The office of Public Advocate Jumaane Williams published its annual Worst Landlords Watchlist today, which identifies the city’s 100 most negligent landlords as determined by housing code violations.
Williams said the properties owned by the landlords on the list were “overwhelmingly in the Black and Brown neighborhoods hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.” And for the second year in a row, Jason Korn, who owns several buildings in central Brooklyn as well as in upper Manhattan, topped the list.
“Korn amassed an average of 1,822 violations across 10 buildings on the list in 2020,” the Public Advocate’s office wrote in a press release announcing the watchlist. “In addition to the injustices occurring inside Korn’s buildings is the injustice of his attempts to force tenants out. As the coronavirus continues to devastate the city and cases are rising, Korn is currently threatening to evict a group of Crown Heights tenants who have organized a rent strike, those tenants citing widespread neglect and deplorable conditions.”
Rose Helesca, a tenant at the Crown Heights building, 1616 President Street, said at a virtual press conference that she has brought her eight-month-old child to the hospital twice because of health problems caused by mold in the building.
“I’ve been living in a terrible… I can’t even explain how I’m living in the building,” Helesca said.
Landlords on the list are ranked according to the average number of housing code violations open per month on their buildings by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). Williams said complaints to HPD dropped significantly compared to last year, which he attributed to tenants’ apprehension about facing retaliation and coronavirus-related fears about exposing themselves to additional people.
“But we still use the data to show even with that significant drop,” Williams said at the press conference, “the worst of the worst are still doing what they do, which is not making the repairs that are needed.”
As has become customary in recent years, the Public Advocate also directed withering criticism toward the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), which manages the city’s public housing stock.
The Housing Authority was listed alongside Korn as the city’s worst landlord, the third year it has held the position. Even as HPD complaints and violations dropped in the city’s private housing stock, among NYCHA buildings, open work orders have risen from about 236,000 in October 2018 to over 461,000 in October 2020. And last week, a report from the city’s Department of Investigation said NYCHA failed to properly remove lead from thousands of public housing units, putting tenants at further risk of exposure.
Williams blamed Mayor Bill de Blasio, who oversaw the release of the watchlist when he himself was Public Advocate, for both NYCHA’s failures and the bad behavior of private landlords.
“We’re going into the eighth year of this administration, so the issues that are here are no longer about a prior administration,” Williams said. “You can’t point to the prior administration. This is about this administration. Mayor de Blasio, who came into office saying one of the priorities was housing. And we now see abject failure when it comes to housing generally and NYCHA specifically. And it’s time for the administration to take ownership of those failings, because the tenants are suffering.”
A spokesperson for the Mayor disputed those claims and said de Blasio had invested more to improve conditions at NYCHA than any other mayor in the city’s history.
“NYCHA has put forward a transformational Blueprint for Change, and we look forward to working with elected officials to make it a reality,” Laura Feyer, the spokesperson, said. “The Mayor also cares deeply about protecting tenants, which is why, among other initiatives, he created the Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants in 2019, which is currently talking bad landlords to court.”
In addition to NYCHA and Korn, Lewis Barbanel, Robert Raphael, Abdul Khan, and David Blau round out the top of Williams’ list. The individual building with the most issues in Brooklyn was 381 Vernon Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The property had 451 HPD violations this year. A map of the buildings included in the Public Advocate’s report can be viewed here.
At the press conference, elected officials put forth several policy proposals, including seizing properties from the landlords at the top of the list.
“Some of these owners who have been on this list for years and years, they really shouldn’t have these buildings,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. “So the question is, how can we work together so that these buildings are taken from them? I know it’s not easy, but it does seem to me that one way another, maybe through legislation or different policies, we should be doing that.”
In recent years, tools to assist beleaguered tenants have also emerged from entities unaffiliated with the government, including JustFix.nyc, which helps tenants request repairs and file lawsuits against landlords, and openigloo, a new platform that crowdsources tenant reviews of rental buildings.
A recent review of 755 Ocean Avenue, a Blau-owned building in Flatbush, listed the building’s “cons” as “Rats Bug problems No one fix anything Dirty Nasty Water damage” and advised the owner to “Fix this building up!!”
“Something we are working on at openigloo is to have a warning on every building profile that is owned by a landlord on the Watchlist,” said Allia Mohamed, a co-founder of the company. “We hope that openigloo can build on the Public Advocate’s important work and help tenants avoid these slumlords.”