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Know Your Rights
Source: Daily News
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Manhattan’s worst landlords force city to foot bill for their crumbling apartments

Manhattan’s worst deadbeat landlords force city hardhats to repair their crumbling apartment buildings on the taxpayer dime.

Among their ranks is Luis Restrepo, the head officer of 593 Riverside Associates, which has racked up a six-figure tab with the city, putting the public on the hook for big-ticket fixes in his three Harlem buildings.

Bills for city-sanctioned repairs performed at 590-593 Riverside Dr. surpassed $108,000, records showed, making it Manhattan’s costliest building.

Restrepo and his management team were also slapped with more than $54,000 worth of city-sanctioned repairs in 49 St. Nicholas Terrace, and nearly $26,000 for 608 W. 139th St.

“We almost finished all the repairs,” Restrepo told the Daily News, when asked about the problems on Thursday. Asked to explain his six-figure repair bill, he replied: “Let me think about it.”

Restrepo did not call back, as he said he would, but his tenants answered the question without hesitation.

“He doesn’t give a damn,” said 94-year-old Alba Cochran, who sidesteps debris that fall from her crumbling walls in 593 Riverside Dr. To protect her head from the falling plaster, the plucky senior taped pieces of plastic all over her bedroom.

“The super doesn’t do a damn thing,” Cochran said, adding that she was unaware her building ranked high on the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s list of biggest offenders.

The building is one of 19 Manhattan residences — all north of 96th St. — tapped by the city as part of the Alternative Enforcement Program, which pressures slumlords to quickly their decaying properties or ultimately risk losing them.

Once a bulding goes into the program, it falls under the scrutiny of dedicated city inspectors who have beefed-up authority to order large-scale repairs. To get their property released, landlords are required to meet stringent benchmarks.

Cochran’s building tallied 323 violations, third-most in Manhattan. Two other Harlem residences managed by Restrepo are not in the program, due to their relatively low violation count.

Tenant advocates say that the city should be alerting residents whose homes are flagged by the housing agency.

The lack of information, they say, makes it tough for activists to stay on top of New York’s most notorious slumlords.

“The city should shame landlords who are forcing tenants to live in these conditions,” said Jose Lopez, the lead organizer with Make the Road New York, which critiqued the program in an extensive report last fall. “It would be great to get the program to grow.”

An agency spokesman said the city would have to amend its housing laws before the department could alter its enforcement program.

Restrepo’s tenants on Riverside Drive were unaware of the program, and said they had little faith in its effectiveness.

“My kids are so upset, they say I should take (Restrepo) to court,” said a frustrated Maria Guillen, 65, who had to resort to packing to tape to repair two broken windows in her home.

“When it’s windy, little pieces of glass fly in,” she said. “What am I going to do?”

To view the original article, click here.