The Q at Parkside

(for those for whom the Parkside Q is their hometrain)

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

L.A.M.B.Y. - Landlord Abuse in My Back Yard

The Q tries to stay realistic about the facts surrounding neighborhood "change." I always likes reading Kelefa Sanneh, but I found his musings on the words "ghetto" and "gentrification" particularly relevant and useful. He's an egghead and an intellectual omnivore.. He's my favorite writer about music, if mostly because he thinks differently about music than I do, and that allows me to hear fresh ideas in familiar sounds. Pivot, Q, pivot...

Landlord Abuses in My Back Yard. L.A.M.B.Y. That is to say that with all the blah blah blah about NYC neighborhoods "in transition" (as if in a City of Renters that never happened before), one can get caught up in the hypothetical and anecdotal. It's easy to argue what's good and bad about a neighborhood's rising rents and incomes, does it GET that way? I'm not being glib. How does it happen that when I moved here in at the beginning of the century you could get a 2 bedroom for under a grand, and now that wouldn't get you a studio? Inflation and wages, up 30%. Yes, post 9/11 we saw real growth here, with more and higher paying jobs moving to NYC, outside the traditional media companies and finance concerns. And anyone who's moved here in the last 15 years was likely priced out in other 'hoods, only recently realizing how nice it is over on "this" side of the park. Unemployment is historically very low, even for black New Yorkers. Though it remains stubbornly twice as high as unemployment for whites.

We get all that. But how do you actually turn over an apartment - one that was rent stabilized, and therefore was becoming a better and better deal every year, as the market outstrips the dictated rate increases? We get that landlords want to charge as much as possible. A given, no? Every smart landlord is thinking not just about the current rent roll, but forecasting future profits, and deciding how much money to put into upkeep. Meeting that target is what it's all about, growing your business, having more cash to invest in other properties etc.

But it's those future earnings, chasing them, that provides the perverse incentive to screw over your current lower paying tenants in favor of those the next rung up. Take 260, 270 and 280 Parkside Avenue. Big buildings, lots of huge pre-war apartments. Some folks are paying less than $1,000. But some are paying more than $2K for the exact same layouts. Which tenant does the landlord want more of? Enter abuse, racism and connivance.

The other day the Q met with some tenants at 260-280 Parkside, which is quite literally "in my backyard" as I live directly behind these buildings, meaning we effectively share a backyard. I've been staring at them for more than a dozen years. I've heard babies crying, the annoying chirping of battery-dying smoke detectors, I've seen people throw huge mounds of garbage out their windows. And I've seen lovers on the fire escapes, and people getting randy in the evening (you know who you are!), fights, laughter and parties. Except for the garbage I've never had much reason to complain. The noise in the City is a given, and the music was nearly always hip-hop or dancehall, until very recently, when I heard both Tom Petty and Belle and Sebastian wafting through the air, the bass register conspicuously absent. Building turnover? Got me thinking. I even heard some Animal Collective the other day, and I'm pretty sure that was the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs. Hmm. What was I saying?

Oh yes. The tenants. As you might or might not be aware, landlords have gotten more and more aggressive as they try to turn their once boring but dependable investments into goldmines. The surest way to do this is turnover, the very thing that seems to run counter to common sense. One would think steady income would be preferable to churn. But in NYC's rent-warped marketplace, the only way to quickly increase rents in a stabilized building is to get 'em in and get 'em out.

The building is owned by Parkbush Realities. (Get it? PARKside and FlatBUSH? Thank god that didn't catch on as a micro-nabe name, right Cheryl?). Sam Farkas is the principal, and he's possibly part of the Andrew Farkas real estate empire, but that's really not the point. Farkas has taken a page from the great big book of landlord schemes. While blatantly and barely legally trying to change the demographics of the building, he courts the "Craigslist" crowd with enticing rates, won't take Section 8, and makes sure he rents to "right" sort of tenants. He works with brokers who claim "no fee" except of course that there is. A fee. And once you're in, the game is on. Suddenly the landlord mysterious withholds and doesn't cash your rent checks. Doesn't respond when you need him. Not doing routine maintenance. Not fixing leaks and letting days go buy without hot water or heat. This "next tier" crowd is paying double what longterm tenants are paying, tenants who have already grown weary of the same tactics to get THEM out to make room the next rung. And while the rulebook favors the tenants in these clearcut harassment cases, Farkas hires a stable of lawyers to keep you on your toes and in court. Now you're taking time off work just to stay one step ahead. You're sending everything certified mail and using a notary on the regular. Tenants say the stress can become unbearable, and that's what Parkbush is counting on. Now you leave, and the landlord takes the 20% vacancy increase, does feeble repairs, looks for his next "mark," and bingo you're on your way to taking your building market rate.

L.A.M.B.Y. Landlord Abuse in My Back Yard. With dozens of large and market-desirable apartment buildings in the neighborhood, and all the landlords taking a page from the big book of landlord shenanigans, your once culturally diverse neighborhood becomes ever-less so. Happened in Park Slope. Happened on the Lower East Side and the Upper West Side before it. We either stand with our brothers and sisters, join in the protests, help organize buildings like the Crown Heights Tenants Union and Flatbush Tenants Coalition. Or not. But don't complain when the landlords' work is complete. It will be too late, and god knows current homeowners aren't interested in allowing higher density to get more affordable rent-stabilized housing built. Our apathy, and in some cases our stubbornness, will be the legacy. Which side are you on?


Joan said...

I've gone to some CHTU meetings to try to learn about things we can do even though I'm a homeowner. Want to find out how we can help tenants organize.

K said...

Yeah, this sucks.

But it only exists because people are willing to – nay, must – put up with this kind of shit to live in NYC.

That said, I bet most renters don't deal with anything this bad.

One of the reasons I moved out of my last apartment is because there were mushrooms – not just mold, mildew, or some other variety of fungus – growing out of the walls and ceiling because of several leaks that supposedly required near half a dozen weeks to fix. Supposedly people viewing it after we'd moved out didn't even bat an eye at the mushrooms.

And hey, guess what's the culprit? The complete dearth of housing relative to the demand. And remember, vacancy rates in NYC are much lower than elsewhere and the available housing doesn't really include rent stabilized, rent controlled, or otherwise subsidized apartments or units – people cling to those apartments for decades (out a combination of both self-interest and desperation). So – again – let's build a LOT more housing! As much as anyone cares to build!

I understand the impulse to think that 'if we could just get rid of these greedy landlords' but the real problem is that the landlords greed doesn't align their interests with anyone elses – not here at least. Think of landlords here like the owners of a pizzeria on a big avenue in Manhattan. It doesn't even matter if either are any good because there's going to be more than enough traffic of new suckers coming along for them to make a killing regardless.

Anonymous said...

Look in to the properties between parkside and clarkson, 4 or 5 buildings have been emptied with "old pre gentrification tenants" the buyers are young wealthy jewish guys with big family money to keep on doing the same thing over and over and over.

Anonymous said...

I walked in to one of the "newly renovated apartments that recently had on the market." You wouldnt believe the asking price. The buyer evicts tenants all day and pretends to be a friend. This is what he does on the side of working for a big development company.

Anonymous said...

you will see him gobbling up properties in plg