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

Tenants Angry at Vantage

Landlord claims building well-maintained amid complaints of neglect

City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-Jackson Heights) and Councilman Bill de Blasio (D-Brooklyn) joined about 50 community activists and tenants of an Elmhurst apartment building owned by Vantage Properties last week and accused the landlord of ignoring residents’ maintenance concerns, including allowing trash to build up in and outside the establishment.

Vantage officials refuted the charge, saying they have worked hard to alleviate tenants’ maintenance frustrations and fix the numerous upkeep problems that Vantage said it inherited when the company bought the building, at 43-43 91st Place in Elmhurst, from infamous landlord Nicholas Haros in early 2008.

The number of open violations for the building has increased since Vantage took over, rising from the 51 it inherited — 49 of which were cleared up — to the 86 current violations, city Department of Housing records showed. Many of those violations included buildups of trash and some showed complaints of rats and mice in the building. Vantage officials said trash, rats and mice are not an issue.

The Council members, tenants and members of Make the Road New York, a nonprofit that works with immigrant and low-income residents, rallied against Vantage at a Friday news conference, during which de Blasio announced an initiative to create a “slumlord watch list” that would publicize the names of negligent landlords who violate city housing laws and maintain substandard housing.

De Blasio is a Democratic candidate for city public advocate.

He did not specify he would add Vantage to the list, but did criticize the company and said he was frustrated that “a group of elected officials have to call a press conference to get this place cleaned up.”

Tenants accused Vantage of removing the piles of trash that had once been in and around the building when company officials caught wind of Friday’s press conference, which a Vantage spokesman denied.

Vantage spokesman Davidson Goldin railed against de Blasio’s garbage accusation.

“That’s absurd, and if he wants to represent the people of New York City, then he should know more about the issues than he knows about this property,” Goldin said of de Blasio.

Housing Commissioner Rafael Cestero said in a May letter that Vantage’s properties “overall were well-maintained.” Vantage set up a walk-through of the building for a TimesLedger Newspaper reporter, who found the hallways and courtyard clean. The reporter was not permitted to inspect the rooms.

Tenants criticized the landlord during Friday’s event.

“They are mistreating so many of the tenants,” said Rebeca Molina, who has lived at the Vantage building for more than a decade. “They don’t have a super on site, there are problems with trash building up in the building, and they’re claiming people don’t pay rent.”

Vantage officials took issue with de Blasio for holding the news conference outside Vantage, which they say has cleared thousands of violations that landed in their laps upon buying apartment buildings throughout the city from Haros.

“Bill de Blasio apparently cannot find a slum in all of New York City,” Goldin said. “Instead of finding an actual slum, he held it outside a building that is well-maintained.”

Ferreras criticized Vantage for not employing a superintendant on site. Vantage received a waiver from the city in order to not employ an on-site super. Cestero said Vantage did not need a super on site because the landlord provided an effective janitorial service — a claim tenants say is untrue.

Vantage officials said there is a super available to residents, but he is not on-site.

John Whitlow, a Make the Road attorney representing some of the Vantage tenants, said his organization is “developing a strategy litigation-wise to deal with Vantage.”