Crotona Park tenants up for grabs

The Crotona Park tenants who dumped absentee landlord OCG VII and won court-appointed repairs in February are now afraid that Fannie Mae will sell 806-808 E. 175th Street to another irresponsible firm.

“It’s wrong,” said Gladys Archer, a longtime 806-808 tenant. “We just got rid of a slumlord. We don’t want a new one.”

OCG VII of Ocelot Capital Group acquired the five-story walkup and 24 other Bronx apartment buildings in 2007; a handful made the city’s worst buildings list immediately, thanks to 5,000 immediately hazardous housing code violations.

Tenants at 806-808 sued OCG VII in October for neglect. So did tenants at other Ocelot buildings in the Bronx. At 806-808, OCG VII had failed to fix more than 296 immediately hazardous violations – leaking water pipes, peeling lead paint and bust emergency lights. A judge ordered OCG VII, fueled by private equity, to fix the violations in 30 days and post $175,000 bond. Instead, OCG VII prepared to sell 806-808 and the other buildings to DDR Bronx Portfolio of investment firm Vintage LLC. Before the sale was finalized, Vintage appendage Hunter Property Management assumed upkeep at 806-808 and the other buildings. But the sale fell through when 18 of the 25 buildings slid into bankruptcy and foreclosure in March.

Fannie Mae underwrote $29 million in Deutsche Bank loans to OCG VII and is ready to auction its debt – in essence, the 18 buildings – on Debt Exchange, an online marketplace. Tenants are worried that Fannie Mae will sell to the high bidder, possibly another landlord like OCG VII. Senator Chuck Schumer, Congressman Jose Serrano and Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. are worried, too. Schumer, Serrano and Diaz Jr. joined tenants in July to ask Fannie Mae why it helped OCG VII to escape. Prior attempts to reach OCG VII were unsuccessful.

Tenants and elected officials want Fannie Mae to pull the 18 buildings off Debt Exchange and allow the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development to seek a responsible buyer. It appears that Fannie Mae and HPD will work together.

The OCG VII mess is emblematic of a dangerous trend, elected officials have said. Many of the OCG VII buildings are rent regulated; when tenants flee rodents and mold, a loophole allows landlords to raise the rent and sell.

“We want to make sure that the buck isn’t passed to another bad landlord,” said Garrett Wright, an attorney with the Urban Justice Center who represented tenants at 806-808. Wright helped 806-808 tenants win a court-appointed administrator to collect rent and repair the building. Progress has been slow, Archer said. Some tenants owe thousands of dollars in rent and the 806-808 is rotting, literally. The administrator has yet to repair apartments damaged during an electrical fire in December. “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Archer said.

The best-case scenario at 806-808 would involve a non-profit housing developer, Wright said. Archer has already booted a handful of rude speculators; they poke around the building, she said. Archer has no love for Fannie Mae. “To throw us on the Internet like that is unfair,” she said. “At least have the courtesy to tell us what you intend to do. At least let the city find us a proper landlord.”

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