Small landlords in the Bronx complain of scamming tenants, ask housing courts to reopen

The landlords protesting at Lou Gehrig Plaza.
Photo courtesy of Roger Evans

As millions of New Yorkers could face eviction in October and have held rallies demanding housing courts remain closed, there is another group of people being affected — small landlords.

While the Safe Tenant Harbor Act  prevents people from getting kicked to the curb, it does not encourage people to not pay rent. However, due to COVID-19 many are choosing other necessities like food and health care instead.

For the past month or so, several small landlords have been conducting a modest protest in front of the courthouse at Lou Gehrig Plaza. Among those there are landlords Jean Claxton and John Sheridan and a lawyer they hired, Roger Evans.

“They need the courts to open,” Evans said to the Bronx Times. “The working class of landlords is being denied justice.”

Evans stressed that those protesting aren’t landlords with tons of buildings, but everyday folks who may rent to a few people.

The lawyer questioned what these people are suppose to do if a tenant’s lease is up or people are living in their building without a lease. Without receiving rent, landlords are not able to pay for the utilities and property taxes.

Evans along with the landlords, are pleading with Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks, to open the courts.

“The banks aren’t saying people can’t pay their mortgage,” he said.

Sheridan is a teacher in Hunts Point and a small landlord who rents a single-family house in the Bronx, the house that belonged to his great-grandfather. He is currently having difficulty with the tenants at that property and it is causing financial hardship and emotional stress for his family.

In late May, he and his wife made the decision to sell the house that has been in his family for more than 100 years. When they told their tenants of their decision in early June, they were excited. For the nine years they had been renting from Sheridan, they claimed many times they would buy the house with the assistance of wealthy relatives. Sheridan even offered to sell the house at a significant discount.

“By now, my wife and I were supposed to be looking forward to our retirement,” Sheridan said in a letter to Marks. “The sky was supposed to be the limit after all of our hard work and financial sacrifice, and now all we do is argue over finances and experience daily emotional stress regarding our future and our lives.”

Initially, they went along with the arrangement to have a realtor begin showing the house. But when the tenants realized that family financing was not possible, everything changed. When the realtor called to show the property, the tenants balked, claiming coronavirus concerns.  Meanwhile, the tenants were secretly showing the house to buyers who agreed to keep them as tenants.

The tenants’ lease ended Aug. 31 and they refuse to leave the house. They claim they will continue to pay rent and will even negotiate a new lease with a new owner.

“I understand that as Chief Administrative Judge of the State of New York you have the authority to open the housing courts in NY City and State to full capacity,” he said to Marks. “That is all that I ask. No special favors or dispositions. Just a chance to plead my case before a judge so that justice can finally be done and my family can finally have some peace.”

Claxton, 69, of Concourse Village, also sent a letter to Marks. Claxton, a retired payroll processor of 33 years, rents a six-unit residential building in the Bronx.

She inherited the buildings from her late husband, Alfred who passed away in 2012. She takes care of them but one tenant has taken advantage of her and the system since 2013.

“From March of 2014, to the present month, all that I’ve been doing Judge Marks/Judge Silver, is going back and forth to the Bronx Housing Court,  begging for relief of this tenant, who has done nothing for the last eight years as a tenant in my building, but defraud the welfare and human resources systems,” she said. As a result of his ability to skillfully defraud the system, I’m literally ‘laughed at’ by him, for his so-called, beating the system every time.”

Currently this tenant is in three months arrears. The last month’s rent payment that she received was from June, which he was court ordered to pay by the 10th of each month. The court placed the tenant on one year’s probation that began from Oct. 1, 2019, and is scheduled to end Sept. 30, but he has been in violation of the court order since March, using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse.

Instead of being able to enjoy her retirement and spend time with her daughter and grandkids, she is dealing with this. She demanded the courts reopen and toss him out.

“I’m at the breaking point,” she said to the Bronx Times. “Tenants get away with nonsense. I just want him out of the building. Small landlords are people. Small landlords need help.”

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