BY THE VILLAGE SUN | It was a tour of housing — not haunted houses — but tenants said their living conditions and what their landlord is trying to pull have been a nightmare.
Tenants, housing activists and politicians on Thurs., March 9, took a tour of East Village buildings with so-called “Frankensteined,” as well as warehoused apartments.
They started in front of 27 St. Mark’s Place and took a six-minute walk to 325 E. 12th St.
Tenants of landlord Silverstone Property Group, a division of Madison Realty Capital, are calling on the city and state to end Frankensteining and warehousing, two landlord tactics they say have been used extensively in their buildings that have come under fire recently.
The tenants, members of the Tenants Taking Control Coalition (formerly known as the Toledano Tenants’ Coalition), say they faced months of mismanaged construction in their buildings, so severe that many had to leave their homes, while some affordable apartments have been warehoused and remained vacant for years.
Tenants recently surveyed 13 of the 15 buildings in the portfolio. They reported that out of these buildings’ 279 original rent-regulated apartments, 166 were Frankensteined into 83 high-rent apartments while 46 others are currently sitting vacant.
During the height of the construction, the city’s Department of Health found elevated lead levels in dust in several of the buildings, including one where children live. Some of these children were placed in these units as a condition of a New York State attorney general’s settlement that called for several units to be set aside for formerly homeless families. The Department of Health also issued commissioner’s orders for construction dust to be cleaned up from common areas of several other buildings.
The construction that occurred frequently combines individual apartment units together, a practice known as Frankensteining. Frankensteining is one of the last remaining ways to significantly raise rents of rent-regulated apartments after New York State passed the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act in 2019. The tactic allows landlords to set a new first-time rent after combining apartments — or even after combining just a portion of apartments.
As for warehousing, in one Silverstone building, 10 out of 37 apartments have been empty for years, according to tenants and the Cooper Square Committee, a tenant organizing group.
“The amount of toxic dust and noise that we tenants had to suffer with since August 2021, continuing for months, was compounded by MRC employees not following safe work protocols,” charged Georgina Christ, a TTC leader. “The warehousing followed by Frankensteining we’ve experienced has been devastating. We demand SPG and MRC be held to account and that our elected officials close the Frankensteining loophole this year!”
“Since September of 2021 my building was subject to extensive demolition and construction by Madison Realty Capital as they combined apartments and took away common areas in order to remove apartments from rent regulation,” railed Roy Zornow, a TTC leader. “During the COVID pandemic, the dust, noise and vibrations affected my health, well-being and ability to work from home. The New York attorney general, in a previous settlement with MRC, determined that any vacant apartment in my building is presumed to contain lead dust. My apartment was coated in a fine layer of white dust from the demolition of these vacant apartments. The building dates from 1900. I’m worried that I have been exposed to lead and other toxins through the dust I was subjected to in the building.”
“Part of New York’s affordable housing crisis stems from the loss of rent-stabilized apartments, so we must do everything we can to protect the city’s rent-stabilized stock,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine. “Ending the warehousing and Frankensteining of these apartments is a crucial step in order to maximize housing supply and affordable rents.”
“When landlords warehouse apartments — hold rent-stabilized units hostage — they rob hard-working New Yorkers of a place to live and directly exacerbate the housing and homelessness crisis,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. “With our city facing a housing emergency, one that is particularly acute for New Yorkers in need of deeply affordable units, we must do more on both the city and state level to ensure rent-stabilized apartments aren’t left vacant or Frankensteined to massively increase rents. Housing is a human right, and it’s unconscionable for owners to deliberately drive this crisis for perceived political gain.”
Councilmember Carlina Rivera, who recently had a baby, did not attend the walking tour, but a representative of hers read a statement.
“All New Yorkers deserve to live in peace and safety, and I commend the members of the Tenants Taking Control coalition and their neighbors for taking collective action against landlord mismanagement,” Rivera said in her statement. “Too often tenants experience poor housing conditions due to warehousing and Frankensteining, which amounts to harassment by neglect and takes much-needed affordable housing from the supply of rent-stabilized apartments. My bill, Intro 195, will require the city to monitor vacant apartments and ensure they are not causing uninhabitable conditions and damage on occupied apartments in the building.”
“When notorious landlord Raphael Toledano bought these buildings in 2015 there were close to 300 rent-stabilized apartments,” Councilmember Gale Brewer noted. “Today roughly half of the units are warehoused or Frankensteined. These practices hold affordable apartments hostage and drive out tenants from neighboring units. Albany must fix this with legislation. New York City is in an affordable housing crisis, and we need to treat it like one. Thank you to End Warehousing for your leadership on this issue.”
“Fewer than 1 percent of apartments that rent for less than $1,500 a month are listed on the market as available,” city Comptroller Brad Lander said. “At the same time, over 70,000 New Yorkers are currently living in a shelter or on the street, and the lack of affordable units forces many people to double-up or stay with family to avoid homelessness. Every single affordable apartment should be available to rent, so that someone can call it their home. The city and state must work together to enforce the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act and end practices, such as Frankensteining, that allow unscrupulous landlords to skirt the law, and end the warehousing of vacant units.”
“These tenants suffered through Frankensteining construction for months, struggling to breath in their own homes,” Jodie Leidecker, a Cooper Square Committee organizer, said. “Frankensteining adds no value to the living conditions of current or prospective tenants. It is simply a moneymaker for landlords and must be stopped now. Warehousing also hurts tenants looking for basic, decent homes and those living in buildings with nuisance conditions [occurring from construction] in vacant units. In the greatest housing crisis since the Great Depression, we call on our elected officials to do everything they can to end both Frankensteining and warehousing.”