Housing

Southern Boulevard building among city’s worst

Becky Holladay

Tenants Liliane Collado and her mother, Marfies Tavarez, at their apartment at 922 Southern Boulevard.

Brooklyn-based landlord is nearly untraceable

Liliane Collado opened her kitchen cabinet one day about a year ago to get some candy out for her kids and a rat flew out, sailing over their heads. “They also ate a gallon of oil,” Collado says. When she discovered the bottle of corn oil with a hole in it, she ran down to the manager’s office of her building at 922 Southern Boulevard, crying and screaming, bottle in hand.

Tired of her complaints falling on the super’s deaf ears, she demanded the landlord’s contact information. “They told me, ‘There’s no landlord. We’re a big company.’” So she began calling 311.  Three years and an estimated 20 complaints later, the city finally came to inspect and repairs were made. But not before Collado and her family had paid at least $700 to make their own repairs. In addition to the vermin, there was peeling paint, a safety hazard for her three young children, and a bathroom covered in mold, which was triggering her 7-year-old’s asthma.

Collado’s mother, Marfies Tavarez, moved into the building 36 years ago and raised four children there. She says that out of all six of the different landlords she has known over the years, this one is the worst. “Even in the ‘80s when they were dealing drugs out of the building, at least the building was in good condition,” said Tavarez in Spanish, with her daughter providing translation.

922 Southern Boulevard has earned the dubious distinction of landing on the city housing department’s list of worst landlords, along with several other buildings in the neighborhood: 900 Hoe Ave., 636 Manida St., 910 Southern Boulevard, and 1117 Westchester Ave. As with Collado’s building, three of those are also owned by absentee landlords with nearly untraceable addresses in Brooklyn who have formed separate LLCs — limited liability companies — for each building. As a result, the landlords are not listed by name or number on any public documents, including the state’s registration of corporations.

“Too often the same landlords that are subjecting tenants to horrible conditions, are also using deceptive practices to avoid accountability,” says the city’s public advocate, Letitia James, who also maintains a citywide list of deadbeat property owners. “Many landlords on our Worst Landlords Watchlist use pseudonyms or variations of their names when registering their buildings to prevent the city or advocates from knowing the full extent of violations across all of their buildings. Landlords should not be able to hide behind a veil of secrecy.”

The city Department of Housing and Preservation puts the worst violators in a program called the Alternative Enforcement Program, whereby building owners must correct violations within four months or face stiff penalties. But until the city catches up with those landlords — and that process can take years — most tenants are forced to deal with repairs on their own.

“They don’t care about us. They only fix things when the city tells them to,” said a tenant at 1275 Lafayette Ave. who didn’t want to give her name out of fear of retribution. She has dealt with mold and vermin for three years. She has a number for the landlord, but she doesn’t know his or her name and when she has called, she’s been told to tell the super who still fails to make repairs. Three months ago, she said, the city came to do an inspection and some repairs were made.

The public advocate’s database includes eight buildings in Hunts Point and Longwood — 875 Longwood Ave., 910 Southern Boulevard, 1049 Fox St., 900 Hoe Ave., 1275 Lafayette Ave., 758 Kelly St., 1096 West Farms Road, and 673 Dawson St. Each has more than 125 open building violations. The list is updated annually. Seven of these buildings were owned by LLCs with addresses in Brooklyn or Yonkers.

A business owner at 900 Hoe Ave. who also didn’t want to be named said that he left out rat poison in his store one night and found 30 dead rats in the morning. He and his workers can hear rats scurrying in the ceiling above them. “I hear them all the time, running like crazy. They sound like dogs running back and forth. One of these days, the ceiling is going to fall in.”

Anna Mateo has lived at 900 Hoe Ave. for more than 12 years. She said no repairs had been made on her apartment recently, but that “some city agency had left a paper on her door.”  There are broken tiles in her kitchen, a ceiling that’s caving in, mold and mildew, and a pantry she can’t use because the rats have taken over. “I had to get a cat, even though I’m allergic,” she says.

Newly elected City Council member Rafael Salamanca thinks the city has to devise a method where landlords can be easily traced and therefore held responsible for maintaining their buildings.

“When I hang up now, I’m going to call my City Hall contact and see if we can pass a law to have a database where all of these landlords are registered under one name,” Salamanca said in a phone interview this week. “There should be a database and the Department of Buildings should be responsible for it.”

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