Tenants protest neglectful landlord

Tenants at 1380 University Avenue in Highbridge plan to sue their landlord. The 18-story building is in bad shape, they say. Photo by Daniel Beekman

A newly formed tenant association bused to City Hall on Thursday, May 28 to protest sorry conditions and crooked management in Highbridge. The landlord of 1380 University Avenue has accumulated 32 building code violations and 263 housing violations at the 18-story tower. He owes Con Edison more than $120,000 and has constructed illegal partitions.

The certificate of occupancy for 1380 University Avenue expired in 1968, the same year it was built. The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development has reported broken sinks, defective faucets, broken locks, peeling paint, rats, broken smoke detectors, water leaks, broken vents and dangerous outlets at the building.

The elevators at 1380 University Avenue break down frequently. According to the city’s Department of Finance, the landlord will benefit from more than $2 million in Mitchell-Lama tax exemptions in 2009-2010. However, the building is not registered with city or state housing agencies as a Mitchell-Lama building.

Members of the tenant association, formed in March, have also accused the landlord of failing to provide rent receipts, harassing Section 8 tenants and overcharging for parking and A/C. According to city records, the building belongs to University Residence and principal Michael Jaffe. Months ago, the building’s manager instructed tenants to make rent checks out to Universally Residence and introduced a new principal.

Phone calls to the University/Universally management office, located at 1380 University Avenue, went unanswered. The office voicemail box was full. On May 28 at 5 p.m., the door to the office was locked. Aaron Fraser, a City Council candidate from Brooklyn, helped the tenant association file a federal complaint. The landlord has taken some tenants to Bronx housing court.

City records designate 1380 University Avenue a coop. According to tenant association member Barbara Williamson, 59, there are only renters in the building. Williamson moved to University Avenue in 2007.

“One elevator was out for a whole year,” she said. “When the other elevator broke down, I had to walk up 15 flights of stairs. There are elderly and disabled tenants here.”

Tenant association member Victoria Lassister, 57, also moved to University Avenue in 2007. Her apartment contains an illegal partition, she said. Mary Woods, 73, has lived at 1380 University Avenue since 1972. Transients sleep and defecate in the hallway, she said. Tiffany Grant, 17, is fed up. According to Grant, tenants smoke marijuana and scrawl graffiti in the building.

“It looks like a ghetto project,” she said.

Maria Gonzales, a tenant for five years, reported a hole in her kitchen wall to management a year ago. It hasn’t been fixed. The tenant association boasts 45 members.

More from Around NYC