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City's 'Worst Landlord' Investigated for Tax Evasion and Drug Dealing

By Jeff Mays | March 27, 2012 7:28am
At one building at 620 W. 182 St. between Wadsworth and St. Nicholas avenues, there were no locks on the front door to the run-down building with cracked floors and walls with layer upon layer of paint.
At one building at 620 W. 182 St. between Wadsworth and St. Nicholas avenues, there were no locks on the front door to the run-down building with cracked floors and walls with layer upon layer of paint.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

HARLEM — A man dubbed New York City's worst landlord has been reported to five city, state and federal agencies on allegations ranging from tax evasion to dealing drugs at his buildings, DNAinfo has learned.

Josh Neustein, owner of 1071 Home Corp., which is made up of eight buildings, including four in Upper Manhattan, racked up a breathtaking 1,187 violations by last December. Of these, 753 were considered hazardous.

The violations were so numerous, Neustein earned top spot on Public Advocate Bill de Blasio's worst landlords list that was published last year.

He was reported to the NYPD, the Internal Revenue Service and three other state and federal agencies last month after a probe by the city's Department of Investigation, launched after Neustein's own sister complained about him.

"After a careful review, I have determined that this issue/s would be more appropriately addressed by your office," wrote the DOI's Inspector General James Tierney in a Feb. 22 letter, which was also sent to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the federal department of Housing and Urban Development and the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance.

"This matter is being forwarded to your attention for whatever action you deem necessary," Tierney wrote.

The DOI did not immediately respond to calls for comment.

The letters were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request submitted to the DOI and shared with DNAinfo.

Amy Neustein, an author who has publicly spoken out against her brother in the past, was the original source of the complaints, according to an email forwarded to the agencies by DOI, the letters show.

"There are children in my brother's building being subjected to horrific conditions," said Amy Neustein, who is estranged from her brother and has clashed with him in court over control of their parent's property.

Amy Neustein, who has advocated for tenants and has tried to keep tabs on her brother's buildings, said he has continued his illegal ways even after previous sanctions by the city.

Among the allegations tenants have brought to her and she has passed along to the DOI, are that her brother's company accepts cash payments from tenants to obtain illegally subdivided apartments and that he retaliates against whistleblowers by refusing to take out the trash.

She said tenants suspect her brother is paying a large number of his employees off of the books, and may be withholding social security tax payments from the government.

She claimed tenants have also seen truckloads of electronic goods pulling up to buildings, and believe that staffers may be involved in the trafficking of stolen goods and drugs, according to the accusations.

Tenants at Josh Neustein's buildings in Washington Heights said they have been unable to get critical repairs done and said drug sales are an issue in their buildings. Several did not want to give their names because they feared retribution.

At one building at 620 W. 182 St., between Wadsworth and St. Nicholas avenues, there were no locks on the front door to the run-down building with cracked floors and doors slathered with layer upon layer of paint.

According to the Public Advocate's Watchlist, the building has 89 infractions in 16 units, an increase of eight infractions since April 2011. There were 10 critical violations.

One man who lives at one of Josh Neustein's buildings in Washington Heights, but asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, said he has been trying to get repairs done to his apartment for more than a decade.

"You call for repairs and they say they have your number," the man said. "They sold drugs outside for years."

In one room in his apartment, the window won't stay closed so the room gets very cold during the winter. In another room, the window won't open at all so its "suffocating" during the summer, he said.

The hot water temperature fluctuates so wildly that to prevent burns he fills a bucket in the bathroom with water to bathe. One leak has been patched more than a dozen times.

"They fix the wall but they don't fix the leak," the man said.

Many of the tenants in the building suffer in silence because they are undocumented immigrants fearful of being deported, the man said.

At another of Josh Neustein's buildings at 720 W. 180 St., between Broadway and Fort Washington, maintenance workers Hector Rosado, 42, and Hector Carlos, 61, admitted that the building has drug problems.

"I just kicked two people out of the lobby smoking crack this morning," said Rosado, a 17-year-employee.

Carlos said they have installed cameras and are cooperating with police to try to remove tenants involved in drug sales. He denied that the staff was involved in drug sales or other illegal activities. The building's 21 units have 114 violations, a decrease of 34 since last April. There are 11 critical violations, according to the watchlist.

"The landlord is trying to get rid of all the tenants that sell drugs," he said.

Neustein's real estate empire also includes buildings at 561 West 186th St. and 3990 10th Ave.

Amy Neustein said civil penalties have not done enough to curtail slumlords' behavior, and said that the city needs to invoke criminal statutes to force conditions to change.

"There's no better deterrent than a criminal penalty," she said.

"How far have the civil measures gotten tenants in this city? The ones in the worst buildings are still without heat and hot water."

In an interview, Josh Neustein said all of the allegations against him are untrue.

"She doesn't know my business," he said. "I have a crazy sister. She is an estranged sister. She will try every agency. She has nothing else to do."

A spokesman for 1071 Home Corp. said staff are actively working with police to eliminate drug dealing in its buildings because it also hurts them by driving away would-be tenants.

The company is trying to tackle the cash-only illegal subleased apartments by evicting the perpetrators, a spokesman said.

"I'm not concerned. None of these things concern me at all," Josh Neustein said.

Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez said Josh Neustein should be held accountable for the conditions of his buildings.

"The Public Advocate has declared Mr. Neustein to be the worst landlord in the city, and so I would encourage all authorities who deal with housing to get involved in ensuring that Mr. Neustein brings his buildings up to code," Rodriguez said.

Amy Neustein said she's "cautiously optimistic" that changes will be made.

"I'm urging people to make a change. I need a whole slew of people to make this happen and maybe we can eradicate slumlords in this city," she said.