Ridgewood renters rally against landlord abuse

Tenants march along Fresh Pond Road in Ridgewood.  Eagle  photos by David Brand.

Tenants march along Fresh Pond Road in Ridgewood. Eagle photos by David Brand.

By David Brand

Dozens of Ridgewood renters marched through their neighborhood Saturday to denounce a property owner routinely featured on the New York City public advocate’s annual Worst Landlord List. Their chants of “Fight Fight Fight, Housing is Right” prompted nods from passersby, supportive honks from an FDNY fire truck driving along Myrtle Avenue and words of encouragement from local elected officials.

The Ridgewood Tenants Union’s demonstration against Silvershore Properties attracted renters from Ridgewood and neighboring Bushwick who said they have been harassed by landlords who go to extreme measures to evict or wear down their tenants in order to jack up rents, especially in rent-stabilized apartments.

Silvershore’s former owner, Jonathan Cohen, was named the city’s worst landlord in 2017 by former Public Advocate Letitia James. The company owns nearly 100 buildings and continues the conduct that Cohen instituted, tenants say.

Gloria Nieves, a tenant leader at 1708 Summerfield St., described how Silvershore neglected tenants who went without heat or hot water and had to perform their own building maintenance.

“The people who run Silvershore Properties will say that they are good people and that we are the bad guys but to leave an entire building without any heat and oftentimes hot water during some of the coldest days of winter is not something a good person does,” Nieves said. “They have made our lives impossible and that is why we need landlords like them and all the other landlords in our neighborhood to understand that they cannot take advantage of us in this way.”

Demonstrators demand the state legislature pass a slate of bills designed to protect tenants from rising rents.

Demonstrators demand the state legislature pass a slate of bills designed to protect tenants from rising rents.

The demonstration began in front of 61-20 Madison Ave., a Silvershore Properties building, before community members marched down Fresh Pond Road and Myrtle Avenue, the neighborhood’s two bustling commercial strips. The event ended in front of 1708 Summerfield St., where at least one senior tenant watched from her apartment before heading outside to join the rally.

Several tenants told the Eagle about the bad experiences they have had with landlords — abusive companies with large property portfolios as well as opportunistic single building owners — who tried to drive long-term tenants out of their buildings.

Eugenio Vasquez said the owner of his Bushwick apartment building sold the property to a new landlord who immediately raised rent and took him to housing court to try to evict him.

Ahtziri Campos, a 15-year-old volunteer organizer, said her landlord has tried to drive her immigrant family out of the building for five years so that he can raise the rent and attract wealthier tenants amid Ridgewood’s gentrification.

“He only bothered us,” Campos said. “We are the minority in the building and he made us afraid of getting displaced.”  

Other demonstrators included U.S. Rep. Nydia Velasquez, State Sen. Michael Gianaris, Councilmember Antonio Reynoso and Assemblymembers Brian Barnwell, Mike Miller and Cathy Nolan.

Ridgewood residents join elected officials to condemn landlord abuse and harassment. State Sen. Michael Gianaris (left) Assemblymember Brian Barnwell (second from left), U.S. Rep. Nydia Velasquez (third from left) and Assemblymember Cathy Nolan (fourth from left) observe a speaker.

Ridgewood residents join elected officials to condemn landlord abuse and harassment. State Sen. Michael Gianaris (left) Assemblymember Brian Barnwell (second from left), U.S. Rep. Nydia Velasquez (third from left) and Assemblymember Cathy Nolan (fourth from left) observe a speaker.

“Ridgewood is rising up. Communities throughout New York are rising up because we know if we don’t fight misbehaving landlords and investors they’re coming here to make dimes off our misery and displacing our communities,” Velasquez said.

Barnwell and Gianaris have sponsored a bill that would prevent landlords from passing on the cost of major capital improvements (MCIs) to their rent-regulated tenants. When building owners make certain improvements or enhancements — an MCI — to a building with rent-stabilized apartments, they can apply to the state to raise rents based on those costs. Tenants bear the cost of the projects, though the receipts can be easily falsified or left incomplete.

“Housing is a human right and we have the power to legislate that,” Barnwell said.

Barnwell’s MCI bill is one of nine pieces of legislation in Albany designed to protect tenants and prevent landlords from pressuring their renters to leave via attrition or rent gouging. Advocates call the package “universal rent control.”

“Tenants need all nine bills passed to make rent laws stronger,” said Ridgewood Tenants Union organizer Raquel Namuche.

As part of the legislative package, State Sen. Julia Salazar of Brooklyn has sponsored the “Good Cause Eviction” bill, which would prevent landlords from instituting “unconscionable” rent increases of more than 1 1/2 times the annual percentage change in the consumer price index. The measure would effectively cap increases at most buildings. Queens State Sens. Toby Ann Stavisky, John Liu, James Sanders Jr., Jessica Ramos and Gianaris are cosponsors.

“The days of tenants being abused due to our weak rent laws are coming to an end,” Gianaris said. “Our new progressive Senate majority finally gives tenants another strong advocate in the fight to preserve affordable housing in New York.”

As organizers marched through the streets carrying signs, chanting slogans and banging pots and pans, one volunteer marveled at the procession.

“This is what’s cool about Ridgewood,” she said, gesturing to the procession. “Not the cafes, not the gentrification. This.”

Silvershore declined to comment when contacted by phone about the demonstrator’s complaints.

“No comment,” a representative added when asked if the company knew about the march.