The New York City Housing Authority has once again earned the embarrassing distinction of being one of the worst landlords in the five boroughs, according to data compiled by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
The public advocate's office on Tuesday released its annual Worst Landlord Watch List, which judges landlords against the number of open tenant repair requests. While the list measures 100 bad landlords according to the number of B and C violations—considered the most egregious—received through the city Department Housing Preservation and Development, NYCHA's metrics were measured according to the number of work orders filed, since HPD holds no oversight over NYCHA properties.
This marked the third year in a row that city's public housing made the list, a stinging indictment against Mayor Bill de Blasio and his administration's management of the aging developments. The 326 NYCHA-owned properties are home to some 400,000 New Yorkers. In October 2020, the number of work orders has jumped to nearly 462,000 compared to around 236,000 in two years ago.
"The de Blasio administration itself is among the worst landlords this year in part because they have failed to hold bad actors accountable again and again throughout this tenure," Williams said during a virtual press conference.
While NYCHA is a federally-funded housing program, it's managed by the city, which has had a spotty history in creating livable conditions for tenants. Under the de Blasio administration, the agency admitted that more than 800 children testing positive for high exposure to lead. In October, the federal monitor overseeing NYCHA found the number of children potentially exposed to lead paint at NYCHA is three times greater than once reported. Last week, an investigation revealed that a NYCHA unit charged with removing lead from public housing routinely falsified records meant to ensure the work was properly supervised.
The public advocate's list was compiled using violation and work order data filed from December 2019 to November this year. A chunk of those violations were found in communities of color across the city.
Several tenants joined Williams at the news conference.
Janine Lettsome, a lifelong NYCHA tenant living at Murphy Consolidated Houses in the Bronx, said two of her kids have struggled with school as a result of high traces of lead found in their blood.
"When can the situation be changed so that no more children go through this?" Lettsome said.
Saundrea Coleman, a longtime tenant leader at the Stanley Isaac Houses in the Upper East Side, blames city, state, and the federal government for its "willful negligence" of hundreds of thousands of residents and continued disinvestment in public housing over the years.
Coleman said the COVID-19 pandemic has made conditions even worse at her building at a time when New Yorkers were told to stay at home. Coleman and other tenants have since filed a lawsuit over conditions.
"The conditions we live in are criminal," Coleman said. "My apartment has excessive heat, leaks in my kitchen and bathroom."
She added: "Our elevators are out of service several times a week. Our grounds have a rat infestation."
NYCHA referred questions to City Hall.
Laura Feyer, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio, said the administration has "invested more to improve conditions at NYCHA than any other mayor in our city's history."
Feyer added, "The Mayor also cares deeply about protecting tenants, which is why, among other initiatives, he created the Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants in 2019, which is currently talking bad landlords to court.”
Under the plan, the city is committing $2.2 billion in funding through 2029 to address issues of lead-based paint, mold, heating issues, and vermin.
Rounding out the top five worst individual landlords are Jason Korn, who ranks as the most egregious landlord, with 1,822 open HPD violations at ten of his buildings, mostly in Brooklyn. He was joined by Lewis Barbanel, who had with 1,393 violations; Robert Raphael, with 1,229 violations; Abdul Khan with 1,195 violations; and David Blau with 952 violations.
Williams only considered B and C HPD violations—considered the most heinous because they include cases of mold and rats—in determining who made the list.
John Bianco, an attorney for Korn, disputes the numbers, telling Gothamist that Williams did not include the number of dismissal requests which would have offset the number of open HPD violations. He also claims that the number of violations don’t match the number of violations on the HPD website. He claims that the real should be 594 violations, which he says is one per unit and should take him off the list.
Rose Helesca, a tenant at one of Korn’s buildings in Brooklyn, organized a rent strike this summer over conditions in the building.
"At 2 o'clock in the morning he turned the heat on us for two days," Helesca said. "When we called him in the morning he said, 'Oh, I was just trying to see if the heat worked.' In August?"
Pamela Jackson, a 20-year-resident in one of Khan's buildings, said she's been living under conditions that include an infestation of vermin and bed bugs, no heat and hot water, and broken windows.
"During the pandemic people were told to stay home, but my home has been unlivable due to this landlord not taking care of the tenants needs in a proper manner," Jackson said. "The conditions have been like this since Khan bought the building."
Blau's office declined to comment. Barbanel, Raphael, and Abdul did not immediately respond to request for comment.
While the public advocate's office has no legal authority over landlords, its annual list has been used to shame landlords into fixing conditions in their buildings.
A full list of the worst landlords across the city can be found here.