Housing

Hunts Point landlord forcing out tenants

Angely Mercado

A tenant points to her damaged kitchen floor at 836 Faile Street.

Private firm is letting building they bought crumble

Tenants in a Hunts Point building say they have lived for years with mold, leaks, balky plumbing and rats, but what’s worse is that rather than fixing the litany of problems, the landlord is trying to push them out.

Stabilis Capital, a private equity group, acquired the 36-apartment building at 836 Faile Street in 2012, after the building had gone into foreclosure a year earlier.

The firm has bought a number of foreclosed buildings in the Bronx and Queens, according to Kerri White of the non-profit Urban Homesteading Assistance Board. She says signs are “they don’t plan on keeping the buildings long term, they want to sell them.”

White’s group has worked with the tenants to try to force the landlord to make repairs. She calls Stabilis part of a “new crop of speculators,” referring to similar instances in which private equity firms have bought rundown buildings in order to flip them for big profits, while pressuring tenants to leave rather than improving conditions.

Stabilis bought the debt from the previous landlord, Asher Neuman, who is still involved in the building’s upkeep during a transitional phase. In an email response to questions from the Express, Neuman wrote, “I don’t know of any hazardous conditions that exist in the building,” and that “repairs have been done to every complaint that has been reported to the office.”

Tenants dispute that.

An electrical fire broke out in an apartment on the sixth floor last winter, where Joanna Paulino lives with her six children.

“The fire marshal did state that the fire was caused due to the wiring,” she said. “I sleep with a fire extinguisher next to me now”.

The super and porter were supposed to fix the ceiling afterwards, Paulino said, but the new wires were left exposed for months after the repairs.

“He started getting mad at me when I requested a licensed electrician,” she said.

Rather than paying rent to the landlord, Paulino is giving her rent check to her lawyer for safekeeping. Since then, the landlord has been sending her eviction notices, the most recent one on June 28th.

Stabilis did not return calls to comment.

The building is listed as one of the city’s worst, and has over 170 open violations. Paulino and others say the landlord and super has warned them that if they contact the city’s department of Housing Preservation and Development, which oversees the building, “we’d be put at the bottom of their priority list.”

A spokesman for the housing department, Eric Bederman, wrote in an email response to the Express that the agency “has spent $13,128 from 2000-2012 to perform emergency repairs to correct the most hazardous conditions because the owner failed to fix those violations in a timely manner.”

The agency  is involved in 15 cases brought against the owner in housing court, Bederman added, including one requiring the owner to correct the violations and pay $2000 in penalties.

Carmen Flores, a fourth-floor tenant who lives with her three children, says the landlord, the management company and the super have all ignored her complaints. Her kitchen floor is a maze of missing tiles, holes and cracks. The few repairs that have been made are partial and haphazard.

“He only put two pieces of wood right here, and he drilled these nails in the floor and it cracked the tile,” she said, pointing to a spot.

Several cabinets in Flores’ kitchen are broken or missing, a window is coming out, and the wooden floor can be seen rotting beneath the sink, which leaks constantly.

In his email response to the Express, Neuman, the landlord, wrote that the superintendent lives in the building. Tenants and advocates insist he doesn’t.

“There’s no super that lives in the building, which is actually illegal for a building of this size, and the porter is drunk all the time. He’s actually chased after the kids with machetes,” said Elise Goldin of the housing advocacy group.

Tenants sent a letter to Stabilis in June, urging the group to sell the building to a reputable developer the city’s housing preservation and development department could vouch for. The housing department approved a developer, who then made an offer on the building, but Stabilis rejected it.

The tenants and the advocates worry that if Stabilis accepts a higher offer from a less responsible landlord, repairs won’t get made and the atrocious conditions will persist.The advocates have tried to arrange a meeting between tenants and the landlord, but thus far Stabilis has not complied, according to White.

Goldin says Stabilis is disregarding a commitment it made to the tenants when it bought 836 Faile St. last year.

“They bought the debt and now they need to take responsibility for the building,” she said.

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