By David Brand and Jonathan Sperling
They own or manage clusters of apartment buildings in Astoria and a handful of sites in Ridgewood. There are slumlords neglecting their duties in Richmond Hill and others ignoring their tenants in Jamaica.
Together, they account for 5,122 open Housing Preservation and Development violations across 1,258 units in Queens and elsewhere in New York City, according to city records.
The nine Queens landlords included on Public Advocate Letitia James’ 100 Worst Landlords List share something else in common: They’re hard to reach — especially when shielded by various LLCs, usually one for each derelict building they own or manage.
None of the nine Queens slumlords included on James’ list responded to the Eagle’s requests for comment, though people in their offices occasionally spoke up.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Esther, the woman who answered the phone at J. Wasser, where Matt Levi, the city’s 11th worst landlord, works. Esther declined to give her last name. “People like to say things about every property management office.”
Levi manages 11 buildings on the list, including a six-unit residence at 1645 Summerfield Street in Ridgewood that has 40 open HPD violations. Esther said the Worst Landlord List unfairly targeted Levi and her company.
“He’s not actually a landlord. We don’t have a landlord. We are the management company and we manage millions of different buildings,” Esther said. “He’s the person who signs leases, he does rents.”
Isaac Azoulay — number 64 on the list — manages 42 units across four buildings, including a residence at 97-51 104th Street in Richmond Hill and another at 108-01 91st Avenue in Ozone Park.
A company called Azoulay & Weiss LLP shares an address with IDBSM Holding Group LLC, a company listed as the owner of one of Azoulay’s Brooklyn buildings. The Azoulay & Weiss LLP website features a “stop eviction” feature, which links to a contact form.
Yet, seven tenants were evicted from Azoulay’s 42 units, according to the Worst Landlords List.
The person who answered the phone at Azoulay & Weiss gave the Eagle Azoulay’s email address. Azoulay did not respond to request for comment as of press time.
CUNY Associate Law Professor John Whitlow, a tenants’ rights advocate, told the Eagle that the list serves as an important starting point for identifying problem landlords and holding them accountable for their violations. It’s up to the local government to follow through on punishing the landlords, he added.
"The list serves a useful purpose in drawing attention to who the bad actors are and hopefully it facilitates tenant organizing across buildings or in portfolios of buildings owned by these landlords,” Whitlow said. "Publishing this list is a good step, but the city and state need to do more to make sure that no tenant has to deal with chronic violations."
So far, inclusion on the list has not stopped Eric Silverstein from following in his father Harry’s footsteps. Eric was named New York City’s number one worst landlord by James. His father received the dishonor in 2016.
Eric Silverstein owns Hillside House, a 119-unit building in Jamaica. In June, tenants organized and took Hillside House Management LLC. to housing court.
An employee for Hillside House Management LLC. hung up the phone when asked about the Worst Landlord List title.
A person, who answered the phone at Metropolitan Pacific Properties, which manages several properties in Astoria, also dismissed a question about the Worst Landlord List.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” the woman said when asked about Debbie Vasquez, a Metropolitan Pacific Properties manager and the third-worst landlord in New York City.
Vasquez’s properties account for 1,174 open violations across 9 buildings on 33rd Street and 35th Street in Astoria.
Ursula Niarakis, the city’s 73rd worst landlord, did not respond to request for comment either. The person who answered the phone at a business owned by Ursula Niarakis, the 73rd worst landlord in the city, said she would pass on a message to Niarakis.
Niarakis’ 70-unit property on 114th Street in Corona has 283 open HPD violations and tenants have shared their discontent online.
“I have been living @39-06 114th Street since Feb.1,1981 and since l have been residing here it has been quite an expirence (sic) in 35yrs. (sic),” wrote one tenant on apartable.com. “So much has occurred here it is really to (sic) much detail to go into. But it has been something and if I was looking for an apartment I would not look at 39-06 114th Street with all the infractions that there are. But there is a need for repairs to be done But the owner refuses to put out any monies for repairs.We here deserve to live comfortable and problem free.”
Albert Dweck — number 44 on the list — did not respond to request for comment when contacted by the Eagle. Dweck is the CEO at Duke Properties. He is also a professor at the “Real Estate Institute at NYU,” according to his bio on the company’s website. However, he is not included on the faculty list on the New York University Schack Institute of Real Estate website. The NYU Schack Institute was closed for winter break when contacted by the Eagle Thursday.
Dweck is linked to four Ridgewood buildings, each owned by four different LLCs. The four buildings account for 246 open HPD violations.
A spokeswoman for David Eshagoff — number 78 on the list — said someone from the officer would call the Eagle to provide comment. As of press time, no one from the office had called.
Eshagoff’s 48-unit building on Winchester Boulevard in Jamaica has 118 open HPD violations.
No one answered the phone at a number linked to Essen Realty Entreprises, whose manager Maria Sgorous was ranked the 54th worst landlord in the city. Sgorous’ two properties on 153rd Street in Murray Hill account for 317 open HPD violations.
Two Queens buildings managed by Ronald Swartz — ranked as the 38th worst landlord — accounted for 132 open HPD violations. The person who answered the phone at Swartz’s law office said he would pass on a message to Swartz.
As of press time, Swartz had not yet contacted the Eagle.