If you’re a New York landlord who mistreats tenants, consider yourself on notice.
Public Advocate Letitia “Tish” James released the latest “Worst Landlords Watchlist” on Tuesday. The list ranks landlords based on the number of open violations their buildings have received from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). It serves as a resource for prospective tenants and those considering organizing against an abusive landlord.
At a rally in Foley Square to announce the release of the list, James ran through a litany of privations that city tenants suffer, including vermin and mold infestation, dilapidated units, lack of heat and hot water and gas, leaks and unsafe electrical systems. The list, she said, aims to warn landlords and hold them accountable.
“Today, we shame them,” James said. “Today we put them on blast.”
Jonathan Cohen, owner of Silvershore Properties, earned the dubious distinction of #1 on the list. His company owns 188 units in 19 buildings, with 1,090 violations on HPD’s record. One rally participant carried a sign that read, “We Deplore Silvershore.” A group of Brooklyn tenants is currently suing Silvershore over alleged harassment.
According to HPD, tenants in Cohen’s properties have gone without heat and hot water, and damaged or vermin-infested units go unrepaired.
“His behavior is immoral,” James said. “It’s unethical, and it will not be tolerated.”
Silvershore Properties disputed its culpability for the violations, blaming former owners. “19 buildings that Silvershore recently purchased were listed as having an average of a large number of violations in 2017,” a Silvershore representative wrote to Theink.nyc in an email.
Jessica Rico, 56, found the rally’s message resonant. A lifelong New Yorker who currently lives on the Lower East Side, Rico stopped by while running errands in the area.
She said she has experienced all manner of harassment from landlords.
“I’ve been through it, over it, around it, under it, you have no clue,” Rico said. “So bad that I was glad my baby was in my stomach and didn’t have to go through what I went through.”
Rico used to work as a hospital dietary aide but is now retired because of a chronic pain condition. She’s had landlords turn the heat off in the middle of winter and even remove the front door to her apartment to try to get her to move out, she said. With Social Security benefits, she was able to purchase a co-op. But the memory of abusive landlords haunts her.
“You want to wake up and not have that doom and gloom over your head,” Rico said through tears.
James gave reporters an inside look at two buildings whose owners are on the Watchlist.
At 401 Macon St. in Bedford-Stuyvesant, which is owned by Ervin Johnson, #14 on the Watchlist, violations included broken mailboxes, mold infestations and defective light fixtures the management claimed to have fixed.
A majority of the building’s residents are seniors, and many have special needs, James said. Because the postal service cannot legally deliver mail to unsecured mailboxes, residents have to walk eight blocks to a post office, a formidable obstacle for elderly residents, she noted.
Henry Nash, 69, a veteran who has lived at 401 Macon for four years, is disabled and walks with a cane, so the eight-block trip to the post office is a challenge for him.
“I’ve never seen a place like this in my life,” Nash said. “Every time something gets fixed, management changes and things keep breaking down.”
Landlord Johnson, who was also the subject of a Reuters report on lead poisoning Tuesday, did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Theink.nyc
Solomon Quick, 73, has lived at 401 Macon since 2004, and says he’s had problems with the heat being turned off in winter. Quick is retired, but his wife works as an in-home health care attendant. She works 8-hour shifts and Quick said he feels demoralized when she comes home after a long day to a freezing apartment.
Despite the conditions on display at 401 Macon, James was careful to note that those on the list represent the minority of New York landlords. “The vast majority of landlords in the city of New York are responsible individuals and we thank them,” James said at the rally.
Bill de Blasio started the Worst Landlords Watchlist in 2010, when he was the city’s public advocate. It is not an enforcement tool in that the public advocate’s office cannot impose penalties on the offenders.
But the public attention can hurt by drawing away potential tenants.
As evidence to the strategy’s success, James pointed to six landlords who were in the top 10 on the list last year and did not make it at all this year. “Shame works,” James told Theink.nyc.