Friday, May 12, 2006
Juan Gonzalez is a Daily News columnist.
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Their landlord from hell
Brooklyn residents Lois Simmons-Wallace (l.)
and Audrey Smith have received eviction threats
Five months ago, Angela Diaz walked into her apartment at 845 Riverside Drive and was shocked to discover four big screws sticking out of her bedroom wall.
A repairman for Pinnacle LLC, her landlord, had been next door installing a new bathroom cabinet for her neighbor. He did such a great job that the screws he used to fasten the cabinet passed right into Diaz's apartment.
"I complained the same day to the super and he just laughed," Diaz said. "It's been five months now, and they still haven't fixed my wall."
Then there's the softball-sized hole in the wall of Diaz's hallway closet. Pinnacle workers recently punctured the wall while running wires for a new intercom system. The workers then left without plastering the gap, and now rats have rushed through it into the apartment.
"It's like they're trying to force us all to leave," said Diaz, 54, who has lived in the same apartment for 28 years. She and a half-dozen other tenants say that after Pinnacle took over the Washington Heights building in October 2004, there was no heat or hot water for most of that winter.
These are among scores of horror stories that rent-regulated Pinnacle tenants all over the city have told the Daily News in recent weeks.
Tenants say they have to wait months for the company to fix major violations in their apartments - even after a Housing Court judge orders the work. And when Pinnacle work crews finally arrive, they often bungle the repairs or do slipshod work, the tenants charge.
Dorothy Hall, 68, is one of some 250 tenants at the Dunbar Apartments in Harlem to get a Housing Court eviction notice from Pinnacle since the company purchased the 540-unit complex last August.
In her case, she deliberately withheld her rent to force the company to make repairs to her apartment.
In a court stipulation reached earlier this year, Hall agreed to pay her back rent and the company agreed to complete repairs in early March.
It's now May, and the work is still not finished.
"Their workers brought me two sink cabinets with no drawers," Hall said. "My home has been upset and uprooted for two months, everything's off the walls and they haven't even called to say when they're gonna finish."
At 146 E. 19th St. in Brooklyn, a six-story tenement Pinnacle purchased in January 2005, resident Thomas Rudy says "everything went down the drain when they took over."
Rudy, a Vietnam veteran with two Purple Hearts and a veterans' counselor for the state Labor Department, has a long litany of complaints.
"They stopped cleaning the building," he said. "The incinerators are all nailed up, there's never hot water until 8 [a.m.] ... and they're not fixing anything. The only way I get their attention is by withholding rent."
Records from the City's Department of Housing and Preservation show there are 109 unresolved violations in the 41-unit building, including 91 that are classified as hazardous or immediately hazardous.
In Rudy's apartment, work crews recently installed a new bathroom sink.
"After they left, I happened to brush against it and the sink fell down," Rudy said. "They'd forgotten to fasten it to the wall."
In his kitchen there's no metal plate on one of his electrical sockets, and he has waited weeks for Pinnacle to supply one.
Over in Crown Heights, Lois Simmons-Wallace, 78, has lived in the same large rent-controlled apartment at 457 Schenectady Ave. for 40 years.
As soon as Pinnacle purchased the building in January 2005, it sued to evict her in Housing Court, claiming she owed four months back rent.
"I always pay rent on time, and I have a copy of every rent receipt since I moved in," she said.
After several trips to court, Simmons-Wallace produced her proof, and the case was dismissed.
But she has fought for months to get repairs to her apartment, including a new paint job - the last one was 15 years ago.
HPD records show 89 open housing code violations in the 94-unit building.
Last summer, part of a bedroom ceiling collapsed from a major leak. Simmons-Wallace sued Pinnacle in small claims court for damages to her rugs and furniture. In October, the court entered a default judgment against Pinnacle for $1,600.
"We do not have any knowledge of the small claims action," said Robert Barletta, a spokesman for Pinnacle when asked about Simmons-Wallace.
As for the chorus of complaints, Barletta said Pinnacle chief Joel Wiener commissioned an independent survey last week showing "an overwhelming majority of tenants are satisfied with their apartments."
Despite that survey, four community boards in northern Manhattan are convening an unusual joint public meeting Monday at 6:30 p.m. at Riverbank State Park at W. 145th St. and Riverside Drive.
"There is definitely something going on," said Jordi Reyes Montblanc, chairman of Community Board 9. "We don't know what, and that's why we're collecting information." Originally published on May 12, 2006