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Lower East Side Landlord Accused of Blasting Heat to Intimidate Residents

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Public Advocate Bill De Blasio, in front of 197 Madison Street, yesterday.
Public Advocate Bill De Blasio, in front of 197 Madison Street, yesterday.

On Monday, August 30th, Public Advocate Bill De Blasio came to the Lower East Side to unveil a new online database tracking the city’s worst landlords. The backdrop: a six story tenement building located at 197 Madison Street, just to the west of Rutgers Street. According to the database, landlord Kai Lo had racked up 97 infractions, making his building the only Manhattan address south of 119th Street to be “featured” on the list.

De Blasio probably did not envision making a return visit anytime soon. But there he was yesterday, standing side by side with residents,  declaring, “we have to show a bad landlord he can’t intimidate residents – he can’t literally undermine the health of tenants.” The reason for the return trip would be comical if it wasn’t potentially life threatening.

Inside 197 Madison Street, last Friday

On Wednesday night, two days after the De Blasio press conference, residents say the landlord retaliated by blasting their heat.  Last week, CAAAV, an advocacy organization, invited reporters to feel for themselves what conditions were like inside 197 Madison. By Friday, when I visited, the heat had been shut off, but the apartments were still sweltering.

Yesterday, Eric Bederman, a spokesman for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, confirmed that the heat was, in fact, on Wednesday night. HPD staff shut it off and, according to City Councilmember Margaret Chin, the city planned a full building inspection today. Bederman said the owner was served with a violation for creating hazardous conditions. A fine is a possibility, but the landlord has another day ot two to respond to the citation.

At yesterday’s press conference, De Blasio said there could be legal action against the landlord if there’s “any further harassment of tenants.”   Advocacy organizations are talking about whether it might be possible to remove the landlord as the manger of the building. At the moment, anyway,  that doesn’t seem like a real possibility.

Meantime, we have not heard directly from the landlord. But yesterday, a repairman working for the owner caused quite a stir as the news conference was breaking up. Grabbing protest signs from tenants, he ripped the placards to pieces and began speaking to the protesters angrily, in Chinese.

Speaking through translators, the man, Can Ye Yu, said the heat went on due to a malfunctioning boiler, and the owner did not have malicious intentions. Bederman indicated HPD had heard a similar story from the landlord.

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