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City's Worst Slumlords Outed on New Online Database

By Patrick Hedlund | August 30, 2010 8:39pm | Updated on August 31, 2010 7:37am

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

MANHATTAN — A group of slumlords from Inwood to Chinatown have been outed in a new database of the city’s most neglectful property owners.

Nine Manhattan landlords, who own a combined 15 buildings mostly located in upper Manhattan, were included in Public Advocate Bill de Blasio’s "NYC's Worst Landlords Watchlist," a new online resource that tracks citywide properties riddled with housing violations.

Using both Google Maps and a searchable database, the website allows tenants to view owners’ outstanding citations, as well as submit their own landlords’ names for consideration.

In Manhattan, the worst violators are a pair of landlords with eight properties in Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood flagged in the database.

"These landlords have persisted in leaving their tenants in inappropriate situations,” de Blasio said at a press conference announcing the new measure Monday. “We're going to shine a light on them."

One of the building owners, Vilma Vigil, had a whopping 1,245 housing violations spread across five properties in Washington Heights and Inwood, including 397 violations for the building at 35 Fort Washington Ave., according to the website.

Landlord Bahram “Danny” Hakakian had a total of 593 violations at his three buildings in Washington Heights and Harlem, including 263 infractions for a property at 206 Audubon Ave.

At his building in Inwood, owner Robin Ignico tallied a stunning 511 housing violations for the 68-unit property, according to the database.

And Isaac Schwimmer’s 28-unit building at 1534 St. Nicholas Ave. in Washington Heights counted 433 violations — or roughly 15 violations per apartment.

By comparison, Kai Lo, the owner of 197 Madison St. in Chinatown — the only Manhattan property south of 119th Street to make the list — had just 97 violations.

But while Lo appeared to be one of the best of the worst named in the new database, one tenant described the barely habitable conditions he’s faced during nearly three decades living there.

Fu Ko Poon explained he spent nearly five years without any electricity, using candles to light his rooms and cooking on a gas-powered hot plate sitting atop his broken stove.

During the winter months, the 74-year-old said he sometimes returned to his native Hong Kong because his apartment had no heat.

“I feel like the poorest New Yorker,” he said through a translator.

The website currently lists 164 properties citywide owned by 155 landlords, many showing serious housing violations like mold, lead paint and defective fire escapes that could pose a threat to life, officials said.

“It has become a game for some of them,” de Blasio said, adding that many building owners simply weigh the cost of city-issued penalties and find it’s cheaper to pay for infractions than it is to bring their buildings up to code.

“Unless they are brought to court, there is nothing stopping them,” he noted.

Officials estimated that more than 4,500 tenants live in the buildings listed in the database, but that the figures only represent a fraction of the properties likely suffering from unsafe conditions.

Chris Kui, executive director of Asian Americans for Equality, noted that a third of the violations cited stemmed from fire-safety issues.

“Four months ago, these types of violations led to a seven-alarm fire on Grand Street that displaced more than 200 residents and killed a man,” Kui said.

“Based on what happened in Chinatown, we know how this could potentially end,” he added.

Elected officials said that they are working on creating higher and more automatic penalties for landlords, explaining that the database will serve as a way to shame bad building owners as well as root out those who haven’t yet been caught.

"This is a case where sunlight is a great disinfectant," said Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams. "[The landlords] need to really get hit in the pocket."