Last November, the residents at 1392 Sterling Place, a four-story apartment building located in the Weeksville portion of Crown Heights, went on rent strike. To keen-eyed followers of the city's worst slumlords, the address would have been familiar—it was part of a portfolio of Brooklyn properties owned by Rubin Dukler, a regular on the city’s worst landlord lists whose tenants had, over the years, repeatedly taken him to court over his refusal to make repairs and over illegal rent overcharges.
Dukler died in January 2021, and, according to tenants, living conditions in the building had only deteriorated further; at one point, the basement had filled with sewage, and whenever it rained, residents on the top floor knew to put out pots and pans to catch the water that would inevitably pour into their apartments. In 2018, Dukler had said he was planning on selling 1392 Sterling Place and other buildings he owned to Iris Holding Group, whose website, according to Patch’s reporting at the time, boasts that it turns "distressed and under-performing assets into valuable, thriving properties." (Its website is now password protected.) After Dukler's death, a contentious legal battle has unfolded—IHG, perhaps feeling buyer's remorse after 2019's overhaul of rent-stabilization laws, seemed to no longer want the building; recently, IHG took Dukler's heirs to court, claiming that they had been "fraudulently induced" into buying the building on Sterling Place as well as other properties.
One year later, not much has changed—residents are still on rent strike, their ceilings are still leaking, and their building currently has almost 500 open HPD violations. (HPD has filed a lawsuit to compel repairs to be made, but as UHAB organizer Charlie Dulik told me, "HPD is pretty useless. There's literally one person in the department that is managing this lawsuit, and I can't imagine how many cases he has.")
At a rally on Sunday marking the one-year anniversary of their rent strike, tenants like 59-year-old Michelle Stamp put out a new demand—they want to own the building, pointing to the example of Bronx residents who had successfully bought their building from their landlord. Owning the building, Stamp said, meant she and other residents "would have a say in our own lives." She added, “It's one of these things that as human beings, we should be able to say what happens to us, where we live, what condition we live in."
The Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, a bill sponsored by State Senator Zellnor Myrie during the last legislative session, could help make that a reality, if it ever passes. TOPA would give tenants priority in purchasing their building if it's ever put up for sale; in return, the building would be turned into a limited equity co-op, a way of maintaining permanent affordability for current and future residents.
There are a lot of ifs, of course—if the landlord (whomever it ends up being!) decides they want to sell, and if TOPA passes. As for the former, it sure seems like no one except the tenants really wants to own 1392 Sterling Place. If the residents can continue to make the lives of the owners of their building as difficult as possible, the owners may eventually calculate that it's far easier, and more profitable, to just offload the building. "We're going to continue to fight until there's nothing left to fight for," Stamp said on Sunday. "We're gonna keep going."
Here are some links to start your spooky Monday:
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