Bronx Tenants Sue to Take Buildings from City’s ‘Worst Landlord’

Fed up with rats, roaches, and leaky ceilings, tenants in three Bronx buildings have filed three lawsuits seeking to take control of the buildings away from their landlord—who is currently number one on Public Advocate Bill de Blasio’s list of the city’s 330 worst landlords. 

Tenants in 1259, 1265, and 1269 College Ave., a few blocks east of the Grand Concourse between 168th and 169th streets, began organizing last August. They asked New Settlement’s Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA) to help them form a tenants association, in order to get much needed repairs from the landlord, Eli Abbott’s College Management. 

They first sent letters to the landlord in writing and attached more than 30 individual apartment complaint forms.  Abbott responded that their allegations were “ridiculous” and that tenants “call 311 to complain about their lives.” 

The tenants kept calling in complaints to 311. The buildings now have more than 680 open violations on file with the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development, including 78 C violations, the most dangerous. These include holes in the ceilings in several apartments, water leaks, peeling lead paint, broken locks, missing radiators, and rats. In July, tenant Minarda Pimental showed WPIX-TV pictures of how rats had eaten through the seal on her refrigerator door to get to the food inside. Lucy Sanchez told the Daily News that she had paid to fix the ceiling in her bathroom herself, after “I spent three years sitting on the toilet with an umbrella.”

“We’re dealing with rats, there’s water leaks all over the place, it’s always filthy,” Angel Caballero, who has lived at 1265 College Ave. for more than 55 years, told WINS radio. “We’re living like animals.”

The landlord continues to collect more than $700,000 a month in rent from the three buildings’ 63 apartments. Tenants typically pay around $1,300 for a one-bedroom apartment.

 Abbott has repeatedly refused to make repairs, tenants say.  Last December, officials of New York Community Bank, which holds the mortgage, toured the buildings, took pictures, and wrote a detailed letter to the landlord, asking for a reply.  They never heard back.

All three buildings are in HPD’s Proactive Preservation Initiative, a new program that targets buildings considered blighted for intensified inspections and code enforcement. HPD has spent more than $25,000 on emergency repairs to the buildings, the News reported; Abbott paid back all but $365 of that, but the agency also sued him to collect more than $8,000 in debts and to get a court order to require repairs.

In early June, more than half of the tenants in the buildings brought three separate 7A actions against College Management, with the help of Legal Services NYC–Bronx and New York Lawyers for Public Interest.  They are asking the court to appoint an administrator to run the buildings, on the grounds that Abbott has proven that he is neither interested in nor capable of taking care of the buildings, and that he needs to be stripped of his control.

Abbott bought the three buildings in 2007 for $3.6 million. He recently put them up for sale; a Manhattan real-estate broker lists the price at $4.5 million. Tenants have put up signs in their windows and banners on the fire escapes to ensure that any potential buyer knows they are organized, that they know their rights and that they will demand that any new landlord prioritize quality repairs.  

Susanna Blankley is director of housing organizing at Community Action for Safe Apartments, a project of New Settlement Apartments.