Tenants & Advocates Demand Repairs On Neglected Sunset Park Homes

City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez and Council Member Sara M. González, Occupy Sunset Park, and UHAB joined tenants from three distressed Sunset Park buildings languishing in foreclosure to demand the mortgage holder, Seryl LLC, meet with tenants and remedy 684 outstanding violations or sell the properties to a responsible new owner who will.

Christine Quinn demands the investment company preserves and restores these homesIn 2011, Astoria Savings Bank foreclosed on 545, 553 and 557 46th Street in Brooklyn and sold the note to private equity company Seryl LLC.  Since then, the buildings have deteriorated and fallen into disrepair, with tenants subjected to mold, persistently leaky roofs and ceilings, lead paint and rodents throughout their homes.

“It is unconscionable that tenants should suffer due to poor financial decisions made by their building’s owners and because of risky moves made by housing speculators,” said Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez.  “The owners of these buildings need to immediately step in and repair these properties, so residents have a safe, decent place to raise their families.”

The three buildings have 684 total violations spread over 51 apartments, with an average of 13 violations per unit. The NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s (HPD) has an extensive history of enforcement action at these properties in efforts to hold the ownership’s for its failure to respond to the tenant’s concerns and the serious maintenance issues that were going unaddressed.

In January, the properties entered HPD’s Alternative Enforcement Program (AEP), a groundbreaking initiative spearheaded by Speaker Quinn that authorizes HPD to annually target the 200 most physically distressed buildings in the City to hold the landlords accountable for their repair and rehabilitation.

Conditions in the building include mold, water leaks in the ceilings, rodents, lead paint, roof leaks, and lack of window guards. In addition to HPD having paid to provide fuel at 553 46th Street to keep the heat on during the winter months, over the course of several years the agency spent tens of thousands of dollars to perform emergency repairs to the most hazardous violations that the owner failed to correct. HPD has also brought litigation in Housing Court against all three properties seeking the correction of the open housing code violations.

Housing is a Human Right“Too often, tenants are the ones forced to pay the price for bad lending decisions,” said Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “Our message is clear: Seryl must immediately begin repairs and fully restore these homes, or sell them to someone who will. We cannot allow this negligent mortgage holder to continue to put the housing of New Yorkers at risk. I thank Congresswoman Velázquez, Council Member González, my colleagues in government, UHAB, Legal Services New York and all the tenants who have fearlessly organized and are standing up to protect the future of their homes.”

“I firmly believe these tenants and all New Yorkers have a right to clean, safe, affordable housing,” said Council Member Sara M. González. “I am committed to continuing to ensure their rights and hope that today’s action will bring them the relief they deserve. After months working with residents, community based organizations and various City agencies, I am eager to move forward and provide permanent relief for my constituents living in these buildings. I would like to thank Speaker Quinn and my colleagues at every level of government for turning their attention to this very troubling situation.”

Deplorable conditions“Families who live in blighted buildings face the reality of coming home every day to conditions that are detrimental to their health and wellbeing, and which can be so hazardous as to blight the surrounding community. AEP exists to act as a mechanism to identify and intervene in buildings like the three properties on 46th Street,” said HPD Deputy Commissioner Vito Mustaciuolo. “I thank the Speaker for her strong support in helping to create and strengthen AEP, giving HPD the enforcement tools necessary to bring relief to thousands of New York families struggling in some of the worst buildings in the city. I also commend the hardworking AEP, Housing Litigation, and Neighborhood Preservation staff for their tireless efforts to protect our City’s tenants and ensure that owners are held accountable for their actions.”

Speaker Quinn, elected officials, housing advocates and South Brooklyn Legal Services a  constituent corporation of Legal Services NYC, joined the Tenant Associations of 545, 553 and 557 46th Street and residents to demand Seryl LLC meet with tenants and reach an agreement to preserve and restore their homes.

Though tenants and organizers have repeatedly requested meetings with Seryl LLC to discuss the mortgage holder’s plans for the buildings, the company has been unwilling to meet with residents to address their concerns.

Buildings in Foreclosure in Sunset Park“We want Seryl to give the receiver more money to make the needed repairs. Last week we had no hot water for 8 days and on Friday we woke up to find there was no electricity and no light in the hallways of 553 and 557,” said  46th Street Tenant Association President Sara Lopez who has lived in the buildings for over 35 years. “We have been fighting for 10 years because the previous landlord did nothing. We went on rent strike to solve the serious problems of these buildings.  We have seen some improvements so we see the receiver is trying to get work done. We have a new fence and lights outside and new doors. But we still need money for the major repairs.  The boiler must be replaced.  The roof is destroyed and brick have already fallen.  It’s an emergency and we must avoid a tragedy.”

Tenants working with Occupy/Ocupemos Sunset Park“Seryl LLC is one of several private groups who have purchased defaulted mortgages on rent regulated housing in New York City” said Kerri White, Director of Organizing and Policy at the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board. “Across the city, groups like Seryl LLC are allowing buildings to languish in foreclosure, presumably hoping to flip the property for a quick buck when the market improves. Many of these buildings are severely distressed and financially overleveraged, and need a long term preservation plan to bring them back to livable conditions while maintaining affordability. While conditions continue to deteriorate, tenants like the residents at 46th Street are left suffering and Seryl is nowhere to be found.”

“My clients have had to live with horrible landlord after horrible landlord,” said Brent Meltzer, Co-Unit Director for South Brooklyn Legal Services. “Seryl needs to come out of hiding and let the tenants know if it will sell it to a responsible owner or whether it intends to be another horrible landlord. If the latter, my office will work with the tenants and our elected officials to explore every legal angle to stop Seryl from preying on vulnerable, low-income tenants.”

Occupy Sunset Park/Ocupemos Sunset Park has been supporting the 46th St. tenants’ organizing efforts since the early days of their rent strike in July of 2012, and was there to support them at the press conference. OSP representatives stated,  ”We applaud the tenants for carrying on this tenacious fight for safe, secure and affordable housing for their families.  As their T-shirts say, ‘Housing is a Human Right’, and Occupy Sunset Park will continue to accompany the tenants to ensure that all the promises made today by politicians and city officials are kept and that the tenants have a voice in the future of their buildings.”

See a slideshow of images from the event: