Tenants withhold rent from ‘worst’ landlord

'Worst landlords' - Part II

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Jasmine Cabrera has taken her landlord to court twice over issues surrounding rent payment.

Her main argument is that she should not have to pay her rent if her landlord and management offices neglect to resolve problems with her apartment.

According to tenants at 99 Marble Hill Ave., this is a frequent problem in this building owned by Richard Nussbaum — who ranks 29th on Public Advocate Letitia James’ list of worst landlords in New York City. 

“From what the super told me... half the tenants don’t pay rent and then I hear people complaining about the landlord doesn’t fix things,” said Peter Lam, a dentist who operates out of the first floor of 99 Marble Hill Ave. “So I don’t know which comes first, because if they don’t pay rent, you have no money to fix things, right, but if you don’t fix things, people don’t pay rent… I don’t know which comes first, the chicken or the egg.”

Ms. Cabrera said she has not given up the longstanding legal battle, as Mr. Nussbaum has not responded to the complaints and requests for maintenance during her seven years living in the building.

“My sink is clogged, so in order to wash the dishes I have to fill a pot with water and wash the dishes and then dump the dirty water into the bathtub. The bathtub is almost always clogged,” she said in Spanish. “At court they told me if I paid them, they would resolve all the issues, but nothing has happened.”

In addition to problems with the sink, the floor in Ms. Cabrera’s apartment is severely damaged, with bits of tile and linoleum bulging and breaking off. She said requests to fix both of these issues have been ignored by Mr. Nussbaum and his office. The landlord and his representatives did not respond to a request for comment. 

According to Dr. Lam, problems at 99 Marble Hill Ave. started after the building’s former owner transferred it to his son a few years ago. The new owner has since allowed the maintenance and upkeep of the building to slip, Dr. Lam said. 

 “When I have water from the ceiling and paint peeling off, I know that when the father was alive, you talk to him and he would have someone to fix it right away,” he said, while the new landlord takes “months.” 

“Luckily, it doesn’t happen too often, so I fix it myself, but I say ‘I’m going to send you the bill,’” he added. 

Dr. Lam said he has seen a considerable decline in the quality of service and maintenance of the building since it changed hands, although tenants have offered diverging views on when the decline began. 

“I think a lot of the people he has employed right now are not as good as before,” Dr. Lam said. “I have noticed the quality of people he his hiring is a lot worse than the quality of people his father hired – that’s all I can say.”

In a recent day, the front door of the building was broken, allowing anyone to come in. The elevator was broken as well.  

“The elevator is not working for two weeks – 17 days as of today,” said Lisa Rodriguez, a 22-year tenant of the building. “You need to recycle everything now and I can’t go to the basement because the elevator isn’t working and the side entrance is not working.” 

“Old people live here, I know an old lady living in the sixth floor and now she can’t go downstairs because she doesn’t walk good,” she said. 

Ms. Rodriguez said the last time she tried to access the basement to throw out the trash, her key got stuck in the door. It took her more than a half-hour to pull it out, she said. 

In the winter months, the heat only comes on during the weekend, usually on a Saturday, but remains off for the majority of the week, she said. 

Issues between tenants and landlords – including those on Ms. James’ “100 Worst Landlord Watchlist” – often fall outside of the city’s jurisdiction. Councilman Andrew Cohen said he encourages tenants to take the fight to court and to refuse to pay rent. 

“If they’re not providing adequate shelter, your obligation to pay the rent is either reduced or gone,” he said. “Since I have been the councilmember, I have been committed to funding legal services specifically so that when people come in we can provide that.”

During a visit by The Press early this week, a man claiming to work for Mr. Nussbaum confronted journalists and argued the building was very well maintained, before escorting them out of the building. 

“Look at this, we repainted the whole thing this year and put in new windows,” said the man, who declined to identify himself. “How can you say he is one of the worst landlords in the city?”

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