Last Tuesday, the tenant associations from 229 South 3rd Street in Williamsburg and 563 Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint rallied against the actions of landlord Mohsen Zandieh, who has owned the buildings for the last five years.
Longtime tenant Anna Moran, who lives at 229 South 3rd Street, said the landlord not only neglected to provide many essential services, but even charged her for items like smoke detectors.
She also claimed that he makes “harassing calls” after 5 p.m. and often enters her home, even when she’s in her pajamas.
“She has no peace,” said Lucellys Ortiz, an organizer with the housing organization Los Sures, who translated for Moran. “She leaves at 5 a.m. and comes home at 10 p.m. to make ends meet.”
Moran added that Zandieh once told her over the phone that if she continued with the tenant association, he would “no longer be merciful with her.”
For 30-year tenant Chris Sroka, the landlord’s abusive actions include “tricking” her into signing an agreement to make necessary repairs in her apartment.
While her rent went up 93 percent, she said, the full scope of work has not been completed.
“He was very dishonest in his approach, and he pushed me into letting him do everything,” she said. “Because once they rip out your floors, you’ve got no choice.”
Sroka added that the hallways are never clean, their mailboxes are broken and their building doesn’t have a live-in super.
She said the “harassment campaign” began when he took over the building in November 2014 and has not stopped since.
“I have lived in this building over 30 years, and I have never seen anything like this before,” she said. “Some of us have been in court three, four or five times. It’s extremely stressful.”
In their personal interactions, Sroka said Zandieh makes “rude comments every chance he gets.” She said he and his lawyer have made “denigrating comments” to her and her partner, who is transgender.
“He is extremely rude and uses the wrong pronoun all the time,” she said. “No respect, and doesn’t even pronounce my name correctly after how many years.”
With the help of Los Sures and Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, the tenant association at 229 South 3rd Street has filed two lawsuits seeking relief for harassment and repairs.
Jack Bikowski, a tenant organizer with the North Brooklyn Development Corporation, said tenants at 563 Manhattan Avenue are experiencing similar harassment tactics from Zandieh.
Both he and Dennis Donnelly, a staff attorney from Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, said the landlord has repeatedly returned checks from tenants over a small difference, often $20 or $50, and then sued them for non-payment of rent.
“In the last six years, every tenant was in court with him, twice for some people.” Bikowski said. “He was trying to evict people for different reasons.”
Bikowski suspected that the reason behind his actions are not just motivated by money. The majority of the tenants at 229 South 3rd Street are Latino, while most of the tenants at 563 Manhattan Avenue are Polish.
“It’s also because he wants to discriminate against poor immigrants paying lower rents than anybody else in this neighborhood,” he said.
Their tenant association also plans to file lawsuits for harassment and source of income discrimination, lawyers said.
Donnelly stressed the need for “real rent reforms” in Albany, including eliminating the Major Capital Improvement (MCI) and Individual Apartment Improvement (IAI) programs that allow landlords to permanently increase a tenant’s rent over repairs.
Sroka added that she’s hopeful the state will make changes to the rent laws this year.
“I love living here, but landlords like this are not for our communities,” she said. “That’s why we’re working to try to change the laws, not just for us, but for everyone.”