Response From One of the Worst Landlords?
On Wednesday, Power Plays received a comment from "REM," purporting to write on behalf of landlord Steven Kessner--one of the city's 10 worst landlords, according to a recent Village Voice report (full coverage, Kessner article, slideshow).
Kessner, one of whose properties is pictured in the photo by Giulietta Verdon-Roe below, had blamed his problems on tenants overloading the units. "I will, under no circumstances, repair any overcrowded apartments," he told a reporter, adding, "All I do is fix, and they damage."
Lest today's defense get lost, we present in full after the jump. (Others, from someone named Len, appear in the comments here.)
Comment posted by REM:
Recently, there has been a substantial amount of unfair negative press surrounding our company, its buildings and the company president, Steven Kessner. There have been sensational reports about demonstrations in front of our office and our buildings, interviews with supposed tenants and pictures of alleged conditions in various apartments. However, most reporters have not taken the time to uncover the real story.
Several months ago, we were approached by officials of HPD who informed us that a tenant advocacy group had complained about our treatment of tenants in certain buildings, in particular, about the number of housing violations in the buildings. Our investigation revealed that in each of these buildings, most of the open violations were concentrated in a few apartments, which we had previously determined to be overcrowded. These apartments represent a catch 22 situation for us and we are caught up in a vicious cycle. Where we originally rented apartments to one or two people, we now have apartments filled with as much as fifteen to twenty people and, in many cases; the original tenants no longer reside there. New York City code restricts apartment occupancy to a minimum of 80 square feet per person and New York State law allows only one unrelated person sharing an apartment with one dependent. Aside from being illegal, overcrowding an apartment presents fire hazards, health hazards and puts a great deal of additional stress on the apartment, the building and the other, lawful occupants of the building. In every building where overcrowding exists, we have constant problems such as broken front door locks, dirty halls, leaks from continual toilet flushing and showering, all day and night, every day. Each building may have 100 to 150 more tenants than their capacity. The buildings are noisy and there is a constant flow of people in and out, at all hours. We know of apartments with bunk beds on every wall, blocking fire escape exits. These people are generally undocumented aliens and do not want to let the landlord know how they are living. Consequently, they do not call in complaints or repair requests as other tenants do. We, therefore, have no way of knowing what conditions are present in these apartments. When violations appear on record, and we try to abate them, we are denied access, or are allowed very limited access, not including the bedrooms. The catch 22 is that we cannot evict for overcrowding unless we have direct evidence and overcrowding violations issued by the City. Despite our numerous requests, HPD refuses to issue overcrowding violations. Currently, we have an Order to Show Cause pending, seeking to have HPD refrain from issuing violations in these apartments unless they also issue violations for the root cause; overcrowding.
We have met with HPD and the tenant advocates. While we agreed that we had an obligation to abate violations, we told them that we would go about it in an orderly manner but that we wanted their help in decreasing the occupancy in the affected apartments. Unfortunately, their response was to deny any help and just rain down violations on these buildings. They and the tenants have decided that if they hold demonstrations and call one TV station or newspaper after another, they will force our hand, cause us to renovate their apartments and prevent us from bringing legal action to evict them. However, the TV, radio and newspaper reports are actually giving us the ammunition we need to take people to court. One occupant went on record saying that she lived in an apartment with six people (a studio). Other occupants who have been interviewed are not the tenants of record in their apartment. Two other occupants, in different buildings, both, who signed move in sheets, stating that everything was in good order and that they had new, working appliances, had pictures taken of stoves, in pieces. We didn�t go into their apartments and take their stoves apart. Our posture is now to draw a line in the sand. We refuse to go into these apartments time after time and repair the same things that keep being damaged by too many illegal occupants. We, and the other, legitimate tenants in our buildings would like some help from the City. Unfortunately, we do not expect any help and are therefore pursuing our own agenda; taking the occupants to court as many times as we have to, until we have reduced the occupancy in our buildings to more manageable levels.
Posted by: REM at July 26, 2006 02:24 PM