Scrolling through my Twitter feed today I saw a tweet from Public Advocate Letitia James touting her new NYC Landlords Watchlist, which names the 100 worst landlords in the city.
The list is compiled using building violation data from the Dept. of Housing Preservation and Development. James’ methodology seems to involve finding the buildings with the highest number of HPD violations and breaking them down by class and year. In certain cases the site lists how many buildings and the aggregate number of units/violations the corporation that owns those buildings has. It also names the person that heads each corporation that’s registered as owning the building(s).
Good work and useful information to be sure. It comes with a great looking interactive map, similar the city’s 311 map.
What the 100 worst landlords in NYC list does not do is list the 100 worst landlords in NYC. According to the criteria used to build the list, “if a corporate entity is identified as the landlord of a particular property, we list the named officer as the ‘landlord’ of that entity.”
I love mining public databases and data journalism. I like getting in the nitty gritty and taking a lot of seemingly disparate information and turning it into a coherent picture. As such, I’m always poking around HPD’s building violation database as well as a half-dozen other city databases.
And here’s the thing: virtually every building is owned by an LLC that’s set up by a larger entity to own a single building or series of buildings. Whether the larger entity does this for tax reasons, legal reasons or to create a degree of separation, that’s just how it’s done.
Upon acquiring a new building or portfolio, often the larger entity will simply take the new building’s address and set it up as a free-standing LLC, which now “owns” the property or properties.
HPD only requires that LLC and its head officer to register with the department. And that’s the information you see – which again, is still useful – in HPD’s database.
But that person is not the landlord. They don’t own the building. Legalese aside, the landlord is the larger entity that actually owns the building or property in question.
And that larger entity often owns a ton of property in the city under dozens of different LLCs. And the head officer of a single LLC can also be the head officer of as many other LLCs as his bosses at the larger entity want.
The larger entity, and those that control it, are ultimately responsible for the building and the policies/funds that are used to mitigate violations in them.
I tried explaining all of this to the Public Advocate’s office on Twitter using one of the list’s worst offenders in Manhattan by showing them who the actual owner is. It didn’t go so well, but I think it’s an important subject to tackle for those who are interested.
2461 Amsterdam Avenue is owned by 2461 Amsterdam Avenue I, LLC, and has 447 HPD violations in a single building at that address. The head officer is listed as Robert Klehammer. But, as I’ve outlined above, Klehammer does not own the building and is not the landlord.
Initially I tweeted that the Parkoff Group owns 2461 Amsterdam Avenue, but they actually sold the building to Yeshiva University in 2007, according to public documents found online with the City Register’s Office. Therefore, Yeshiva University, and those that oversee the school’s property holdings, is the landlord.
My hunch is that were you to list the city’s actual worst landlords – the people, companies, and institutions – that actually own these buildings and dictate policy, the list would be a bit more embarrassing, and perhaps a lot smaller.
My intention with this post is not to disparage the Public Advocate’s work. It’s to demonstrate that the real landlords are insulated by layers of legal and corporate cover.
Despite my initial mistake, it isn’t hard to find these real landlords. And they should be the ones to find their names on the list of the 100 worst landlords in NYC.