Bronx landlord’s $25M unpaid tax bill renews call for stalled transfer program

Tenants of a dilapidated Bronx apartment complex are demanding the city seize the building from an absentee landlord who owes nearly $25 million in property taxes after a roughly decade-long saga over control of the property.

Residents of the 49-unit building at 2201-2205 Davidson Ave. said they’re planning to sue the landlord and the city after dealing with serious leaks, mold blooms and months-long elevator outages, despite the building cycling through the city’s various emergency repairs programs. Those who live there said rats still scurry through their apartments and intruders enter through the unlocked front door as they try to wrestle the building out of the landlords’ hands.

The ongoing fight is casting renewed attention on a stalled program meant to turn over derelict buildings with years of back taxes to nonprofits equipped to pay the mortgage and make repairs, while also raising questions over just how bad things have to get before city agencies step in.

“Every repair that we’ve done is basically on our own, out of pocket,” said fifth-floor tenant Jenel Young. “We didn’t have a choice and it’s our safety.”

Young, 27, said she and her sister have spent thousands of dollars to fix their crumbled bathroom ceiling, scrape lead paint from the walls and hire an exterminator to get rid of the rats. Steam sprayed from a bedroom radiator when Gothamist visited on a chilly day in January. Department of Housing Preservation and Development records show the building has 473 open violations.

Young and her sister said they had been waiting for HPD and the city’s Department of Finance to turn the building over to a nonprofit through the city’s Third-Party Transfer program for several years, but various circumstances have scuttled the proposed take-over.

The building’s owners filed for bankruptcy and froze an ongoing foreclosure process in 2015. A judge dismissed the case three years later.

In 2019, the city suspended the TPT program after owners of smaller buildings and co-ops, along with several lawmakers, said it unfairly targeted people of color and stripped them of their properties when they faced financial hardship.

The city convened a working group to study the TPT program and make recommendations in a final report released in November 2021. But more than two years later, the program is still on hold, and tenants of the Davidson Avenue building say they’re in limbo.

David Kornitzer, whose company 2201 Davidson NY Holdings LLC is listed as an owner, did not respond to requests for comment. Neither did his attorney.

An attorney for the companies Romad Realty and New Day Housing Corp., which are also listed as owners on court and property records, did not respond to a phone call or email.

The effort for better conditions at the building goes back years, with the residents working with the organization Northwest Bronx Community Clergy Coalition eight years ago. In a 2021 memo to HPD administrators, the tenants and their supporters said they wanted ownership with support from a nonprofit through the TPT program.

Young said she still wants the building transferred to a nonprofit, and eventually for tenants to have the opportunity to buy their own units

“The ideal and the goal is for the tenants to take over,” she said.

Carmen Graham, 73, said she has lived in her third-floor apartment since 1985 and seen conditions deteriorate further in recent years. She said water pours from her bathroom ceiling and that she is mostly stuck in her apartment because of the broken elevator.

“I’ve lived here for 38 years, but I can’t live like this,” she said. “I’d like to see someone new take over the building and take care of it.”

Russell Crane, a Legal Aid Society attorney representing the tenants, said the drawn-out process makes no sense and is putting tenants at risk while needed repairs and unpaid taxes mount.

“They haven’t shown any responsibility for the building,” Crane said of the landlords. “[TPT] is a really important and valuable program for buildings exactly like this.”

HPD, which took legal action to compel repairs at the building in 2020, did not directly respond to questions about restarting the TPT program.

Agency spokesperson William Fowler said HPD and Mayor Eric Adams’ administration are “exploring all available avenues to ultimately improve conditions in the building given the owners’ failure to do so.”

“All New Yorkers deserve a safe and healthy home and we support the residents of this building in their pursuit to improve their living conditions,” Fowler said.

Local Councilmember Pierina Sanchez, chair of the city’s housing committee, said the episode is an “extreme example” of problems occurring at thousands of buildings where tenants cannot get repairs done or the city to take meaningful actions.

In a letter to HPD, the Department of Buildings and the Department of Finance in January, Sanchez recommended the city resume the foreclosure process to take the property

“City officials cannot stand idly by and allow preventable catastrophe to occur,” she wrote in the letter shared with Gothamist. “The building has cycled through owners who exhibit a systematic and cyclical pattern of neglect.”

Sanchez said the city has not formally responded to her letter, but thinks HPD is now paying more attention to the property.

When Gothamist visited in late-January, flyers posted in the hallways described upcoming inspections by HPD.

Sanchez said the situation reveals the need for a revised TPT program that holds owners of large properties accountable when they mistreat tenants and skip out on their tax obligations, while avoiding the “racialized” way the city had targeted owners of color.

“We need to be able to do more and escalate enforcement, and this is a prime example,” she said. “The people involved with this property clearly have no business being a landlord in the city of New York.”

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