Building/Landlord issues — Brooklynian

Building/Landlord issues

edited February 2014 in Prospect Heights
I'm looking for anyone experienced with landlord problems to provide any advice on my (and fellow tenants) situation:

Basically the landlord for my building neglects our building and apartments. It's a >6 unit building in the heart of PH. During the recent storms, the stoop was never shoveled or iced. The garbage area never shoveled or iced. The common areas of the building are not cleaned or swept. All creating dangerous and just lousy issues for the tenants. These were just the most recent issues. Apartment conditions decay - leaks, mold, rodents - and no one fixes anything despite repeated contact with landlord and supers. We had two supers fired over past couple months. Our front door was broken for a year allowing anyone to enter the building. When the supers are notified of these issues, they say they will come fix it and rarely/never show up - seemingly in many instances bc the landlord told them not to spend the money to fix the issues. If the landlord is notified of these issues, the landlord often becomes combative, telling us to buy our own salt for the stoop or to move out if we don't like the building. She has verbally berated more than one tenant including myself.

What is the best approach to dealing with this? I've begun to organize a few tenants and capturing their issues alongside my own. Do we form a tenant org? Withhold rent? Call 311? Go to PACC? Department of Housing? Talk to the block association (this building in many ways becomes a block blight)? Some of us have been here for many years bc we like this neighborhood and have kind of suffered through and dealt with the issues - many tenants are new and cycle through like a revolving door.

I just feel like landlords can get away with anything and at the end of the day moving is the only option but it just seems so unfair. This landlord also seems to "get off" on these sort of confrontations. I'm unsure how to proceed or advise my fellow tenants. Any help would be appreciated.


  • Call 311 have code enforcement get out there to inspect. They love to issue violations. You can withhold rent but make sure you have it ready to pay. If you go to court you can show the judge a check for the amount you owe and say you'll gladly pay it when things get straightened out. Make sure you have photos of the problem areas. Good luck.
  • edited February 2014
    As a result of having more than 6 units, the building is likely covered by rent stabilization.

    ...which may contribute to the LL's "take it or leave it" attitude, because the LL feels that tenants are paying below market rents.

    In such situations, the tenants have much less power than the LL despite the efforts of the city and the existing laws, and it may be wise for the tenants not to escalate a battle that they are likely to lose.

    In other words, file complaints with 311 and HPD/DOB as a last resort.

    First, form that tenant association. At the meeting, present issues that involve the common areas of the building (the snow removal, the front door). Then, explain to them that you think fighting the LL is a losing approach and that you would like them each to chip in toward the costs of hiring someone to do the work, and/or rotating the tasks among tenants.

    Be prepared for push back. It is a tough sell.

    ....but the remedies obtained may be far more timely and consequence-free than your alternatives.

  • Potentially one or two apartments are paying below market. Myself and all others are not. Does that impact the above at all?
  • edited February 2014
    Not really. ...just because you feel you are paying market rent, the LL may not.

    The LL seems to view you and the other tenants as disposable ...and LL may be right.

    Basically, you should privately assign a score to each of your three options.

    Option 1. Involve city first

    Option 2. Do as much as possible with the help of other tenants, then involve city.

    Option 3. Move

    The score assigned to each should factor in time, financial cost, and probability of success. Each tenant is likely to come up with a different score, because they have different lives.

    This article may influence you re: the limited success you may experience if you involve the city:

    We May Have Just Found the Worst Slumlord in Brooklyn | Greenpointers -

    Good luck.
  • Depressing.
  • Yes, but if the city is involved and repairs aren't made the city will end up doing it and charging the landlord exorbitant prices and place liens on the building for that amount. As long as there's a record of neglect the tenants have a stronger case and housing court is not going to evict them. And once the city gets started they keep doing it until they're paid and the landlord proves that they're willing to do what needs to be done.
  • edited February 2014
    Yes, but despite this, the same buildings stay on the HPD's list of "Worst Landlords" until it resolved. The process often takes years, and the LL's often escalate their neglect and harassment during this process.

    Hence, if you have a group of tenants who is willing/able to address what they can on their own, that should be the strategy you pursue.

    Involving the city effectively declares war. Don't fight wars you until you have to. Don't fight wars you are not going to win.

    --> Fight a war if the LL doesn't give you heat.

    Avoid pursuing abstract concepts like "justice".

  • I strongly disagree with the sentiment that you don't have any rleverage as rent-stabilized tenants. (If, in fact, you are rent stabilized. See or go to your local DHCR office to check if you are.)  In fact, its quite the opposite.  If you are not in a rent regulated apartment, your landlord can evict you rather easily.  If you are rent stabilized, the landlord has to offer you a new lease absent a good reason not to, so housing court is very effective for these types of tenants.  If you are rent stabilized and your landlord is not keeping your building in habitable condition, then you absolutely should ask the city and the courts to make the landlord live up to their obligations. 

    I would recommend calling 311 immediately if you have not done so and having an HPD inspection done.  You need evidence that you have made your landlord aware of the situation.  If the landlord does not fix the problem, then you can start a HP action in housing court.  This will allow you to sue the landlord to make necessary repairs.  You may have to go to court a couple of times to get it enforced, but the court will make it in the landlord's best interest to do so.  

    If your conditions are bad enough and enough of the tenants are with you, you can ask the court to appoint an administrator to run the building in a 7A proceeding.  See:

    If you are a rent-stabilized tenant you absolutely have to stand up for your rights.  You will win on this issue, and if you keep the pressure on the landlord they will eventually start living up to their obligations.  I see rent-stabilized tenants win these kinds of battles all the time, and it doesn't take as long as you might think.  

    Its usually not a good idea to withhold rent.  Having an affirmative case where you are suing your landlord and all rent has been paid looks better and is easier to fight than a nonpayment case where you haven't paid rent and ask the landlord for repairs.  

    Find a lawyer to help you.  Depending on your income level, you can reach out to Legal Aid, South Brooklyn Legal Services, or LSNY to help you with this issue for free.  If your income disqualifies you from these services, chances are you will be able to find a landlord/tenant attorney to take your case and the court will award them attorneys fees out of the landlord's pocket at the end of the day.  In other words, fighting this in court will likely cost you nothing.
  • @gargantic welcome! Thanks for the insightful and detailed post.
  • Appreciate the help. While I think rent stabilized applies to one or two apartments, the rest are at market - $2800-$4000 per unit. Seemingly under these conditions people would advise to just move?
  • Actually we do show on that list you linked to....
  • edited February 2014
    Yes, just because you are being charged market rents, doesn't mean all of the units are not rent stabilized.

    ...this speaks to the toothlessness of the advocates, city and state in enforcing such laws.

    In reality, the real estate market is much more "free market" than the tenant advocates, laws and regulations might first lead one to believe.

    ...while I am sure they would like another in ally in their fight to enforce these laws, you and your neighbors need to make an intelligent decision re: what is best for YOU.

  • Unfortunately, whynot_31 is correct insofar as the city and state require tenants to enforce their own rights as rent-stabilized tenants. Individual leases are not recorded or looked at, so no one can enforce the rent-stabilization laws but you.  But it is extremely rare that only some of the units in a building would be rent stabilized.  

    But, the upside is that you can still act to enforce your rights.  I would head to DHCR at 55 Hanson Place and ask for the rent registration for your apartment (or you can call 311 and get it, though just going to 55 Hanson is faster.)  If your landlord has been illegally overcharging you, you will most likely be entitled to a rent abatement and your landlord could be forced to pay you back all of the money he overcharged you (if there is evidence of fraud, he could be forced to pay back 3x what he overcharged you).  This can be a slow process, but it can guarantee that (a) your landlord can only charge you the legal rent-stabilized rent for the unit and (b) it is much much harder to evict you from the building. I would encourage your neighbors to do the same. 

    What's more, as a rent-stabilized building, your chance of being able to maintain an HP action is much greater.  

  • I remember being told to call 311 for these types of complaints. If a critical of tenants were to call and report problems/violations, that may get the city's attention more than if only you and one other tenant were to call 311. An additional rationale is that there is a record on file with the city that may come in handy if/when the tenants association were to meet with management to discuss the various problems in the building that need addressing. (It's less of a "your word against mine" if the city also has a record of the various problems.) If a tenant's association is formed, the association may also want to reach out and get advice/assistance from nonprofits such as PACC and Brooklyn Housing & Family Services and your local politicians. 

    It does sound like an uphill battle, but it'd be best fought if people were to get organized.
  • edited February 2014
    Yes, a lot of what the individual should do is dependent upon the response of their fellow tenants.

    It is also important that tenants understand the potential of being listed on the blacklist

    Tenants who try to take legal action against their landlords (even unsuccessfully) can end up on the list, which (in the event they ever leave the building they found so hard to get the LL to maintain...) may make it harder for them secure an different apartment.

    We had a pretty good discussion about this list, and why tenants regularly voluntarily pay more than the HCR "legal rent" on this thread:
  • FYI: I received the following error message from the link: "The New York State Bar Association has recently launched a new website."

  • edited February 2014
    Thanks, I've deleted that dead link for my post above and quickly post this one as I dash out the door to the weekend.

    ah, weekend.
  • edited February 2014
    Eugenious - If you are paying market rent and are not happy, the best thing you can do is vote with your wallet and move. You can probably get a much nicer apartment in that same neighborhood with a landlord that actually cares about his property and takes good care of it.
    Let me know if you get into the market for a new place. I own a brownstone in park slope.

    Oh......If you decide to stay, I would listen to whynot.
  • edited February 2014
    ......Just start looking for a new place at lease 4 months before the lease is up.
  • Thanks for all the info...I did follow up with rent registration and my apartment is exempt and has been since a few years before I moved in. So apparently you can have a building with a mix of regulated and unregulated apartments. So...on to the next strategy.
  • Random thought: there should be a Yelp for landlords. Because I'd love to give mine a very sour review.
  • I have seen landlord/management reviews on Yelp I think.  But besides that, I agree.  A landlord review site would be wonderful.
  • The NYC Public Advocate puts out a list of the worst landlords in the city:

    Given the number of LLs in NYC, I have always believed that much of the risk can't be eliminated.

    ....without spending a ton of money on rent.
  • So while I pay good money for an apartment that seemingly the landlord can ignore...if I ask about the issues or when they will be fixed are they allowed to:

    1. Harass me
    2. Tell me to move

    Seems like that has to be illegal somehow.
  • I would move.
  • Sad to see how many people say "move" - sadder that seems the only option. Hard to swallow that the laws are so toothless against slumlords. is a site I came across to research what goes on in certain buildings. My landlord is owner of many buildings in PH - all seemingly have similar neglect. For those looking at apartments that come across my post: be certain to do your research. You don't want to be in this owner's buildings. You'll be miserable.
  • Eugenious - I am sorry that you find yourself in this situation.  You seem determined to resolve this situation and stay in your apartment.  However, I can almost guarantee you that very little can be done.  Its the sad truth.  However, if more tenants like you showed your dissatisfaction with your wallets, these bad landlords would have to respond and correct these issues.

    You best (and only) option would be to find another apartment at the end of the lease.

    Best of luck..... 
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