Slumlord Millionaires
by Daniel Bush
Jul 21, 2009 | 5071 views | 1 1 comments | 125 125 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tenants protesting Vantage's alternative janitor service.
view slideshow (6 images)
A dispute over building conditions in Elmhurst escalated last week after elected officials called for a new Slumlord Watch List at a tenants' rally.

Tenants, community organizers, and elected officials gathered in front of 43-43 91st Place to protest living conditions at the apartment building, which is owned by Vantage Management Services and has approximately three dozen units.

Outraged protesters claimed the buildings are dirty and unsafe, and accused Vantage of ignoring its landlord responsibilities.

They even said the company removed trash from the building after hearing a press conference and rally would be held there.

In an interview, a Vantage spokesman denied those claims, and pointed to a Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) report that found that Vantage's properties "overall were well maintained."

The conflict at that particular location stems from a decision Vantage made to opt to provide an alternative janitorial service that does not include an onsite superintendent.

Property owners of buildings with nine or more units must provide tenants with janitorial and maintenance services, according to the city's Housing Maintenance Code.

These include a janitor who must either live onsite or within a certain distance from the building, or an alternative, HPD-approved 24-hour janitorial service.

Vantage applied for and was issued a waiver from (HPD) exempting it from supplying an onsite janitor, or superintendent, for over ten of its properties, including the one located at 91st Place in Elmhurst.

The company now operates a 24-hour call-in service at its 91st Place building, a system wherein tenants call in problems and are later visited by a janitor or maintenance worker contracted by Vantage to fix the problem.

Though the city approved the alternative plan, and even said it is succeeding, tenants at the protest rally said it clearly isn't working.

A tour of the building, multiple apartments, and the roof revealed broken windows, doors, and a garbage-strewn ally.

Angela Ruiz has a partially collapsed ceiling in the bathroom of her apartment. She said rats have started entering her apartment through the gaping hole, sealed off in ramshackle style by a garbage bag taped to the wall and ceiling.

"We've been asking months for these repairs," said Rebecca Molina, a tenant and member of the community group Make the Road New York, which organized the rally.

"I have a broken window, there's no security. I have rats and cockroaches," said another tenant, Yolanda Liu, who pointed out the rat droppings in her kitchen. "They don't help me with anything," she added, referring Vantage.

David Goldin said Vantage has not received any calls of complaint from Liu, and is in the process of preparing to fix the collapsed ceiling.

He said so far this year Vantage has spent more than $200,000 on maintenance and repair. Goldin defended the call-in system, which he said was designed by the same company that created the city's 311 hotline.

"Vantage is committed to providing the best possible services and the cleanest and safest housing for all of its residents," Goldin said.

Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras said Vantage and other management companies must appropriately address tenant concerns in her district. "It's not just Vantage, there are other groups," said Ferreras, who confirmed constituent building complaints are rising. "It's becoming a bigger issue now."

Brooklyn Councilman Bill de Blasio, who is running for public advocate, said if elected he would create a Slumlord Watch List to regulate large residential management companies, as well as individual landlords.

De Blasio said the public advocate's office would use public information to compile a list of companies whose properties have poor health and safety standards and building violations. He said landlords eager to get off the list would clean their buildings.

"I guarantee you when we put together this [list] you'll see a lot of things cleaned up quickly," de Blasio said. "We're going to bring tenants together all over the city to protect their rights and interests."

Goldin criticized de Blasio and Ferreras for implying Vantage was a slumlord in order to score political points in an election year.

"I think what happened [at the protest] was some politicians were more concerned about votes then telling their constituents the truth," Goldin said.

Comments
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Bmore Slumwatch
|
July 23, 2009
This is fantastic -- congratulations to the tenants and city officials who are being proactive in combatting the problem of hazardous living conditions. Nobody deserves to live with rats, broken windows, and gaping holes in the ceiling.

Maybe you could start a blog to keep people updated on your progress? Please visit ours at http://slumlordwatch.wordpress.com .

The best of luck to you!

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