NEW YORK — The city's worst landlords are getting worse.
Six months after publicly shaming building owners on her "Worst Landlords" list, Public Advocate Letitia James visited two of the negligent buildings hoping to bring further attention to the problem. In both cases, the landlords had more violations than they did when the list came out.
“We [released the list] because it is simply not okay for these negligent landlords to get away with their actions,” James said in front of 14 East 125th St. on Wednesday. “The unfortunate reality is that New Yorkers are living in buildings run by some really horrible landlords.”
The building on 125th Street had 359 open violations six months ago, James said. As of Wednesday morning it had 439, according to the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
After being placed on the list, the landlord was trying to convert the building’s six units into 15, which turned out to be illegal because it was falsely claimed that units were vacant even though longtime resident Sandra Johnson, 54, was still living in the building, James said.
“It was illegal,” James said. “It was in violation of her basic rights, it was as if she didn’t exist.”
The building's owner, Ephraim Fruchthandler, did not respond to questions about the building.
The Public Advocate finally stepped and was able to get the buildings department to issue a stop work order.
However, despite having James’s support, Johnson is still struggling to get basic services. She spent two weeks in the middle of winter without heat and hot water. On the rare cases that the landlord makes repairs, the work is shoddy, she said.
“When they make repairs they are cheap,” Johnson said. “Everything they do falls apart.”
James also visited 888 Grand Concourse in The Bronx, where tenants complain of broken heating systems and inadequate security.
The Public Advocate’s website lists the number of building violations at 531, but the residence now has 566, according to HPD.
Residents spent four days without heat and hot water last week, and they dealt with the same issue for 12 days around Christmas, said Tenant Association President Carmen Vega-Rivera.
She rattled off a host of other issues with 888 Grand Concourse as well, including people sleeping on the staircases, "huge rats" and a young couple she once caught having sex in the area where the doorman is supposed to be stationed.
“There is no interest in the maintenance of this building,” she said. “Nothing gets done.”
Louis Bombart purchased the building in 1987 through Tiny Fiesta Realty Associates, and tenants said the building’s quality has dropped sharply since then.
Bombart did not respond to requests for comment.
The property frequently appears on “worst buildings” lists, and there are two active lawsuits advocating for repairs at the residence, one of which just passed its third year in court, according to the Public Advocate’s office.
Rudy Zambrana, a 51-year-old Time Warner Cable employee who said he has lived in the building for about 12 years, is currently dealing with a bedroom ceiling where the paint is peeling off in droves, and chips often fall on him while he is asleep.
“I wake up every morning, I’ve got to brush off one or two,” he said.
James said her office will continue to work with HPD and urge them to use all of the tools, such as seizing buildings from negligent landlords, at their disposal.
“We are not going to give up and we are not going to give in,” she said. “We urge all of the landlords to correct these conditions. Otherwise, we will bring the full force of the law and government down on you."