Going After Slumlords

by Daniel Beekman

A NONPROFIT is ready to expose the city’s worst tenements anddebt-ridden landlords.

The University Neighborhood Housing Program will soon rank the physical and financial health of every large apartment building in the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn — all 58,000 of them.

“In the Bronx, we had a lot of buildings in distress,” said Greg Lobo Jost, the nonprofit’s deputy director. “We needed a formula to capture those buildings on paper.”

UNHP plans to share the rankings with community and tenant groups such as West Bronx Housing, Fifth Avenue Committee in Park Slope and Margert Community Corp. in Far Rockaway, as well as the banks that lend to landlords.

“We’ll be able to cut to the chase and know whether or not a building has problems,” said tenant-landlord referee Sally Dunford of West Bronx Housing.

To rank the buildings, UNHP has created a database that culls information on each building from the city’s records and spits out a score. The scores are based on housing code violations and mortgage payments, plus water, sewer and tax liens.

Buildings that score 800 or more will be considered “distressed.”

The rundown Bronx building where tenants recently sued for a new manager — 2710 Bainbridge Ave. — would score a ghastly 6,800, said Lobo Jost.

He expects the building to rank as one of the city’s five worst when UNHP launches the database this month. The database is the first of its kind and is for buildings with six or more apartments.

Based in Bedford Park, the Bronx, UNHP helps tenants and affordable housing developers buy and rehab private apartment buildings. It has collected data on buildings since 2003, when the city began to post more records online.

Back then, the real estate bubble had yet to burst and apartment buildings were selling to predatory equity firms for outrageous sums. UNHP feared that the new landlords would fall behind on mortgage payments and repairs if the bubble were to burst.

That bubble did burst and left buildings like 2710 Bainbridge in bad shape. Lobo Jost hopes that UNHP’s citywide database will help community and tenant groups catch buildings before they fall into disrepair or foreclosure.

“We want to highlight distressed buildings and nip problems in the bud — for the sake of tenants and lenders,” he said.