Threat of similar withholding resulted in repair of nearly 1,200 housing code violations in 10 other buildings, home to 1,000 tenants
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Public Advocate Letitia James today announced the City is withholding rent payments for tenants on public assistance in two buildings where the landlords have failed to repair hundreds of violations. The landlords are Jay Weiss, at 541 West 150 Street in Manhattan, and Agron Berisha, at 20 West 190th Street in the Bronx.
In May and using the Spiegel law, the City threatened to withhold rent payments to twelve “Dirty Dozen” buildings with a combined total of 2,081 code violations, the most serious of which included the presence of mold, leaks, broken windows, and missing window guards. The City’s action has resulted in 1,194 of those violations being cleared since May in 10 of the 12 buildings. As a result, the more than 1,000 tenants are living in significantly improved buildings.
“It’s simple, when you pay the rent, you should get a decent place to live. We are hitting unscrupulous landlords who refuse to repair their buildings where it hurts the most – their wallets,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “We will continue to use every tool at our disposal to force property owners to follow the law, to clear housing code violations, and to ensure that every tenant in New York City has a safe home that they can afford.”
“New York City will no longer bankroll landlords who force their tenants to live in dangerous and unsanitary conditions,” said Public Advocate Letitia James. “By withholding rental assistance payments to these landlords, we will ensure that tenants are protected from hazardous conditions. Over one thousand tenants are already living in drastically improved buildings due to our actions six months ago, and we will not stop until every New Yorker is living in a safe and decent home."
The 1962 Spiegel Law allows the Human Resources Administration (HRA) to withhold rent payments for tenants receiving public assistance if conditions in the building are considered “dangerous, hazardous or detrimental to life and health.” The law specifically prohibits landlords from evicting their tenants for rent withholdings by the City. All of the owners of the “Dirty Dozen” buildings, listed below, were on the Public Advocate’s Worst Landlord Watchlist.
“By enforcing the Spiegel Law, we are sending a strong message to landlords who disregard the safety and health of their tenants that their actions will not be tolerated in our city,” said Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks. “If property owners refuse to repair the violations in their buildings after receiving sufficient notice to do so, we will not hesitate to use every possible legal resource available to us to protect their tenants.”
“The Spiegel Act provides us with an additional tool to improve the conditions of the city’s most severely distressed properties and to protect our city’s tenants. Many of the owners were quick to respond to our calls to improve conditions, and already we’ve seen violations reduced more than 75 percent in those buildings. HPD will continue to work with the Public Advocate and HRA to use all the available enforcement powers to ensure that landlords fulfill their responsibilities and properly maintain their buildings to keep New York families living in safe conditions,” said Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been.
Last May, the eight owners of the “Dirty Dozen” buildings received a letter from HRA notifying them that the Spiegel Law was being invoked against them. They were directed to contact the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to request a re-inspection and Dismissal of Violations, which is an official confirmation that the conditions were corrected.
Six owners of 10 buildings have made substantial building-wide repairs since May, reducing the number of total violations in the buildings by 76 percent, from a combined total of 1,559 to 365. As a result, all tenants of the buildings, not just those on public assistance, are benefiting. The City will continue to monitor these buildings to ensure that the remaining violations are cleared.
Landlords Weiss and Berisha made some repairs but still left a substantial number of violations, including some of the most serious violations uncorrected. As a result, the City is stopping rent payments, totaling $4,710.42 a month, for the tenants receiving public assistance starting on December 1.
· 541 West 150th St. has a total of 155 outstanding violations, 5.9 violations per apartment, 59 of which are Class C, considered “immediately hazardous.”
· 20 West 190th St. has a total of 84 outstanding violations, 2.2 violations per apartment, 19 of which are Class C.
HPD’s Housing Litigation Division (HLD) has already taken legal action against the owners of these properties, and is considering filing comprehensive cases against them in New York City Housing Court. Additionally, HPD is considering the pursuit of a court appointed 7-A Administrator, a qualified third party administrator who manages residential properties and provides essential services through the 7A Program.
Under the Spiegel Law, landlords cannot evict tenants when HRA withholds rent. The Legal Aid Society and Legal Services NYC, legal services organizations contracted by HRA to provide legal assistance for low-income tenants to stop tenant harassment and prevent unlawful evictions, will assist tenants if the landlords attempt to evict them. HRA contracts with these and other organizations as part of its $62 million investment in legal services programs for low-income tenants.
In addition, the Mayor’s Tenant Support Unit has gone door-to-door in the “Dirty Dozen” buildings multiple
times, informing tenants’ about their rights and the actions the City is taking against their landlord. The Unit is working in collaboration with HPD and HRA to get tenants’ legal and repairs issues addressed, holding building owners accountable.
In addition to the 10 buildings where rent will not be withheld, the City successfully used the Spiegel Law with the landlords of two buildings in the Bronx in 2015. Both landlords resolved the violations in their buildings, and rent payments were ultimately not withheld. The law is a powerful enforcement tool, and one that had not been used for 20 years.
The ten buildings where most violations were corrected and their landlords are listed below:
|Violations as of 5/19||Violations as of 11/30|
|133||Ft. George Avenue||Yecheskel Berman||123||17|
|514||West 211 Street||Maurice Sohaye, Robert Farhadian||167||49|
|212||West Kingsbridge Rd||Bashkim Celaj||140||64|
|2320||Creston Avenue||Leze Gazivoda, Alex Gazivoda||138||41|
|410||East 173 Street||Ferdo Skrelja||139||2|
|2015||Creston Avenue||Ved Parkash||172||40|
|750||Grand Concourse||Ved Parkash||308||88|
|751||Gerard Avenue||Ved Parkash||196||28|
|315||East 196th Street||Ved Parkash||128||28|
|90-23||171 Street||Ved Parkash||48||8|