NEW YORK—Negligent Bronx landlords have felt the heat of the media spotlight ever since the dilapidated Millbank properties foreclosed two years ago. Now the landlords of 4619 Park Ave. in the Bronx might lose control of their property.
These landlords stand out as some of the worst of the worst, says Urban Justice Center Staff Attorney Garrett Wright.
Wright is representing tenants of the building in a lawsuit announced Thursday. The goal is to take the power from the landlords, Luigi and Pasqualina Capriglione, and put it into the hands of a qualified administrator appointed by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). The administrator would not work directly for the city agency, but for a nonprofit organization, explained Wright.
The administrator would take the rent paid by tenants and put it toward repairs. The landlord would lose all control of the building, except for the power to sell.
Each unit at 4619 Park Ave. has over 30 violations; the building has 104 class “C” violations, the worst kind—an unheard of number in such a small building, said Wright. The landlords face $379,960 in HPD liens, $17,250 in Environmental Control Board liens, and $14,250 in other city liens.
The building made Public Advocate Bill de Blasio's Worst Landlord Watch List, made available on Craig's List and released Monday this week.
After a barrage of tenant complaints, the building entered the HPD Alternative Enforcement Program (AEP) in November 2008. That basically means the HPD came in to make emergency repairs in the dire health and safety situation—all from taxpayers’ pockets.
The tenants and community groups say three years of repairs on the city’s dollar is enough. If they succeed in their lawsuit, the tenants' rent money will go to making their apartments habitable.
Felix Fernandez has lived in the building for two and a half years. He's seen fearless rats the size of “Green Bay linebackers.” The rats have destroyed his appliances, all of which he had to pay to replace himself. The whole building lived without heat or hot water this winter.
Fernandez and his wife both have asthma. Their walls are still coated black from the steam that funneled constantly into their apartment from the boiler in the basement. All of their furniture was coated and had to be scrapped.
“The landlord had the audacity to say to me, 'be careful when you take a shower because the floor might cave in.' If the floor is going to cave in, why don't you fix it?!” exclaimed Fernandez. “I'm on a first-name basis with the lady at HPD,” he said.
HPD has made major repairs in the building and the transformation in Fernandez's apartment is astounding when compared to photos of the way it used to be. Among his photos is one of a ripped up HPD building inspection notice the building's super left in the hallway.
One time, says Wright, the super spit at him from an upper floor. The glob of saliva landed on the repair sheets in the attorney's hand.
This shows a decided lack of enthusiasm to make needed changes, says Nehemiah Bey of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC). The HPD-appointed administrator would have the power to replace the current super.
Bey says this isn't just a problem at 4619 Park Ave., this isn't just a problem just at the infamous Millbank properties, this is a problem all over the Bronx.
“It's a matter of how we can take the energy from Millbank and spread it all over the Bronx, to empower the tenants to act,” he said.
Also on Thursday, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and tenant advocates called for action on 34 foreclosed properties in the Bronx. Quinn said Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation should mandate New York City Bank evaluate the finances of the landlords and living conditions at these building and disclose information about necessary repairs.