New landlord worries Faile Street tenants

Ben Shanahan

Tenants say they’re paying out of pocket to address safety concerns such as broken locks at 836 Faile Street.

Owner has history converting buildings to shelters

At the 36-unit apartment building at 836 Faile Street, the mailbox doors hang open. The locks are gone. Garbage litters the dimly-lit hallways.

On several apartments, padlocks hold the front door shut, because the locks and doorknobs are broken.  The city has slapped the five-story building with 142 housing code violations.

Tenants have been battling in court to win improvements. Now, though, they worry that conditions will get worse.

Control of the building has changed hands three times in the last two years. The new owner is not responsible for its current state, but tenants say they’re worried about his intentions.  They fear he will seek to oust them in order to give the apartments to the homeless under a city program that pays a high rent.

“Through our research,” said Kerri White, the director of organizing and policy at the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, “we’ve found this group”—the real estate company headed by Joel Shafran—“is fairly active in terms of scatter site shelter development.”

Shafran has said this is not his plan for 836 Faile,  said White, but “refuses to meet with tenants in a formal setting.”

The fact that he hasn’t gotten a new lease for the apartment he’s occupied for three years has Najim Wabdul worried.  “I’ve requested a rent statement, and my lease renewal. I’m trying to figure out who owns the building, where to send the money, and how to renew my lease,” he said.

Wabdul isn’t only trying to pay his rent, though. He’d also like his concerns about the building addressed.

Given Shafran’s history, affordable housing advocates from Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association and the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board are trying to protect the tenants at 836 Faile. “They are very concerned about what this new owner’s plans are,” says White.

“We’ve tried to reach out,” says Ian Davie, a lawyer with Bronx Legal Services who has represented the tenants in their conflicts with successive landlords. “It’s very troubling. He says he’s not converting the building to a homeless shelter, but he hasn’t in any way addressed the tenants’ concerns.”

Davie notes that in the past Shafran’s has focused on converting abandoned hotels to shelters.

“I think this is a slightly different issue,” he said of Faile Street, because the hotels were already vacant. “Right now the building is about two-thirds full, but I think he is trying to find tenants to fill the vacancies,” Davie said.

Repeated attempts to reach Shafran were unsuccessful.

Shafran has encountered trouble in the Bronx before. At 1387 Grand Concourse, Shafran’s homeless shelter upset members of the community.

Wabdul, hasn’t heard anything about his building becoming a shelter, but he said that while “nobody wants to live next door to homeless people, at least there are some basic conditions” the landlord would have to meet.

He said he currently can expect there to be no hot water in the building “about once a month.” On three of this frigid winter’s coldest days, he said, there was no heat in the building. And Wabdul is so fed up with the rodent problem, he’s taken matters into his own hands, spending his own money on pest control.

“I’ve caught one rat, but it’s mostly mice,” he said.

Asher Neumann, the previous landlord at 836 Faile, lost the building in a foreclosure proceeding  for failure to pay the mortgage to Astoria Federal Savings Bank. A private equity firm called Stabilis, purchased the debt from Astoria, according to city records, and Neumann stayed on as the landlord while Stabilis sought a new buyer.

Stabilis did not respond to tenant concerns during its stewardship of the building. The firm has purchased numerous buildings throughout the Bronx, and its large portfolio has spread its attention thin.

UHAB worked with tenants at 836 Faile to protest poor conditions in the building, and advocates at Banana Kelly are currently assisting tenants at 755 Jackson Ave. in Mott Haven, a building also under Stabilis’ umbrella.

Eric Goldfischer, a tenant organizer with Banana Kelly, says that previously, 836 Faile was “not owned by responsible people.”  Now, tenants will have to wait to see if its latest landlord will be an improvement.

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