“I have a theory that the truth is never told during the nine-to-five hours.”
— Hunter Thompson
In few cities across the country would tenants put up with the abuse that thus far has contributed to the quality of life in Manhattan. The dearth of decent quality housing at affordable price has been the long-suffering experience of those who have chosen to live in Manhattan. In fact, Affordable Housing has been the mantra of many politicians wishing to gain favor with liberals and the rapidly disappearing middle-class. And, up to the present moment, since the pandemic has softened the big-stick policy of some landlords because rents are dropping, that situation has temporarily ameliorated. But, don’t be fooled. Landlords like Simon Legree, who said of his tenant, “Give him the worst floggin’ he ever had,” are still trying to evict us AND get paid at the same time.
Unfortunately, for corporate rent-gougers the courts are still closed and there’s a moratorium. But the $750/hr. lawyers and judges who pander to the tried-an-true “Litigate to Evict” game will be back, rest assured. In fact, in its heyday when Luxury Decontrol was a thing — there was nothing that couldn’t be accomplished with a Holdover Action. Not separating your garbage could be the basis for landlords to drag you into court. Not Housing Court, mind you — real court, Supreme Court — where motion practice at $750/hr. could bankrupt any tenant in short order. Several years of litigation while being required to pay rent AND a lawyer was impossible for most tenants. Buy-outs, the legal extortion racket used by such landlords and their attorneys, on the cheap, were common. In my building, 75% of the original rent-stabilized tenants were removed using this legal ploy. And, not only the courts, but HPD, that City agency which Shaun Donovan oversaw, whose responsibility it is to investigate complaints and support Rent-Stabilized tenants, seemed to be working for deep-pocketed landlords. Certainly not the tenants. While things have abated since Luxury Decontrol was eliminated, thanks to lawmakers like Brad Hoylman, threats remain. Abuse and harassment is rife and try fighting a corrupt landlord who regularly withholds heat with an HPD that seems like it’s on the take.
In my case, having barely managed to withstand 7 years of litigation while I was in prison for my articles exposing corruption in SoHo and in Southampton (D.A. Thomas Spota currently awaits sentencing for operating a criminal enterprise) — the landlord continued the onslaught to evict my family. The landlord even worked with the convicted D.A. to help. In fact, the landlord went to the extreme and filed a complaint against its own building, followed by litigation due to our “illegal” loft construction (approved by the former building owner) which historically put SoHo on the map and enriched developers as well as some artists. The little ploy to evict me and my family cost $500,000, a case which one supposedly liberal jurist, Judge Braun, oversaw in Supreme Court. We weren’t evicted but I had to pay the landlord’s legal fees for the privilege of remaining in our apartment. For what? Why? Were judges so eager to reward corrupt landlords and their brethren in the courts? And, what about Affordable Housing and the “Litigate to Evict” game?
Eviction ploys come in several forms — the most effective being Holdover Actions. Request for help from HPD and the politicians in our case fell on deaf ears. Margaret Chin wouldn’t even make an appearance because “we don’t appear on behalf of tenants.” I suspect that is patently false. Just as I suspect will be the case if we fall for the Affordable Housing ploy used to get people elected — and to support the new SoHo/NoHo rezoning. Trust me, once the deals are done, and the developers and supplicants, those faceless multi-millionaires and billionaires who collect their vig while tenants try getting heat, they’ll all have scurried back to their $10-20 million dollar lofts. Don’t believe the bullshit. They could care less about New Yorkers, SoHo, NoHo, downtown residents, or even people desperately needing affordable housing. If they had, my story could never have happened. The Community Board and my “friends” who knew about the unfolding and decades long travesty looked the other way. One Chair of the Board knew about our plight but cashed in selling his townhouse to developers for $17 million — and snickered at our lowly “problem.” Affordable Housing wasn’t on his radar, nor anyone else’s on the Board.
111 Varick is a perfect example of Affordable Houseing. No one even knew how to access the supposedly “affordable” units. Or, that they even existed. Community Board 2 approved the 111 Varick Street project but then dropped getting that information out to constituents completely. The website, operated by HPD, for finding Affordable Housing units is practically an unknown to any politician or Board member — including those members on the zoning committee which approves developments.
So, here’s a little outtake, sort of like an SNL sketch describing HPD and their “Community Preservation” efforts to give you an example of what really happens when you have a problem. In my building where two floors of the ten floors is/was rent-stabilized for nearly 40 years — and was updated for the two bottom floors which previously had been commercially zoned — are now Loft Board units. The eight floors above those Loft Law units remain rent-stabilized but can no longer make heat complaints, since 311 will not take the complaint. After evicting or extorting stabilized tenants out and then re-renting the decontrolled apartments to market rate tenants, the commercial unit tenants got tired of being threatened, abused, extorted and harassed for decades because they weren’t supposed to “live” in those units — and finally got the City to cover them under the Loft Law. Those tenants had been exposed to abuse and spurred on by the landlord to in-turn physically threaten other tenants in the building — who had been told there was a conspiracy among the rent-stabilized tenants to force them out. The D.A. wasn’t interested in prosecuting the landlord due to lack of proof. Who would make a complaint and then be evicted? It became like living in an apartment operated by the Stasi.
Here’s what it was like recently in reporting no heat to HPD:
“Deputy Commissioner Santiago — Assistant Renee Peay — Inspector Mulligan — Hillary Post — Natasha — HPD Division of Enforcement
Here is an example of my making complaints.
The contact number you have given me for heat complaints landed on the desk of one Natasha.
The last couple of times a Mr. Mulligan handled the complaints and sent someone to check out my apartment. Once the complaint is made with HPD an inspector is sent and the heat miraculously comes on because the building owner is alerted and they then act. It is a cumbersome way to get heat but what can you expect for rents of $5,000 to $7,000 per month?
However, this last time, here is what happened: Natasha took my complaint of no heat, telling me that she normally does not do this, but as a favor she told me that a lack of heat complaint was filed and gave me the following number — on 4/15/21 #xxxx0198.
The next day the super arrived, yelling at me that I had reported to HPD that my radiators had been removed in my apartment. I told him that I never reported such a thing. He never responded to my next question about why, in 50 degree temperature had the heat been off for the entire building. It was a well-worn conversation.
I called Natasha at HPD again and asked her why she reported that I’d told her that the radiators were removed. She replied that since my building was unable to call 311 and report heat complaints due to the false characterization of my building as a Loft Law building — instead of the Rent Stabilized building that it has been for 35 years — there was no place in her reporting system to indicate that I had no heat. Her office didn’t take heat complaints — this was only an accommodation. The only box she could check in order to get an inspector out to the apartment was to report that my radiators had been removed. I said, if I’d reported that I had no water would she report that I’d removed the toilet and bathtub?
A Mr. Mulligan then called me and I explained that I’d only reported a lack of heat and that the landlord, who, for 35 years had used the “Blame the Victim” technique would now use this report of removing the radiators to show that I was now vandalizing the apartment. After all, when I’d had pipe breaks in the past, the landlord had widely spread the rumor (especially to our downstairs neighbor who’s furniture was ruined) that I’d poured water on the floor and when I reported a bedbug infestation coming from those Loft Law tenants who’d been abused for years and lived in fear of eviction, I was told that my kids were just “dirty.” Our previous court experience had taken 7 years and cost $500,000 and due to the judge’s desire to be appointed to the Federal bench, allowed the landlord to force my wife to remove our loft improvements (which the previous owner permitted) even though half of SoHo was built upon that precedent. And, they were awarded a judgment for THEIR legal fees in trying to fuck me. My teenage daughter was now evicted and had no room after deconstructing the loft — while I remained in prison!
Mulligan said not to worry about it. That I should just explain the situation to the inspector who arrives and he would dutifully report the situation. So, the inspector arrived the next day and, of course, the landlord, having been first called by HPD to warn them, there was heat. So, when the inspector arrived he was told that the heat was now on and we didn’t need him.
The violation report from HPD that he turned in stated that I had refused to allow the inspector into the apartment. In order to obtain heat, even though I had followed the procedure your office provided since I can no longer call 311 — because we are covered by the Loft Law, which, in fact, we are not — and thusly our violation report shows this:
“An inspection was attempted on 4/16/21 in response to your complaint. The complaint has been canceled for the following reason:
Plumbing – Radiator – MIssing/Removed – Tenant Refused Access. If the condition still exists please file a new complaint with 311.”
Now, in addition to having it on record that I must have removed the radiators; that I wouldn’t let the inspector in to inspect the damage of an obviously psychopathic tenant who abuses the landlord — we have no heat because it’s 70 degrees outside. And, that I should call 311.
I wonder how that’ll play in court when we get there again and try to explain why I removed all of my radiators in a rage against my kindly landlord?
This is a warning about Affordable Housing and how this charade actually plays out. Don’t buy it. Thus far, it is a poorly conceived hoax.
Note: A forthcoming book about SoHo, the landlord in this article and the Hamptons is currently in preparation.