious families showed that bad landlords can be held accountable.

Their three buildings were recently purchased by a new management company – a joint venture between Banana Kelly and Wavecrest Management — committed to keeping rents affordable and making much-needed repairs.

Dominga Sanchez, a tenant leader of College Avenue Tenants United, described her experience with the notorious landlord: “It’s been a long, hard fight with this landlord. He just wanted to come collect rent, without provided basic services. We’ve been suffering with lack of heat, hot water, chronic leaks—you name it! I am so excited that he is no longer our landlord! We are so hopeful that the new landlords will be different.”

Eli Abbott wasn’t just a bad landlord. From toxic mold to infestations, he racked up roughly 700 infractions and landed first on our NYC’s Worst Landlords Watch List. My office launched the interactive website in 2010, and ever since we’ve been using it to pinpoint repeat offenders whose buildings have slipped into dangerous disrepair.

We work in conjunction with Craigslist to inform apartment hunters of the building’s status and caution potential renters. Of the 307 buildings on our list, 147 are in Brooklyn – more than in any other borough. Tenants in those buildings face conditions ranging from lead paint to broken plumbing.

At 701 infractions, Brooklyn’s Maristanc Corp. didn’t trail far behind College Management on our list of worst landlords. It’s now number one in New York City. Gaining 47 infractions since 2011, its building currently has 438 B Class violations and 169 C Class violations, which the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) characterizes as hazardous and immediately hazardous, respectively.

Hazardous violations include inadequate lighting in public areas, lack of a posted Certificate of Occupancy, or failure to remove vermin. Immediately hazardous violations are even worse, and can include inadequate fire exits, rodents, lead-based paint, and lack of heat, hot water, electricity or gas. This can’t continue. Tenants deserve for careless landlords to be brought to justice.

College Management’s tenants should inspire New Yorkers continuing to fight against irresponsible landlords like Brooklyn’s Maristanc Corp. They started organizing against Eli Abbott in August 2011, after years of digging into their own pockets for building repairs.

Soon after these organizing efforts began, the landlord put the buildings up for sale. Worried that one bad landlord would replace another, more than half of the tenants in the buildings brought three separate 7A actions against the owner.

These lawsuits provided leverage that helped negotiate the sale of the buildings. With intervention from HPD and community partners, tenants finally succeeded in selling the buildings to a responsible property owner. These are the kind of results that persistence and unity of purpose can bring.

Already, 298 buildings that made the necessary repairs have been removed from my “Worst Landlord List.” Already, we have seen progress and witnessed the success that tenant organizing and public pressure can bring in calling out irresponsible landlords. But we can’t become complacent after this victory. We must push our way forward, until we can scratch every building off the list. One by one.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.