Orthodox Slumlords and Their Tenants

Landlord May Be Only Jew a Low-Income Tenant Knows

Renters’ Remorse: Tenants protest unsafe living conditions in New York City.
Courtesy of Urban Homesteading Assistance Board
Renters’ Remorse: Tenants protest unsafe living conditions in New York City.

By Elise Goldin

Published April 20, 2013, issue of April 26, 2013.
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As tenants go through the process of foreclosure and organizing, they are suspicious of the men in suits who come to scope out their buildings. These speculators are often looking to purchase the building to turn a profit, and have no interest in becoming responsible, long-term landlords.

I hear a lot of anti-Semitic comments from tenants based on their experiences with landlords, the only visibly Jewish people with whom they have contact. (I was raised in the Reconstructionist movement, and I’m not visibly Jewish.) Sometimes I get a call from a tenant who tells me “a Jew is in the building,” presumably meaning that a speculator has come around in hopes of purchasing it.

Tenants complain to me that Jews don’t work on Saturdays, so it’s difficult to get in touch with their landlords. One time, when an Orthodox Jew bought a building in the Bronx, the tenants were convinced that he worked for the same company as the previous owner, also an Orthodox Jew. They had a difficult time trusting him.

Recently I began working in a different building in the Bronx with another Orthodox Jewish landlord — or at least I think he is the landlord. He works for one of those slippery limited liability companies where it’s difficult to tell who owns the building and who works for the owner.

The building is extremely distressed; in 2012 it was ranked by a city agency as one of the 200 worst buildings in New York City. The heat and hot water are completely unpredictable; some units are ravaged with mold, and there is a major rat infestation.

Two months ago, the tenants and UHAB invited the landlord to a meeting so that they could find out about his plans to improve the poor conditions in the building.


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