New York City's Worst Landlord List: A list of repeat offenders

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Danielle Leigh explains 7 On Your Side Investigates' examination of the New York City Public Advocate's Worst Landlord Watch List.

A 7 On Your Side Investigates' examination of the New York City Public Advocate's Worst Landlord Watch List found roughly one in three named landlords have made the list at least three of the past four years.

A smaller number of landlords, closer to 1 in 8, have made the list each of the past four years since Public Advocate Letitia James has been in office.

Collectively, these repeat offenders own dozens of properties around the city with mounting health and safety violations.

Tenants have complained of bugs infesting cracks in tiles, radiators that shoot scalding water, crumbling infrastructure, rust, mold, leaky faucets and a lack of heat, hot water and electricity.

"There were some days we couldn't eat anything from our kitchen," tenant Kimberly Silva said.

"All they care about is nothing," said James Evans, as he walked through an apartment without proper flooring.

Most of the victims rely on public assistance and say they're worried about where they'd go if they really fought for improvements or left to look for other housing.

"We don't want to be homeless, so we try not to complain too much," Rosline Collington said.

"It's been difficult," Tony Foster said.

Nearly 500 New York City buildings are featured on the 2017 Watch List, intended to shame the landlords the Public Advocate had dubbed the city's worst 100 landlords into fixing uncorrected health and safety violations issued by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

According to the Public Advocate's website, "Landlords are objectively ranked according to the number of open housing code violations issued to their buildings."

"Shame works," Letitia James said, while acknowledging the list does have a lot of repeat offenders. "There are some landlords who own multiple buildings. They correct one, but then the next building, unfortunately, is on that list. So, you see their name again and again."

Landlords who refuse to correct violations face growing fines. However, out of the 481,085 violations HPD issued in FY2017, less than half of them, 42 percent, were issued and removed in the same fiscal year.

In fiscal year 2017, HPD initiated 6,371 cases in Housing Court and collected more than $8.8 million in civil penalties.

HPD also utilizes alternative enforcement programs that involve additional oversight by inspectors and financial penalties when landlords don't correct violations.

In the most egregious cases, landlords can lose control of their buildings to court-appointed administrators, but that's rare.

7 On Your Side requested a list of buildings that received a court-appointed administrator, known as a 7-A Administrator, in HPD initiated cases from 2009-2017. Out of the tens of thousands of cases initiated in housing court, less than three dozen resulted in a court-appointed administrator.

An HPD spokesperson said many cases initiated by HPD are settled prior to a judge appointing a 7-A Administrator. In other instances, HPD can support tenant-initiated 7-A proceedings but that requires support from at least one-third of tenants in the building.

"I don't think the city is doing enough," Evans said.

Often, tenants complain their concerns go unanswered as the buildings they live in are passed from one landlord to the next.

"Before they make repairs, they sell it again," Silva said.

James agrees the city should do more, but she said her hands are tied by state laws.

"The Office of Public Advocate needs to be strengthened to give the Office of the Public Advocate the ability to go to court and challenge some of these landlords," James said. "I just think we give them too much time to correct conditions and I think that state law needs to be corrected."

7 On Your Side Investigates reached out repeatedly to the landlords on the Watch List where the tenants we spoke to are living. Only one landlord replied.

A spokesperson for the management company provided this statement in part: "Any suggestion that the company neglects its properties or uses poor conditions to displace tenants is flat-out wrong. To the contrary, we pride ourselves on having corrected substandard living conditions for hundreds of families in badly neglected buildings purchased from long-time absentee landlords, and it should come as no surprise that we inherited numerous violations, or that violations for previous neglect could be issued while we were bringing them into a state of good repair... The Public Advocate's methodology is to go by record violations during a specific period of time, which captures buildings even if purchased just before the period begins, and does not take into account violations where the repairs have been made but not yet inspected or removed by the City. In fact, one day after the list was published over 120 violations were removed of record following an HPD inspection that had occurred a few weeks prior. In this case, being on the list means the company bought bad buildings, not that we were bad landlords."

The properties 7 On Your Side Investigates visited owned by this landlord have seen multiple improvements since our first visit.

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