Public Advocate Releases NYC’s Worst Landlords List

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New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams has released the office’s annual Worst Landlord Watchlist, with Daniel Ohebshalom and his chief officer, Johnathan Santana, once again topping the list. 

Santana and Ohebshalom’s portfolio includes 15 buildings with 306 apartments on the watchlist, which averaged 3,293 open violations from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) between November 2022 and October 2023. Ohebshalom has recently settled three separate lawsuits with the city over failure to fix dangerous conditions at his rental buildings, and now faces $4.2 million in civil penalties. After Ohebshalom and Santana, the rest of the top five landlords on the list were David Tennenbaum, Larry Hirschfield, Sima Abdavies and Alfred Thompson. 

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The apartment building that collapsed in the Morris Heights section of the Bronx this week has ties to Yonah Roth, whose portfolio is linked with No. 50 on this year’s list, Jacob Zanger, according to the public advocate’s office and housing data portal Who Owns What. The partial collapse of the seven-story property at 1915 Billingsley Terrace has forced the tenants of 46 apartments to evacuate the building, leaving 153 people homeless.  

Properties and owners are placed on the watchlist when they accumulate a high number of hazardous housing violations per unit, which can include citations for mold, leaks, rodents, roaches, lead paint, missing smoke detectors or defective windows. The public advocate’s office ranks owners based on the number of open HPD violations per unit. 

Buildings on this year’s watchlist averaged 2.3 immediately hazardous violations — which include holes in the walls, defective appliances and fixtures, and heat and hot water outages — per apartment over the past year. By comparison, the average New York City building averages 0.3 immediately hazardous violations per unit. 

On average, owners on the watchlist control seven buildings and had 739 HPD violations across their properties during the past year. 

The public advocate charged that Mayor Eric Adams’s budget cuts and citywide hiring freeze would hamper HPD’s ability to enforce against the city’s most neglectful owners. Williams pointed to the fact that HPD has struggled with a 15 percent employment vacancy rate, with 115 unfilled housing inspector positions in May. The mayor’s office didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

“Delivering greater accountability for tenants will require the resources to conduct inspections and to enforce against the worst landlords in our city,” Williams said in a statement. “Widespread budget cuts to city services and agencies like HPD are dangerous and will weaken our ability to make buildings safe and make landlords pay.”

Rebecca Baird-Remba can be reached at rbairdremba@commercialobserver.com