Brooklyn Building Ranked Worst In NYC

Carmen Piniero begrudgingly agreed when her landlord asked her to stay in a hotel for two nights in June – and when she returned, her Brooklyn apartment had been torn apart.

It remains that way more than four months later, several rooms rendered uninhabitable due to the surprise construction. Piniero, who has lived in the same rent-stabilized apartment for more than five decades, believes the building’s management company is undergoing a deliberately slow renovation to force her out so her apartment can be turned into a co-op and sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“They even offered to buy me a one-way ticket to Puerto Rico so I would leave,” said Pinero, 73. “They are trying to move me out. It’s terrible. I can barely live here.”

Piniero is paying $562 a month for an apartment in a Prospect Heights building where a two-bedroom co-op apartment currently lists for more than $700,000. Several walls in her home remain torn down, and her bathroom is a mess of exposed wires and sheet rock.

Calling her situation a “nightmare,” she appeared with Public Advocate Letitia James on Wednesday outside City Hall as the elected official unveiled the city’s annual “Worst Landlords” list.

The list is used every year to shine an uncomfortable spotlight on the landlords who oversee the buildings that have been cited with the most housing violations. Piniero’s management company, Gaston Management, is not on the 2014 list but her plight is emblematic of those tenants who feel powerless over their own homes, James said.

“Most of these tenants don’t have the resources to address the problem in court,” said James, a Democrat who took office in January. “Too many New Yorkers rent in substandard buildings run by landlords who don’t make repairs.”

A call seeking comment from Gaston Management was not immediately returned.

More than 6,800 buildings made this year’s list. Many of them have no heat or conditions hazardous to residents.
Brooklyn is home to the buildings with the most violations, followed by Manhattan and the Bronx. A Bronx management company, 3525 Decatur Avenue LLC which is run by Robin Shimoff, had the most violations with more than 3,350. A call to Shimoff was not immediately returned.

The worst landlords list was created in 2010 by then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. De Blasio was elected mayor last November.

Tenants Claim Discrimination by Brooklyn Landlord

A Brooklyn landlord has engaged in a pattern of ill-treatment to force out minority renters, even failing to cash rent checks in hopes of later evicting them for nonpayment, tenants said Tuesday after filing a federal discrimination lawsuit.

Jean Wilkinson said the landlord has ignored requests to fix her water – the only source of hot water in her apartment for the last five days has been the stove, she said – as part of a “game plan” to get more affluent clientele.

The tenants filed a federal discrimination lawsuit late Monday against Homewood Gardens Estates and its principal owner, Yeshaya Wasserman, alleging a pattern of harassment “almost from the day” he purchased the complex in 2009. They are seeking an order stopping the alleged harassment and monetary damages.

Tenant Marquetta Bell said the plaintiffs – 11 current or former tenants and two community groups – are serving notice: “We will no longer stand for this discrimination.”

Attorneys for the tenants said the complex in the Prospect Lefferts Garden neighborhood failed to complete repairs and changed locks without providing them with keys.

When the complex’s maintenance staff did make repairs, the shoddy work created other problems including mold, leaky windows and floors so worn in some places tenants could see into the basement below, the attorneys said.

A woman who answered the phone at Homewood Gardens said Wasserman would not be back in the office to respond to questions about the lawsuit until Wednesday. No one else was available to answer questions, she said.

City officials reported dozens of complaints about the complex since Wasserman took ownership.

Last October, the state’s Tenant Protection Unit served a subpoena on Wasserman for documents from Homewood Gardens and seven other properties. The unit, according to the governor’s office, was investigating “a pattern of abusive behavior and flagrant violations of rent laws.”

Pavita Krishnaswamy, an attorney for the tenants, said Wasserman is targeting them because they are black. She said 20 of the 52 rent-stabilized apartments in the complex have been vacated since he took ownership and, according to the lawsuit, 14 of the 15 new tenants are white or Asian.

She said the lone black tenant who moved in after Wasserman bought the complex faced a 13.9 percent rent increase while rent for tenants of other races went up less than 3 percent.

Wilkinson, who has lived at the complex for 14 years, said once she figured out the landlord had not cashed her rent checks he offered her $15,000 to leave.

“I told him to take a walk,” Wilkinson said. “If you really want me to leave, take me to court.”

Longstanding Homecrest Eyesore to Get the Wrecking Ball

1882-east-12th-homecrestThe Department of Buildings has ordered the demolition of a hulking, half-built home at 1882 East 12th Street that has ensnared neighbors in a legal battle for the last eight years, marking a win for the community and Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, who fought the city relentlessly on their behalf.

“For eight years the people of East 12th Street battled the Board of Standards and Appeals, battled the Department of Buildings and battled a bureaucracy that seemed stacked against them even though common sense was on their side,” Assemblyman Cymbrowitz said.

“Anyone who saw this five-story monster of a house at 1882 East 12th Street knew it didn’t belong there. Neighbors lost sleep because they imagined the structure falling down around them. At last, justice has prevailed,” he said.

Brooklyn Buildings Commissioner Ira Gluckman requested the emergency declaration to raze the Homecrest structure. The owner, Joseph Durzieh, has 60 days to submit new plans or tear down the home. If the owner fails to follow through with either option, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development comes in and demolishes the building.

The structure was built atop an existing bungalow and towers above the other two-story homes on the block. Neighbors argued that the foundation was unable to support the building’s weight and that the house was built in violation of city zoning laws as an alteration instead of new construction. In August, the city Board of Standards and Appeals allowed construction to proceed even after Kings County Supreme Court Justice Yvonne Lewis called BSA’s original ruling “arbitrary and capricious.” In 2010, Judge Lewis issued a temporary restraining order.

In late January, Assemblyman Cymbrowitz arranged to meet with Commissioner Gluckman along with Community Board 15 chair Theresa Scavo and homeowners in the hopes of forcing the agency to clarify its position on the issue. Assemblyman Cymbrowitz said after the meeting that the Commissioner expressed “deep concerns that the architect’s plans did not accurately deal with structural issues in the building.” DOB issued a stop-work order in response to this meeting.

The problem of out-of-scale development has been heard in neighborhoods throughout the city. Assemblyman Cymbrowitz has introduced legislation (A.1536) that would suspend the licenses of professional engineers and architects who abuse their privileges allowed under New York City’s self-certification program. Self-certification allows licensed architects and engineers to approve the plans themselves and avoid a full-scale review by a Department of Buildings inspector.

Assemblyman Cymbrowitz is also looking into the absence of oversight of BSA that led to the nightmare on East 12th Street. In a letter to Mayor de Blasio in January, he sharply criticized BSA, saying that “middle-class homeowners are being victimized by a body with no accountability.”

City Reaches Agreement On Redevelopment Of Domino Sugar Site To Increase Affordable Housing

Photo: Buck Ennis / Crain's NY

Photo: Buck Ennis / Crain’s NY

Mayor Bill de Blasio today announced the city has reached an agreement with Two Trees Management on a proposal to redevelop the Domino Sugar site on the Williamsburg waterfront, which will significantly increase the amount of affordable housing provided. Under the agreement officially proposed today at a City Planning Commission meeting, the developer will provide an additional 110,000 square feet of affordable housing as part of the project, for a total of 537,000 square feet of affordable housing.

The proposal will create 700 affordable apartments covering a range of incomes, including a significant number of units sized for families. Affordable apartments will be integrated throughout the complex, ensuring a dynamic mixed-income community. Unlike prior proposals, all of those units will be permanently affordable. Work on the first building will begin in December 2014.

Mayor de Blasio has set an ambitious goal of building and preserving 200,000 affordable apartments over the coming decade, and this agreement represents a major first step toward achieving that goal.

“We set out from Day One to get the best possible value for the public. This partnership delivers on that commitment,” said Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen. “We are securing more of the affordable housing families in Williamsburg need, and we are doing it by working together. This agreement is a win for all sides, and it shows that we can ensure the public’s needs are met, while also being responsive to the private sector’s objectives. I am profoundly thankful to City Planning Chairman Carl Weisbrod and our combined teams for their work reaching this outcome.”

“We are so proud and pleased with what we’ve accomplished here. This won’t just be an ordinary development—it will be part of an integrated neighborhood that brings people of every income level together. We are proud to work with Mayor de Blasio’s team and the City Council to get this project across the finish line, get shovels in the ground, and deliver the housing and jobs this city needs. We hope this can become a model for what we can all achieve together in the years ahead,” said Jed Walentas of Two Trees Management.

The proposal announced today will be voted on at Wednesday’s City Planning Commission meeting. It will increase the percentage of affordable housing to 700 units out of over 2,200 total apartments in the 2,928,429 square-foot project. The project will also include significant commercial, incubator, tech and creative space that supports the administration’s economic development strategy to increase quality jobs as part of mixed-use developments. It will also provide public access to the waterfront and other open space amenities.

Brooklyn Property That Is Home To Junior’s Up For Sale

The home of Brooklyn’s most famous cheesecake is up for sale.

The owners of Junior’s Restaurant have put the property at the corner of Flatbush and DeKalb avenues on the market.

The chairman of the firm handling the listing says the site would be suited to condominiums with a retail base. The property was officially listed Thursday.

Bob Knakal, of Massey Knakal, says part of any deal would be Junior’s returning to the site, perhaps as a long-term lease in the retail space.

He says that Junior’s would relocate to an alternate site in Brooklyn during any construction.

Junior’s is a family-owned business now in its third generation and opened its Brooklyn site in 1950.

Brooklyn Home Sales Are Down

Home sales in Brooklyn, New York’s most populous borough, declined in the third quarter as a falling supply of properties gave would-be buyers little to choose from.

Purchases of condominiums, co-ops and one- to three-family homes totaled 2,171, down 2.2 percent from a year earlier, New York appraiser Miller Samuel Inc. and broker Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate said today in a report. The inventory of homes listed for sale dropped 16 percent to 5,602.

“The last couple of years in Brooklyn, you’ve had a lot of the excess supply worked off,” said Jonathan Miller, president of Miller Samuel. “It’s getting to the point now where it’s starting to restrain gains in sales.”

The inventory has decreased in each of the past four quarters as owners are in no rush to list their homes in a market where leasing costs are poised to climb, according to Miller. Those who bought during the real estate boom and saw their values tumble in the crash may not have built up enough equity to trade up, he said.