New York City, NY

Commentary: The Harlem Real Estate Shell Game

Remington Write

Who do YOU think owns your building?
Dept of Buildings Inspectors are Back in the HousePhoto byTammy Remington

The notification no tenant wants to get. "Starting on the first day of next month all leasing and maintenance-related matters will be overseen by new management."

Tenants know what's next: No improvements and plenty of confusion.

For the first 15 to 16 years a certain unnamed building in Harlem went through six to eight new "owners". Tenants would get an announcement similar to this one. Curiously, however, the payment information never changed. It's quite likely that this was the same situation for numerous other buildings in Harlem, East New York, and all across the Bronx. In those days, many tenants still wrote out paper checks that they put into envelopes with stamps and sent their rent via the Postal Service.

That all changed in 2018.

First, the tenants were told that the new owner was [insert bland meaningless name] and everyone had to change their payment information. At some point in that first year, tenants were then told that they should reach out to [insert even blander and more meaningless name] for maintenance issues and be so kind as to set up automatic payments through [slightly questionable online payment entity]. It became clear that the tenants had left the land of owners and were adrift in the land of property management companies.

Who actually owns this building? Good question.

There's speculation that this particular building is owned by Sugar Hill Capital Partners which is not great news given their propensity to not pay the mortgage on some of the properties they acquire.

Tenants offer this helpful update to the new management company:

On 26 January, an elevator inspector got trapped for half an hour in the elevator of a building which just happens to be one your company will soon be managing. That inspector didn't call 911 as tenants do when this happens. He called his supervisor with the Department of Buildings and waited. For some reason, he also rang the emergency bell continuously until tenants did call 911. It was all very exciting.

Of course, all this means is another violation and another fine. Something for the owners - whoever they are - to tally up as the cost of doing business in New York City. But at least the elevator is working again.

For now.
Most people don't usually get to see this part of their elevators /Photo byTammy Remington

The tenants understand that unless they're ready to housing court, not to expect a reliably functioning elevator any time soon. That might sound like a decent enough start for an episode of Law & Order (the original), but the reality is that the murky world of New York City real estate harbors even more questionable "owners" than whoever actually owns a certain modest 24-unit apartment building in Harlem.

Chances are very good that whoever does own this building, those are people who never have to worry about calling the fire department to get them out of a broken down elevator. Nor will they ever go to bed without heat or have to figure out how to shower without hot water.

Chances are also good that the tenants who do have to worry about these things will never know who owns their building.

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Covert dilettante with an omnivorous capacity for wonder. Writing because I can't not write. Always watching for the hidden patterns and connections. I don't know I cannot fly..........and so I do.

New York City, NY

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