BY PHYLLIS ECKHAUS | Last Tuesday night, Jan. 30, as light snow fell, there was what one might call a sort of dancing “s— show” in front of a six-story East Village walk-up, spotlighting the excremental outrages of landlord Mark Scharfman.
Outside of 246 E. 10th St., tenants, housing activists and City Comptroller Brad Lander moved to the boisterous rhythms of the Rude Mechanical Orchestra in between speeches and cries of “Shame!” They called out Scharfman’s repeated failure to address the raw sewage leaking from the luxury duplex (or “poo plex,” as they called it) atop the building and saturating five floors of rent-stabilized apartments below, seeping out through electrical switches, walls, floors, lighting and other outlets.
Scharfman owns about 4,000 units in New York City, and is long notorious, having been named among the “50 Most Loathsome New Yorkers” by the now-defunct New York Press for his abuse of tenants, and repeatedly appearing on “worst landlord” lists.
The protest/dance party, organized by Scharfman tenants with support from the Cooper Square Committee, called on the landlord to meet with them as they’ve requested, stop taking them to court for legally withholding rent during sewage flooding, treat them with respect and provide safe, sanitary living conditions.
“Raw sewage came up from my kitchen sink and bathtub repeatedly [last] March,” tenant leader Irene Metaxatos recounted emotionally, charging that Scharfman and the management company ignored her calls for help.
“I stayed up nights bucketing sewage from the overflowing bathtub to the WC across the apartment,” she said. She added that the emergency plumber she personally hired “was refused access to the basement” and thus could not fix the problem.
Further sewage floods followed throughout the building’s “C line” in July, she noted,“raining down through my ceiling light fixture, causing electricity to short and opening a hole in my ceiling,” and again in August, pouring through the light fixture, saturating the apartment and creating new holes in the ceiling.
“Management didn’t respond to tenants,” Metaxatos said, “or alert their top-floor duplex tenants that their luxury apartment toilets were saturating the floors below them with sewage.
“Meanwhile electricity shorted and tenants below had to call in the Fire Department to shut water and power off twice. We were left in the dark.”
In late August, management conducted illegal plumbing work and the city issued a stop-work order.
Metaxatos was served with an eviction notice days before Thanksgiving, a battle she is still fighting. The night of the protest, she was facing an eviction proceeding the next day.
Ellie Rutkey, a tenant of another Scharfman-owned building, 48 Stuyvesant St., described her terror this past November when “raw sewage was pouring from one of our electrical outlets. It was scary because we didn’t know where it was coming from, we didn’t know how to make it stop. We were afraid at any moment an electrical fire would start.”
She said the Fire Department responded and cut off electricity to much of her apartment, but that the building manager hung up on her “after 17 literal seconds” and that the apparent problem — spontaneous overflows from the toilet the floor above her — still has not been fixed.
Comptroller Lander told the crowd that it’s not enough to shame and call out loathsome landlords: “We’re gonna demand that the city and state do more to hold them accountable,” he declared. “Because, let’s be clear, while he’s been treating tenants like s—, he’s also been benefiting from tax breaks from the City of New York. “
Under the J-51 program, the city offers landlords major tax breaks for improving rent-stabilized apartments and keeping them rent-stabilized through the duration of the tax break. The Housing Rights Initiative — which has nine pending cases against Scharfman for fraudulently abusing the J-51 program — has described him as “one of the biggest, if not the biggest, J-51 tax cheats in New York City” and estimated his J-51 gains at between $10 million and $20 million.