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Taking it to the banks: Tran tenants demand to meet with ‘bad landlord”s underwriters

BY PHYLLIS ECKHAUS | Fed-up East Village tenants of real estate mogul Sonny Tran led a boisterous band of activists to Midtown, where they loudly demanded meetings with the two banks — Dime and Modern — that have underwritten his local building purchases, and what rent-stabilized tenants describe as a siege of potentially illegal construction and dangerous living conditions.

Accompanied by drums and horns, the protesters on Feb. 20 decried “lead, rats, roaches, mold!” all of which they say they’ve experienced since their buildings were sold to Tran. As The Village Sun reported in December, the landlord’s construction at the 14-unit tenement at 219 E. Fifth St. has resulted in scores of violations, including lead dust contamination three times the legal limit.

The tenants and organizers first marched to Dime Community Bank, on E. 51st Street, then to Modern Bank, on Park Avenue. (Cooper Square Committee)

As of this writing, in that building alone there are 91 open Department of Housing Preservation and Development violations and 19 OATH (Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings) violations related to construction. A third of the H.P.D. violations are “immediately hazardous.”

Although the 1862 building is landmarked, tenant leader Dina Dillon contended that Tran plans to add an extra floor on top that will include three additional bathrooms. Already, she said, tenants have experienced backed-up sewage coming up via sinks and tubs, as well as widespread construction dust and multiple risks of electrical fires.

(Cooper Square Committee)

On top of ongoing hazards, Dillon described building management as aggressively hostile, returning or refusing to cash rent checks, and then adding on late fees.

“It’s absolutely insane,” she said. “They try to pretend that the tenants don’t actually pay.”

Activists fear that Tran is “Frankensteining” apartments — seeking to circumvent rent stabilization by combining rent-stabilized apartments into larger units. That loophole — legal when Tran bought his East Village buildings and obtained his multiple multimillion-dollar mortgages — was closed by the state Legislature at the end of 2023.

A tenant at the Feb. 20 protest. (Cooper Square Committee)

The violations and fines in Tran’s six East Village buildings are now up to nearly $100,000. Jodie Leidecker, a Cooper Square Committee housing organizer working with the Tran Tenant Coalition, commented, “It’s hard to accumulate that many owed fines because usually they aren’t very high. So that says a lot!”

Tran and his son appear to own at least 28 buildings citywide, and were number 88 on the 2023 “Worst Landlords” list published by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.

Williams joined the protest in front of Dime Community Bank, and called for new tools to prosecute landlords.

“Until we can criminally charge landlords and take their buildings away” nothing is going to change, he declared.

(Cooper Square Committee)

Citing the federal Community Reinvestment Act, which mandates that banks respond to their communities, the public advocate also observed that banks have both a moral and legal obligation to “stop lending to terrible owners.”

Dime Community Bank and Modern Bank have yet to respond to the tenant coalition’s requests for a meeting.

Yonatan Tadele, another organizer with the Cooper Square Committee, suggested that bank executives would not personally tolerate the conditions in Tran’s buildings, “so why are they allowing Mr. Tran to subject his tenants to them?”

Tadele observed to The Village Sun that each of Tran’s East Village buildings is majority rent-stabilized, with limited income from rents.

“We do have concerns about how Tran is able to service his loans,” Tadele said, “considering the buildings themselves…are not being properly maintained at all.”

Tousif Ahsan of the New Economy Project suggested that big banks, such as Dime and Modern, “put profit over people time and time again” and profiteer off predatory landlords. He criticized the New York City Banking Commission for depositing New York City tax dollars in for-profit banks, Dime and Modern among them.

Ahsan spoke to the campaign for a public bank, “mission-driven…to work with tenants, to keep us in our homes and our neighborhoods.” He declared we need to put our public money “into a public bank that’s going to be chartered by law to prioritize tenants and people over profits, all the time.”

The New Economy Project and the Cooper Square Committee are among the more than 50 community group members of the Public Bank NYC Coalition.


  1. Maria Ragucci Maria Ragucci March 2, 2024

    Keep the pressure on. It’s the only hope for this extraordinary abuse. Great reporting.

  2. Sam Sam February 28, 2024

    Really terrible.
    So many New Yorkers in dire straights, bad housing, losing their housing.
    Elected officials have known about these for years – but just offer platitudes.

    In the meantime per NY Times, the State has allocated $25 million for pilot program for one year free rent for asylum seekers in locations outside NYC.
    Not OK.

    • Carol Frances Yost Carol Frances Yost March 7, 2024

      Migrants need and deserve help. A separate issue.

  3. concerned concerned February 26, 2024

    he is doing the same thing at 161 west 54th, illegal permits, asbestos, noise & renovated apts taking a traditional 1 bedroom & cramming 3 bedrooms into it so you can barely sleep on a twin bed. They look like cheap college dorms but he wants 6k for 700 sqfeet. He lies constantly to tenants with false promises

  4. Jane Jane February 26, 2024

    Thank you Phyllis for keeping the public informed and Cooper Square Committee
    for continuing support for all tenants!

    It seems to becoming more harrowing everyday for people to navigate the illegal tactics of the banks and heartless landlords!

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