It’s wintertime, and yes, it’s cold.
Joshua Berrios knows that, and has no issues with it. Except when it’s cold inside his 99 Marble Hill Ave., apartment.
“I just left for an hour,” Berrios said earlier this week. “I just want to get out of my house. If I’m going to be cold I can be outside.”
Berrios has lived in the 55-unit apartment building just across from the Marble Hill Playground for the last seven years. But for this past cold season, finding heat inside his apartment has been hit or miss on a weekly basis.
So Berrios wasn’t surprised to learn 99 Marble Hill Ave., is on city public advocate Jumaane Williams’ watchlist of apartment buildings run by who he calls the worst landlords in the city.
Richard Nussbaum, who owns 99 Marble Hill as well as 495 W. 186th St., in Washington Heights, is sixth on Williams’ list, racking up more than 880 violations with the city’s housing preservation and development department, and nearly two dozen open violations with the city’s buildings department.
Those include failed elevator inspections, and not filing appropriate paperwork to address other issues DOB and other agencies have brought up.
Sometimes there’s heat,
sometimes there’s not
Lack of heat and hot water might head the list of issues, but that list is long. And it’s not even Nussbaum’s first appearance on the public advocate’s list, finding himself there as recently as 2016 when Letitia James — now New York’s attorney general — manned that office. Other complaints at 99 Marble Hill including walls with peeling paint and mold. A public advocate representative told The Riverdale Press that the multiple housing preservation violations are one of the big factors in a landlord being put on the list.
Nussbaum did not respond to requests for comment.
The building certainly needs to be cleaned, Berrios said, and the elevators are frequently out of service.
More pressing in the 40-degree weather, however, has been the lack of heat inside 99 Marble Hill.
“Right now there’s no heat and no hot water,” he said. “This winter, there’s been weeks (without heat). A week on, a week off, a week on, a week off.”
City law requires landlords to maintain heat of at least 68 degrees between 6 a.m., and 10 p.m., if the temperature outside drops below 55 degrees between Oct. 1 and May 31. At night, buildings must be maintained at 62 degrees no matter what the temperature is outside.
Berrios withheld his rent for about six months while he waited for necessary fixes in the building. He ultimately took Nussbaum to court. When he got there, Berrios said more than a dozen of his neighbors also were waiting to make their case against their landlord.
“We went in there, and it was at least 14 tenants from this building at the same time for a court date,” Berrios said. “I guess he was just running through all of them at once.”
Nussbaum did eventually make some repairs to the building, but that level of attention didn’t last long, Berrios said. And he doesn’t have high hopes for future repairs.
“I’d love to stay here, but he’s making it so hard,” Berrios said. “Maybe he wants to push us all out so maybe he could sell, or, I don’t know what the deal is.”
Another longtime resident of the building, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, agreed.
“I’m a longtime tenant, but I don’t know what Mr. Nussbaum is doing,” she said. “Maybe he wants to get rid of it, he’s got so many violations. But who’s going buy it unless you clear up the violations?”
Not having a functioning elevator was even more problematic, given her age.
“If the elevator’s not working, I’m not walking up six flights of stairs,” she said. “I can’t do it anymore. I used to.”
There was a time when 99 Marble Hill had a small laundry room, she added, but it was removed a few years ago. Now she has to take lug her laundry off-site. to a laundromat, and in order to sort her recycling in the basement, has to walk out of the building and around the corner to the basement door — something that’s not easy at her age.
The building’s current superintendent is helpful, she said, but he doesn’t live in the building, and would have to travel down from Westchester County to fix issues.
Edwin Garcia, who has lived in the same apartment at 99 Marble Hill for 34 years, said he doesn’t have many issues with the building.
“I helped out the last super, and the super now,” Garcia said. “When I need something, I get it.”
The elevators and heat are both issues, he said, but not “drastic” ones. He’s happy with his apartment and the location near the 1 train and several schools.
“I live on the third floor,” Garcia said. “It’s the cleanest floor in the building.”
Berrios also loves his apartment, and the location is hard to beat. But these ongoing issues with the owner of 99 Marble Hill are starting to outweigh the positives.
“I have a son, he lives with his mother upstate,” Berrios said. “I get him every weekend, and sometimes I have to tell her I’ll stay up there, or he has to stay up there, because there’s no hot water and I don’t want him here. It’s a tough situation sometimes.”
The city is trying to make a difference in buildings like 99 Marble Hill, which was singled out by the housing preservation department as part of its “alternative enforcement program.” That allows city officials to pay closer attention to “severely distressed” buildings with more frequent inspections while allowing the city agency to make repairs and improvements.
Landlords can take steps to remove themselves from the alternative enforcement program by improving their properties, like addressing violations. Tenants are typically informed when their building is added to the list, and are encouraged to call 311 and the housing preservation department to report needed repairs or poor work quality.
Outside of publishing the list, there isn’t much the public advocate can do about these landlords, according to a spokesperson for Williams. Instead, the list is designed more as a shame tactic, intended to encourage landlords to get themselves off the list by fixing things up.
Berrios hopes Nussbaum will finally feel enough shame to make some changes at 99 Marble Hill.
“There’s plenty of shopping areas, everyone in this neighborhood is really nice to each other,” Berrios said. “I don’t want to move, but it’s going to happen, eventually. I can’t put up with the crap he has us doing.”