De Blasio creates list of local slumlords

BY John Bayles

Landlords in New York City may soon find their names on a new list created by the City’s Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. However, it’s not a list they want to make.

“The city’s worst landlords can no longer hide from responsibility while their buildings fall into dangerous disrepair,” said De Blasio in a press release.

The list is on the web at advocate.nyc.gov/landlord-watchlist. It currently contains 164 buildings and 155 unique landlords and the buildings together have over 4,500 tenants. One of the buildings in Lower Manhattan, 197 Madison, was the site of a press conference on Monday. The building has over 150 open violations and according to Christopher Kui, executive director of Asian Americans for Equality, a third of those violations are very hazardous, many having to do with fire code. Kui said stoves in some units don’t work and the tenants are forced to cook with gas-camping stoves as a result. He said some units have holes in the ceiling. According to Kui, the violations are similar to those found at a building on Grand Street, which burned to the ground in a seven-alarm-fire earlier this year and displaced all of its tenants and also resulted in one death.

“This is one proactive approach to really try and remedy the situation,” said Kui. “We don’t want another Grand Street.” 

Kui said the Department of Housing Preservation and Development does

a “pretty good job” of policing the landlords. But he said the way the system is set up, there are still methods landlords can use that could put their tenants in danger.

They can postpone, defer and argue down fines,” said Kui. “Someone who is determined to avoid culpability can do so, or at least drag it out for years and make their tenants suffer.”

The list is divided into “small buildings” that contain less than 35 units and larger ones that contain more. If a “small building” has an average of 3 open violations per unit, it will be included on the list. For larger buildings the threshold is an average of two open violations per unit.

The list came as a result of de Blasio’s campaigning in Chinatown prior to his appointment as Public Advocate last year. Kui said de Blasio went around knocking on doors, asking people about their concerns and one of the major problems was this slumlord mentality, where landlords refuse to fix problems in buildings, putting their tenants in jeopardy.

“He found that a major concern was landlord accountability,” said Kui.

Kui also noted that often allowing units to fall into disrepair is one “tactic landlords use to get tenants to vacate the units so they can then rent them at market rates.”

While only one building in Lower Manhattan has made the cut (197 Madison), Kui is confident many more will soon appear on the list.

Council member Margaret Chin said at the press conference, “Landlords have an incredible amount of power in New York City. Too often they abuse it, leaving tenants in unacceptable living conditions. But now New Yorkers can fight back. By exposing the worst landlords on the web, we can finally empower renters by helping them avoid the worst landlords — and forcing those landlords to improve.”