Housing advocates (including Make the Road by Walking) Tuesday released a "dirty dozen" list of landlords, who they claim are harassing tenants to force them out of rent-stabilized apartments.
In years past, the most notorious landlords were criticized for letting their buildings fall apart. But in this rapidly gentrifying modern city, owners are coming under fire for trying to clear their buildings of tenants to make way for luxury apartments.
"We are hard-working families, paying our rent on time, and don’t deserve to be harassed," said Jacqueline Hernandez, a resident of 188 South Third Street in Williamsburg. "The apartments we live in are full of mold and drafty windows. Meanwhile, we see nice new windows being installed in empty apartments."
The owners of 188 South 3rd — Adam Mermelstein and TreeTop Development LLC — were voted "New York’s Most Abusive Landlord" by the hundreds of people attending Tuesday’s gathering of housing advocacy groups.
Eleven other landlords from neighborhoods from the Bronx to Manhattan’s Lower East Side were cited for what the participants said were strong-arm harassment tactics used in trying to clear tenants out.
More than half the tenants of 188 South 3rd have already moved out, and their one-bedroom apartments are being renovated and combined into two- and three-bedroom units, the residents said.
Reached by phone, Mermelstein said he was not making any effort to get the rent-stabilized tenants out. He said he had only bought the building four months ago, and that constant repairs were being made to all the apartments.
TreeTop Development’s website was advertising 188 South 3rd as a "gut-renovation upscale rental."
Market-rate rent in the area could reach upwards of $2,000 a month for renovated units. Many of the current tenants are paying less than $700.
"Harassment of tenants has become one of the dominant business models in New York City," said Benjamin Dulchin, of the Association of Neighborhood and Housing Development, which sponsored Tuesday’s event. "Landlords buy buildings where tenants are paying low rent, and then expect to be able to push out those tenants."
Dulchin said the solution was a City Council bill that would criminalize the harassment of rent-stabilized tenants.
One common harassment tactic, Dulchin said, is to bring a large number of frivolous lawsuits against tenants, who often can’t afford a lawyer or speak English well enough to understand the accusations.