Sunset Park tenants, their supporters and pols gathered in front of their homes on Thursday, November 16 to raise awareness of unfair treatment after their landlord was deemed worst in the city. Jonathan Cohen of Silvershore Properties, owner of 5416 and 5422 4th Avenue, was ranked No. 1 on the city’s 2017 Worst Landlord Watchlist.
“This is a landlord that basically puts profit over people,” said Public Advocate Letitia James, who released the list. “Silvershore bought many of these buildings in the last few years like these two buildings, but they are not making active repairs.”
Stephanie Lewkowitz, tenant advocate and organizer for the Fifth Avenue Committee and Neighbors Helping Neighbors, discussed the injustices tenants have been experiencing over the past couple of years.
“They don’t have a super on site and have no one to go to when there’s immediate emergency repair that has to be done,” she said. “The garbage piles up. I think they heard we were coming and yesterday, they cleaned the area. The residents took pictures the day before and yesterday when they cleaned. The garbage would be piled up everywhere.”
Another complaint was security. “There are two doors and the door in the front is broken so tenants can’t lock the first door,” Lewkowitz explained. “They can lock the second one, but in the middle of those two doors, they’ve observed people doing heroin and smoking pot. They’ve seen drunk people sleeping in the hallways and there are little children in the building, One tenant was with her five-year-old granddaughter and a man was exposing himself. They screamed and he ran out. This happens a lot.”
“The apartment of Mrs. Papaya, a single mother to three children who has lived here 26 years, has been exposed to unsafe electrical wiring and mice,” James said. “The building also has issues with individuals wandering around the halls and they’re able to walk through the front door without a key. Mrs. Papaya’s children have seen men expose themselves. Tenants ask for cameras and locks on their front doors but they haven’t received them.
Attendees contended that Silvershore has been buying rent stabilized buildings with the purpose of destabilizing, harassing the tenants and flipping the apartments to higher paying tenants. “The reality is that what Silvershore is attempting to do is eviction by neglect,” said James.
“This happens to the building at 5422,” said Lewkowitz. “There were a lot of old tenants and they’ve left little by little and you’ve seen an increase in new tenants coming in paying higher rents compared to the other tenants that have lived there. They have better conditions. The apartments have renovations and they don’t have as many problems as the older tenants that live here.”
“They’re actively buying out tenants and offering them as little as $3,000 to leave their apartment. In most cases, the apartments that were vacated are being renovated and the tenants that stayed continue to have problems and not get repairs and continue to live with roaches, rats and mold,” added James.”They have been actively engaged in a campaign to evict these individuals so they can raise the rents and take advantage of the market. When tenants started complaining to 311 and HPD (New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development), Silvershore urged them to stop and instead come to the management company directly. It’s a company that makes no attempt to communicate with them in Spanish, refusing to recognize who they are and their humanity.”
Jane Li, an attorney from the Urban Justice Center, discussed the civil action being taken. “We had to sue Silvershore in order to get them to make repairs in this building,” she said. “They’re making this money off the backs of these working families and people that deserve to live in their community and be safe in their home.”
She added while repairs are being made, the landlord is using the repairs process as a means to harass the tenants.
“They require multiple days to inspect and repair, but they will fix one small thing and the tenants have to take work off an entire day and lose much-needed income,” she said.
Tenants were pleading for help.
“I’ve lived in this building for 18 years and I’m asking Silvershore to treat us like humans,” said Silvia T. through a translator “We want repairs. We pay the rent every month. We want to raise our children in a safe environment and we don’t want them to be in danger. We are done living in the middle of the garbage. We want a super that we can contact whenever we problems in our apartment.”
“We need someone to clean the building,” said another tenant. “Since we don’t have a super, there are a lot of rats, roaches, ants. They tell us they’ll send someone to exterminate and no one comes.”
Petra Garcia, who lives with her children, allowed attendees and Councilmember Carlos Menchaca to enter her apartment to view the poor conditions, which included damaged piping, holes on the floor from rodents and ceilings leaking water into the bathroom. A tied-up curtain held the water from the leak.
“You can smell the rats,” she said. “There are holes on the floor and there are awful conditions in my bathroom. That is proof they haven’t done repairs. I can’t sleep or cook in my house because of the conditions I live in.”
In response to a request for comment, Silvershore released a statement.
“Nineteen buildings that Silvershore recently purchased were listed as having an average of a large number of open violations in 2017,” it read. “Majority of the properties have been purchased from long term owners who have neglected the properties and many of the problems causing the violations were inherited at our purchase. We have done a tremendous amount of work in these properties and expect the number of violations to be reduced significantly once the HPD dismissal inspections are scheduled this month. We have been extremely proactive about addressing any issues in each of the buildings. The violations cannot be removed until there is an inspection; majority of the work has been completed and we are awaiting an inspection date.”
The statement did not go down well with those at the rally.
“The building was old but he knew what he was buying and what he was getting into,” said Lewkowitz. “We did a rally two months ago in front of his building in the city and handed him a letter to ask him to come to the building and meet the tenants so he could see the disrepair this building is in and he rejected that offer.”
According to the list, Silvershore has 188 units in 19 buildings with 1090 HPD violations.
[Photos by Jaime DeJesus]
Editor’s note: A version of this story originally ran in the Brooklyn Reporter. You can see it here.
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