Bronx Foreclosures Should not Be Sold to Opportunists

by Peter Vernon on cities

Bronx foreclosures should not be sold to opportunistic landlords, according to tenant advocacy groups and residents of Bronx and other parts of New York City.

As the number of foreclosed homes and apartment buildings increase, community advocates have been expressing their concerns that these lower-priced foreclosures will be snapped up by landlords who are looking only after their profits without considering the living conditions of tenants.

According to published reports, there are more than 8 million people living in the city proper and that 67 percent of these are renters. Despite loss of jobs or struggles due to medical conditions, renters continue to give their last money or wipe out their savings to pay their never-been-reduced rents in order not to be evicted by their landlords.

Among major New York City landlords are Jacob Selechnik, who owns over 7,000 apartment units in the Bronx; Richard Lefrak, who operates over 70,000 apartment units in Queens; Robert Tishman and Jerry Speyer, who runs over 11,000 units in Manhattan; and Joel Wiener, who owns over 21,000 units in Washington Heights.

Recently, Selechnik has been reported by New York Times as again looking for Bronx foreclosures to buy from banks so he can add them to his rental properties. Selechnik has been buying rental buildings in the Bronx over the past 50 years, increasing his net worth to over $500 million.

But Selechnik is among real estate investors not seen in good light by housing advocates and tenants. The Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition claims that he has been mismanaging his buildings. In 2007, he accumulated a total of 23,127 building maintenance violations and owes city fines. He also failed to make emergency repairs on 68 of his apartments, forcing the city Housing Preservation Department to spend $91,528 to protect tenants.

Advocates also stated that when Selechnik does repair apartment units, he uses the repair costs as reasons for increasing the rents. Garrett Wright, a lawyer for the Community Development Project of the Urban Justice Center, said that Selechnik is among the most aggressive landlords in increasing rents and in evicting tenants.

With this record of rental management, advocates are calling for owners of multifamily buildings, especially housing agencies, not to sell properties to inconsiderate landlords. They should follow the example made by Freddie Mac which has banned Selechnik from buying its properties.