Landlord leaves tenants in the cold

Seven On Your Side
March 9, 2009 3:40:32 PM PDT
Last year, the city of New York did $19 million in emergency repairs to buildings neglected by landlords. In two apartment buildings in Brooklyn we saw a snapshot of how the problem affects tenants, leaving them literally in the cold. The thermometer doesn't lie. Last January, the temperature inside Marie Valentin's apartment was just 40 degrees.

"No hot water, no heat, no gas, no cooking, no nothing," said Marie to 7 On Your Side's Tappy Phillips inside her frigid Flatbush apartment. Here, a shower is out of the question. Marie and her four kids rely on a mountain of blankets and a potential fire hazard, a space heater, just to survive.

In another building in Bed-Stuy a tenant, who didn't want to be identified, says conditions are just as bad.

"He had us in the building for a whole month with no lights, no water. We had to go get the lights and water put in our name. We had to pay the bills."

Who's responsible for these buildings? The city says it's a landlord named Sam Pfieffer. But good luck tracking him down. His mailing address is a mail drop in Brooklyn. And his physical address doesn't exist. The house number falls between two buildings in Monsey.

"The problem here is that we are not able to contact the landlord for them to actually do the repair," said Luiz Aragon of New York City's Department of Finance.

The city says the same landlord owns a total of 16 rental buildings in Brooklyn. One of his building in Williamsburg fell into such disrepair, that a judge under a statute called 7A took the operation away from the landlord and put it in the hands of an independent administrator.

Both of the buildings we visited have been hit with numerous violations from the NYC Department of Buildings. Bed-Stuy has 54 open violations. Marie's building in Flatbush has 298 open violations.

"That's totally unacceptable, these are actual New Yorkers that are going through this," remarks Luiz Aragon of the NYC Department of Finance.

The city has done emergency repairs in both buildings. And after we called, they rushed to get Marie's boiler repaired. Finally, hot water, gas and heat was restored for the warmer and relieved tenant. "Now, I'm just so happy. I am speechless, I don't know what else to say."

The city says in the two buildings we profiled, they've already spent more than $40,000 making emergency repairs. It's up to the landlord to pay the city back. If he doesn't the city will put a lien on the property and re-coup the money when the property is eventually sold. But that could be years down the road. As for Sam Pfieffer? He referred us to his attorney who had no comment.


Story by: Tappy Phillips

Produced by: Steve Livingstone