Tenant’s Rights

2009 02 27
Follow up: 2017 and 2023 Caton Ave.

I went out to 2017 Caton Ave last night to observe a meeting between the tenants at 2017 and 2023 Caton Ave and two of the five owners of the building, Asher Alcobi and Ami Blashkovsky. The previous day, the tenants had protested outside the real estate office co-owned by Asher Alcobi, and that morning, with the help of Michael Grinthal at South Brooklyn Legal Services, they had filed an HP order against the landlords (an action to enforce the housing code). That morning, a three quarter page story about the building’s problems and the protest, had appeared in the Daily News.

The meeting was well attended, and ran from about 8pm to 9:45pm. About 25 tenants crowded into the lobby of the building, which was noticeably cleaner than I had found it on Wednesday. They were joined by Latrice Walker, a representative from the office of Congresswoman Yvette Clarke’s, and for part of the meeting by New York City Council Member, Mathieu Eugene. Michael Grinthal and tenant organizer Aga Trojniak from the Flatbush Development Corporation were also present.

Considering the level of anger and frustration among tenants, the meeting went surprisingly smoothly, for the most part. Much of the credit for this has to go to Samantha Paige, a tenant in 2017 Caton who led the meeting in an efficient and productive way, and to Alcobi, who struck a conciliatory tone on behalf of the landlords. Paige went through a list of demands that the tenants had presented to Alcobi in his office on Wednesday. These included, among other things, a qualified superintendent for the building (which has not had a super for at least six months), that work be done by qualified, licensed tradesmen, and that problems be dealt with in an efficient, responsive, and timely way. Paige volunteered, with another tenant, to coordinate efforts to ensure that tradesmen would have access to individual apartments. Paige made it clear that the access issue was a practical matter that tenants could deal with effectively later, and kept the meeting focused on the list of demands. As a conciliatory gesture, she also stressed that tenants would need to do their part to assist in keeping the building clean and safe, and emphasized some sympathy with the landlord’s perspective a businessman.

After Paige finished, Alcobi spoke. In a rather quiet and understated way, Alcobi is clearly a gifted public speaker, and he handled the situation about as deftly as I can imagine anyone doing it. After thanking Paige for acknowledging his own perspective, he moved on to his main concerns. These included trash in the hallways, and what he described as illegal washing machines in apartments that he blamed for some of the leaks. At this point, Latrice Walker pointed out that whether the washing machines were illegal or not depended on whether they were permitted by individual leases. No one at the meeting, including Alcobi, actually knew off the top of their respective heads what the leases said, and Alcobi was forced to moderate this point.

There followed a lengthy back and forth as the tenants attempted to tie each of the demands to a date by which Alcobi would commit to fulfill the demand. Some of the deadlines were easier to fix than others. The issue of a qualified super was especially thorny, with Alcobi protesting that it was difficult to find a qualified super in short order, and tenants pointing out that they had already been waiting six months. The tenants insisted that Alcobi find a super by the next meeting with him, which was scheduled for March 18th, but Alcobi wouldn’t commit to the date, though he said he would try to find someone.

After the meeting broke up, I spoke with Alcobi briefly. I recreate the conversation from memory, because Alcobi told me that he wasn’t comfortable being taped. I asked him if he was pleased about the meeting. He said he was, but made clear that he didn’t appreciate having a different, and unrelated, business picketed the other day. (Alcobi is a part owner of the building, and a part owner and founder of Peter Ashe Real Estate.) I said that I could understand that, but that I had spoken to a number of tenants and heard a lot of horror stories. “This is a building with a lot of problems,” he told me. “A lot of problems.”

I asked Alcobi if he was pleased with the management company he had hired to handle the building’s affairs. Even with someone from the management company standing beside us, Alcobi wasn’t willing to go this far.

“I’m putting a lot of pressure on them to do things right,” he said. “Let me just say that.”

“So would you say that they’re on probation now?”

“No. Close watch. Not probation.”

He told me that firing the management company would hardly solve anything, since this would just lead to significant delays as an entirely new team worked to get up to speed. Alcobi stressed to me that he was only now learning about the seriousness of the problems in the building.

Given the general incompetence of his management company and what tenants had told me about their style of communication, I can readily believe that Alcobi hasn’t been receiving candid and regularly updated accounts of the state of his property. Still, I wasn’t convinced by the “shocked, absolutely shocked” pose Alcobi struck in both the meeting and in conversation with me. Alcobi has been contacted directly by tenants and tenant organizers repeatedly over the last few months. He arranged a meeting several months ago between tenants and management in which the management committed to fulfill a number of tenant requests that were subsequently ignored. Even if Alcobi had not conducted any active follow up on the progress of the repairs following that meeting, the steady stream of complaints to his office should have tipped him off that something was amiss. It isn’t as if the tenants suddenly jumped up one day and started to picket the man’s office in a fit of pique. They’ve been working fruitlessly for months to get basic repairs done on their apartments.

In any case, how much Alcobi knew on Wednesday morning about the condition of his property is sort of a moot point now. It is certain that he knows now, and that he’s given a commitment to fix the problems. I’ll revisit this issue in a future post to let you know how all this turns out.

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2009 02 26
Annals of Rabble Rousing: 2017 Caton Ave versus the landlords (bonus celebrity photo edition)

Some days you just feel like everything has come crashing down on your head. Olisa Holder felt that way on Monday, when a good chunk of her ceiling fell down on top of her, sending her briefly to the hospital. It sounded like freak accident to me, but I couldn’t find anyone in Holder’s building at 2017 Caton Ave in Flatbush, Brooklyn, who was willing to express surprise about it. The building and its sister building, 2023 Caton Ave, have a joint 600 violations (“and counting,” residents like to add) and a whole lot of very angry tenants. After years of fruitless attempts to convince the landlords to take the building and its maintenance seriously, they’ve recently launched a higher profile campaign for real change in their building. I went to the property yesterday to speak with some of the tenants, and then tagged along with them to the Upper East Side, where they protested outside Peter Ashe Real Estate, at 63rd and Lexington Ave. (Asher Alcobi, the President of Peter Ashe Real Estate, co-owns the building, along with Ami Blashkovsky, an agent at Peter Ashe Real Estate, and three others. The property itself has nothing to do with Peter Ashe Real Estate.)

Much more below the fold (including bonus celebrity photos!).

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