Drumming on five-gallon buckets and waving signs on a muggy July morning, a dozen tenants railed against the owner of their building at 2454 Tiebout Ave. in the Fordham section of the Bronx. The tenants, who are suing  one of New York City’s most notorious landlords in Bronx Housing Court, shared stories of rats in the lobby, leaks in the ceiling and mold on the walls.

“The tenants are fed up of their living conditions!” shouted an organizer with the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition. “The tenants are fed up of living with a landlord who does not attend to their needs!”

The area’s state senator, Gustavo Rivera, a commanding presence in a shirt and tie among the organized tenants’ yellow t-shirts, joined in. “This is sadly not the first time and probably not the last time that I will be standing in front of a Parkash property.”

Rivera was referring to Ved Parkash, who owns dozens of Bronx buildings, including 2454 Tiebout Ave., 750 Grand Concourse and 2015 Creston, and is best known for owning the top spot on Public Advocate Letitia James’ list of the 100 worst landlords in New York City.

As Rivera suggested, this is not the first time tenants of a Parkash-owned building have made their complaints public. Stories like this go back for years. So the de Blasio administration is looking back even farther and reviving a 54-year old law to hit landlords right where it hurts – the balance sheet. And if the strategy works, rallies like the one at 2454 Tiebout may become less frequent.

The plan works like this: New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development identifies a building where welfare recipients are living in “conditions which are dangerous, hazardous or detrimental to life or health.” In practice, this means Section 8 tenants in buildings with a high number of open violations. The Human Resources Administration and Department of Social Services then send a notice warning that if the landlord does not fix the violations, the city will not pay the Section 8 rent. This will ideally send the landlord into a frenzy of repairs. The building owners are then given 15 days to contact HPD and schedule a re-inspection to prove all their violations are cleared.

The strategy is based on the Spiegel Law, named after a Manhattan Assemblyman who championed the New York social services legislation in 1962. But does it work as advertised?

Seven weeks into the de Blasio administration’s first major implementation of the law, HPD says it is too early to know for sure. Last year, the city used the Spiegel Law on two landlords, who responded quickly and fixed the violations in their buildings. That gave Mayor Bill de Blasio enough confidence to make a big announcement with James on May 26: The city would apply the Spiegel Law to eight other landlords who own 12 buildings in Manhattan, the Bronx and Queens. These were the worst of the worst, the “dirty dozen.” Parkash owns five buildings on the list.

Now, HPD has put the “dirty dozen” on track for cleanup. All eight landlords responded within the 15-day window, so rent was never withheld. HPD says this is a positive development, since the threat was aimed at fixing the violations. HPD has since re-inspected the buildings and is currently evaluating the results.

Though HPD is not saying anything about future plans, de Blasio was hopeful about the tactic. “This law was used aggressively during Ed Koch’s administration and to very good effect, but then stopped being used,” he said at the May announcement. “It’s time to bring it back.”

But others aren’t so optimistic. Michelle Mesa is a tenant at Parkash’s building on Tiebout, where the city has not invoked the Spiegel Law. “We’ve tried it ourselves. It doesn’t work!” she said. Mesa and her family went on a rent strike last yearafter needed repairs kept adding up and their calls to Parkash went unanswered. He took Mesa to court, where the judge ordered her to pay and ordered Parkash to make repairs, she said. “They told me that they were going to do repairs on April 22, 2015,” Mesa said. “I am still waiting for those repairs to be done.”

While five of Parkash’s buildings are on the city’s “dirty dozen” list, records show that they are only the tip of the iceberg. One of his many limited liability companies, Parkash 2675 LLC, owns 11 Bronx buildings which, as of June 30, 2015, had 2,235 open violations – an average of 203 violations per building, or three openviolations per unit. Parkash 2675 LLC is just one of more than 50 LLCs registered with his name in New York.

Not only is Parkash prolific, he is also litigious. The New York State Unified Court System lists 1,972 cases with “Parkash” as a party. The overwhelming majority of these list Ved Parkash or one of his companies as the plaintiff. That puts HPD in a rare position – the department is the plaintiff in at least 24 active cases in Bronx and Queens County Civil Courts with Parkash or his companies as the defendant.

Neither Ved Parkash nor Anurag Parkash, who often acts as his lawyer, responded to a request for comment.

Despite past legal action by the city, Parkash has been a mainstay on the bad landlords list, and it’s unclear whether the latest effort will be more effective. However, the Spiegel Law is just one tool at the city’s disposal.

HPD spokeswoman Melissa Grace said de Blasio has made protection of vulnerable tenants a priority. “That has included significantly increased funding for free legal services for New Yorkers facing their landlords in housing court, working directly with the state attorney general to stop landlords from evading laws that protect tenants, and activating important tools available to us – like Spiegel.”

The day after the May announcement, de Blasio himself explained on “The Brian Lehrer Show” that withholding rent is only first part of HPD’s new strategy.

“We’re not going to give them public money,” he said. “And we further will, if they don’t make repairs, we’ll go and make repairs ourselves – the city will do it – and then charge the landlord. And it could lead, Brian, to going as far as putting the building in receivership or in fact bringing either civil or criminal charges against the landlord.”

None of these further actions, however, are part of the Spiegel Law as it is written. That law only covers the city’s withholding of the rent and stipulates that tenants may not be evicted or held liable for the city’s nonpayment until violations are corrected. To that effect, the city has assigned a dedicated tenant lawyer to each of the “dirty dozen” buildings, paid for by the mayor’s increase in funding for legal services for low-income tenants by more than $60 million in the last two years.

Three miles south of the rally on Tiebout sits another Parkash building, the six-story, Art Deco-style 750 Grand Concourse. As one of the “dirty dozen,” the building has one of the dedicated lawyers for aggrieved tenants. Miguel Tepizila, who has lived there for seven years, is one of the petitioners in a case brought against Parkash by attorney from the Urban Justice Center. Tepizila has seen a host of violations, but the leaky ceiling is his current concern.

“I report it. I have videos, I have photos,” Tepizila said earlier this month. “And sometimes I call the landlord. Sometimes they pick up the phone. Sometimes they don’t pick up the phone.” He also had no cooking gas for four months, he said, and the building often lacks hot water.

Although Tepizila, who says he has always paid his rent on time, is not on Section 8, he would also benefit from the city’s latest intervention because landlords are required to fix violations in every unit in each targeted building. But six weeks after his landlord received the warning letter from the city, Tepizila has not noticed any changes at 750 Grand Concourse. Water is still seeping into his apartment.

After years living under arguably the city’s worst landlord, Tepizila keeps his expectations low. When asked if he expects the violations to get corrected soon, he could only laugh and say, “I hope.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Miguel Tepizila and his status as petitioner in a legal proceeding against Parkash.

 

The Dirty Dozen of New York City Landlords

Address

Landlords

Violations

133 Ft. George Ave., Manhattan

Yecheskel Berman

123

514 W. 211 St., Manhattan

Maurice Sohaye, Robert Farhadian

167

541 W. 150 St., Manhattan

Jay Weiss

379

20 W. 190 St., Bronx

Agron Berisha

143

212 W. Kingsbridge Road, Bronx

Bashkim Celaj

141

2320 Creston Ave., Bronx

Leze Gazivoda, Alex Gazivoda

138

410 E. 173 St., Bronx

Ferdo Skrelja

139

2015 Creston Ave., Bronx

Ved Parkash

172

750 Grand Concourse, Bronx

Ved Parkash

309

751 Gerard Ave., Bronx

Ved Parkash

188

315 E. 196th St., Bronx

Ved Parkash

128

90-23 171 St., Queens

Ved Parkash

48