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Mondays Are for Buying Your Building From Your Dead Slumlord

Crown Heights tenants marking the one-year anniversary of their rent strike have a new demand, and more links for your Halloween Monday.

10:01 AM EDT on October 31, 2022

Crown Heights tenants mark the one-year anniversary of their rent strike, on October 30, 2022. (Hell Gate)

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: 

    • Ten years ago, the A Train over Jamaica Bay was knocked out for five months following Superstorm Sandy. Repairs on other MTA tunnels have finally wrapped up, but the A train repairs are still very much ongoing, reports the CITY. And while the MTA has yet to announce the scope of service disruptions, Rockaway riders are most likely looking at another few years of limited service and shuttle buses into Howard Beach. One good idea: expanding the popular ferry service accordingly, to give commuters another option. 
    • It's Halloween today, remember Hell Gate's simple how-tos. Definitely do NOT do this
    • Elon Musk's Twitter will start charging $20 per month for a Blue Check. You know what also costs $20 a month, and gives you access to an informative local news website, a cool hat, quarterly events, and commenting privileges? Hell Gate's glorious Believer subscription level.  
    • There are fewer students in NYC public schools this year, but more of them are homeless
    • For years, Hasidic leaders have become kingmakers in a swiftly polarizing New York City electorate. Now, the Times dives into how politicians have spent decades trading lax oversight of yeshivas in exchange for votes—usually delivered as a unified bloc. Accordingly, Governor Kathy Hochul, in a tighter race than she had hoped, is leaving nothing to chance
    • In a strange and stunning ruling, a federal judge in Buffalo has ordered that the union behind Starbucks organizing efforts in the city hand over messages between organizers and journalists.
    • Muhammad Aziz and the family of Khalil Islam, who were framed for the assassination of Malcolm X, will spilt a $26 million dollar settlement from New York City and an additional $10 million settlement from the state of New York. Aziz spent 50 years in prison and his co-defendant Islam died while incarcerated in 2009. They were both exonerated last year. 
    • If you vote early today, you will get a cool Halloween-themed sticker. If you vote at all in Ulster County, you will get an insanely sick sticker. Point, upstate. 
    • Sylvia dresses in a large cardboard box each Halloween, but this year's costume is especially good—and for a great cause. 

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