In an attempt to put more pressure on some of New York's worst landlords, the city is trying something new: the Department of Social Services will withhold rent payments for eight notorious landlords' tenants who receive public assistance, unless the landlords quickly resolve 2,000-plus violations spread across 12 buildings in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens. More than 350 of those violations are classified as "immediately hazardous," such as inadequate fire exits, rodents, lead-based paint, and lack of heat, hot water, electricity, or gas.
The eight landlords—Yecheskel Berman; Maurice Sohaye and Robert Farhadian; Jay Weiss; Agron Berisha; Bashkim Celaj; Leze Gazivoda and Alex Gazivoda; Ferdo Skrelja; and Ved Parkash—are all on the Landlord Watch List released last fall by the Public Advocate's office. Parkash topped that list, and he has five properties to which the city will stop making rent payments for some tenants, while the other landlords have just one each.
Tish James says five of buildings with violations are "owned by the number one slumlord who happens to live in a beautiful mansion"
— laura (@nahmias) May 26, 2016
Those 12 buildings, which the city has dubbed the "Dirty Dozen," are home to over 1,800 tenants, 72 of whom are on public assistance.
In order to legally withhold rent payments for those 72 tenants, the city is invoking the 1962 Spiegel Law, which allows its Human Resources Administration/Department of Social Services to stop making payments if conditions in the building are "dangerous, hazardous, or detrimental to life and health." HRA/DSS has sent letters to the landlords informing them that if they don't request a re-inspection to show that they've corrected the violations within 15 days, the city can start withholding rent, which will amount to about $30,000/month.
It's possible it won't get to that point: the city invoked the Spiegel Law in two test cases against landlords in the Bronx last year, and both landlords fixed the violations before any rent payments were withheld.
Parkash alone is currently a defendant in at least 25 active housing lawsuits, five of which go to court today. Residents of 750 Grand Concourse, which is among the buildings from which the city might withhold rent payments, say that they're living without hot water or cooking gas, that their ceilings are peeling, and that the building is full of lead paint.
Some residents report having to cook on hot plates, while others, like Rick Moreno, complain of rat infestations: Moreno told the Daily News that he's started putting rat traps in his shower even though he knows they'll grow mold, because "it's better than having the rats come in."
— CASA New Settlement (@CASAbronx) May 26, 2016
When that lawsuit was first reported in April, 750 Grand Concourse had more than 500 violations, and Parkash’s son Anurag said that they were trying to fix the conditions as quickly as possible. Since early April, the number of violations has dropped to "just" 309. When we spoke to Parkash upon the release of the Landlord Watch List, he said, "Ha ha, nothing is going on my building...My building are the best."
Keriann Pauls, a lawyer with the Urban Justice Center who is representing residents of 750 Grand Concourse and 1530 Sheridan Avenue (which is not on this latest list) in court today, said that she was "pleased to hear the City is using the tools and resources available to take action and hold landlords, including Ved Parkash accountable to the laws set for to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of New York residents."
But it's possible Parkash isn't necessarily the worst landlord in the city—just the least crafty. The majority of the owners on the Landlord Watch List are registered as anonymous LLCs, which makes pursuing legal action against them quite difficult.
As Legal Services NYC litigation director Ed Josephson told us in November, "people try to sue their landlords, and they can’t even find them. They find out what looks like a real address is actually a post office box."
"By refusing to keep paying landlords whose buildings are in deplorable condition, the City is taking a stand for New York City tenants," Josephson said in a statement today. "These landlords have neglected their buildings and their tenants have had to endure unsafe and unsanitary conditions for years."