BROOKLYN — A landlord looking to sell a 57-building portfolio of residential and commercial properties scattered across Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, Sunset Park and other gentrifying neighborhoods pushed back against tenants' claims of mistreatment Thursday, saying "landlords are people too."
Tenants in four of his buildings sued in Brooklyn Housing Court Tuesday, complaining of vermin, mold, trash, destructive construction, periods without heat and hot water in the winter and no cooking gas in one of the buildings since January. They urged judges to appoint an independent administrator to make repairs in their buildings.
Landlord Jason Silverstein of Silvershore Properties — whose company is selling off about a third of his company's holdings in what's billed by the brokers Cushman and Wakefield as the second largest collection of properties for sale in New York City history — said he thought tenants were exaggerating their claims against him and in some cases lying.
"We did not act in a bad manner. There's people that are not doing nice things. They're doing bad things. I'm a father. I'm not some person that's out there like a vulture," he said. "We're not running some shoddy operation."
But tenant claims are only half the story, Silverstein said.
"There's the tenant story and the landlord story," he said.
Silvershore Properties often purchases distressed properties in dire need of repairs, he said. They renovate the buildings and part of the plan is to see which of the rent-stabilized tenants might be amendable to taking cash buyouts.
"It's not like we’re trying to kick some old lady out for $7,000," he said.
"This is a business decision. They can make it or they can not," he said. "People are protected by the city. If they don't want to move they don't have to move."
"We’re not bad guys," he added. "We've done everything required of us and more."
He tried to explain away a host of violations that were levied against them by the city.
The DOB issued a violation against the building and cut off the gas to a Silvershore building at 196 Kinglsand Ave. in January after an inspector found illegal gas lines had been installed and that the building was also being supplied gas without permits, online DOB records show. The property also has $27,000 in unpaid fines.
Silvershore Properties rep Jonathan A. Cohen blamed the illegal gas lines on the building's prior owner who he said illegally converted the basement into an apartment before Silvershore bought the building in 2015.
He added that Silvershore Properties installed an oil boiler and got hot water and heat up and running with emergency permits, Silverstein said, citing DOB permit and a letter explaining the situation from Boro Energy.
He said even though the gas remains off, they've been trying to offer tenants electric stoves instead of replacing the whole buildings' gas lines which could take months and would require entry into all the tenants apartments which many won't allow. But tenants have been pushing back.
"They think they can rule the situation," he said. "It's our building."
In the Humboldt building, which HPD records show has 100 open building violations and rampant vermin infestation, Silverstein said renovations are now complete and an inspector should come in the next few weeks to certify that.
He blamed rodents on an open construction site next door and said they have exterminators.
He added that they offered residents rent abatements and hotel vouchers for the time they spent without heat or hot water in the winter, providing email correspondence with tenants as proof.
But Silverstein's arguments didn't sway lawyers who said their clients had been offered buyouts in violation of the city's protocol which requires offers be made in writing along with an explanation of tenants' rights to reject them, and said that deciding not to repair gas lines in the Kingsland Avenue building revealed the true motives of wanting to do minimal investment in order to flip the building and turn a profit.
"Landlords need to stop complaining about how hard their job is," said Sam Chiera, a lawyer from Brooklyn Legal Services representing tenants on Kingsland Avenue. "If the job is that hard, don't buy the building."
Sherief Gaber, an attorney at the Urban Justice Center representing tenants in the three other buildings said his clients housing conditions have deteriorated, "in some cases egregiously since [Silvershore] took ownership of the buildings."
"The pattern of neglect that we have seen...just a failure to maintain these buildings, we feel speaks for itself," he said. "This is their property; but it's people's homes."
The tenants are due back in Brooklyn Housing Court on July 11.