UPPER MANHATTAN — When it comes to Manhattan's worst landlords, Uptown has more than any other area in the borough — with dozens of buildings beset by mold, chronic leaks and the lack of heat and hot water.
According to a landlord watch list recently released by Public Advocate Letitia James, 69 of the 206 worst buildings in the borough are located in Community District 12, which includes Washington Heights and Inwood.
At just more than 33 percent, District 12 has the highest percentage of derelict buildings of any Manhattan community district, according to the list. Districts 9 and 10 in Harlem follow close behind, with 23 percent and 19 percent of the districts' total number of residential buildings showing need for repair.
District 12 also has three buildings ranked among the 10 worst in the borough, including 438 W. 164th St., 2461 Amsterdam Ave. and 4 South Pinehurst Ave.
Tenants at 4 South Pinehurst Ave. have struggled with crumbling walls, roof leaks and faulty heating, according to tenants and city records.
Wanda Lewis, who has lived in the building for 20 years, said she has to fight with the landlord to get basic repairs made.
“I recently had a lot of mold and I had to beg and beg for them to fix it,” Lewis said. “They finally came up and just painted over it. Painting over mold doesn’t get rid of it.”
Lewis estimates that she has sunk about $10,000 of her own money into making repairs in the apartment, including having her crumbling walls re-done. Other times, HPD has had to repair problems that she said her landlord ignored, such as the hole in her bedroom ceiling that formed as the result of an ongoing leak.
“They want to collect the rent, but they don’t want to fix the problems,” Lewis said of the building’s owner.
Celia Weaver, the assistant director of tenant organizing at the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, said the group has been troubled by the building since it worked with tenants there back in 2012.
"We have always been concerned that without addressing the underlying concerns in the building that they would get worse again," Weaver said. "It's not surprising to see it on the worst landlord list."
According to HPD, the building currently has 297 open violations. From 2005-2014, the agency sunk $35,785 into the building to make emergency repairs to correct the most serious violations that the owner failed to address. In addition, HPD said it has had to file four Housing Court cases against the building’s owner to obtain access to make emergency repairs.
The landlord, L&L Realty Equities, declined to comment.
The building at 438 W. 164th St. — the borough's second-worst overall, and the sixth-worst in the city, according to the list — has more than 500 open violations for issues ranging from rotted floors to exposed wiring.
Some of the tenants said they have lived without basic necessities for years.
“We didn’t have gas for about four years,” building resident Monet Merritt said.
Another tenant, who has lived in the building for more than 20 years but did not want to be named, said that there have also been long periods when there was no hot water in the building, most recently from April to the beginning of October of this year.
Until earlier this year, the building, which is a co-op for low-income residents, was run by a board made up of the apartment owners, many of whom no longer live in the building, officials said.
It currently has 511 open violations for gas and hot water, lead paint hazards, obstructed fire escapes, rotted floors, mold, leaks and exposed wiring, according to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. The agency invested $204,958 to make emergency repairs to the building from 2007 to 2014 to correct the most hazardous violations, the department said.
While 438 W. 164th St. was originally included on the public advocate’s list, it was later removed because the building was placed into 7A management in February 2014. The 7A program assigns experienced organizations such as housing nonprofits to manage buildings that have been abandoned by their owners.
Aja Davis, a spokeswoman for the public advocate, said that the list is subject to change.
“The list is itself a living site,” Davis said. “It will be updated as landlords improve the conditions in their buildings, and in those instances buildings can be removed from the list altogether.”
Davis also said buildings that have recently been purchased by nonprofits or placed into city management with the intent of rehabilitation could have been removed from the list. These properties can still be monitored through HPD’s website, she noted.
Since the 7A manager, Gloria Hopson of Urban Development and Management Inc., took over at 438 W. 164th St., gas has been restored to the building and hot water is once again available, tenants said.
Hopson said the building, which is part of the city's Housing Development Fund Corporation program, fell into disrepair under the guidance of the co-op board. She claimed many of the owners sublet their units to tenants, in spite of building rules that state the owner must not be out of the unit for more than 18 months at a time, she said.
"Many of them have been gone for years," Hopson said. "Some never lived there at all."
Some new tenants were surprised to hear of the building’s history.
Francisco Banda, 22, moved into a recently renovated unit at 438 W. 164th St. last week. While his hot water sometimes takes several minutes to kick in, Banda said he hasn’t noticed any other problems. Still, he wasn’t happy with the news.
“It worries me,” Banda said, when learning of the building’s long list of violations. “I don’t want to live in someplace that’s considered the worst.”
A recent visit to the third property in the top 10, 2461 Amsterdam Ave., revealed the building is vacant. However, it still racked up 447 violations and required almost $4,000 in emergency repairs from 2000 to 2009, according to HPD.
Property records show that building was purchased by Yeshiva University in 2007. A spokesman for Yeshiva said the building was vacant at the time of purchase and that the violations were incurred prior to the university's ownership.
Weaver said that it’s common for landlords to allow buildings to fall into disrepair in gentrifying neighborhoods such as Washington Heights and Inwood.
“In areas that are rent-regulated, landlords run buildings into the ground to convince people that it’s not worth staying,” she explained. “People go through these periods of really horrible living conditions as part of a larger plan to gentrify the neighborhood.”