“Look,” Tyrone Moss declared as he came upon two squirming mice freshly snagged in the glue trap by his stove. “They still jumping up. They squeaking and trying to get away.”
Moss was showing a visitor around his apartment on the fourth floor of 1523 Chapel St., a five-story apartment building at the corner of Winthrop Avenue. Two mice greeted him as he checked on one of several traps he keeps in the apartment. (Click on the play arrow to watch. Warning: the video displays rodent suffering.)
“This happens all the time,” Moss said.
It happens not just in his apartment but in apartments throughout the building, according to city housing inspectors. That’s one reason the city has filed three applications for misdemeanor arrest warrants for the owner of the 93-year-old wood-frame, brick-exterior building.
The city’s anti-blight agency, Livable City Initiative (LCI), has the applications pending with the state housing court. They cover inspections from 10 of the 44 apartments at 1523 Chapel (pictured), aka “Winthrop Terrace” according to the name etched above the front awning. The inspections, conducted in August and October, cited rampant rodents, leaking ceilings, broken and “ill-fitting” doors, and cracked walls, according to files reviewed at LCI’s office. Subsequent inspections found the repairs hadn’t been made, according to the files. The building’s elevator was out of commission for months in 2012.
LCI officials don’t characterize the building’s operator, Netz/Mandy management, as a slumlord.
The city has for years applied for such warrants when landlords don’t make repairs. Cops don’t go handcuff the landlords. The landlords don’t face jail time. Rather they show up in court for a hearing on misdemeanor charges of violating the housing code.
What’s different this time: LCI filed for the warrants under a new process to keep on top of landlords who fail to make promised repairs after tenants have complained to LCI. The new system automatically flags dates by which landlords have been ordered to fix housing code violations based on those complaints. Before LCI upgraded its computer system, continued complaints from tenants would be required to call attention to repair failures. Without such follow-up complaints, ongoing problems—like 1523 Chapel—could fall through the cracks.
Building on the new system, LCI plans to turn more often to the state’s attorney’s office to prosecute the landlords in question, LCI Executive Director Erik Johnson (pictured) said Wednesday..
“We’re not singling anybody out,” Johnson said.
“We are going to be tougher around enforcement on housing code issues. Where we have properties that have had a history of neglect or disinvestment, we are going to more actively engage the state’s attorney’s office. We have heard what the alders and residents have said about the condition of certain properties,” like 1523 Chapel.
West River Pressure
In addition, LCI wants to keep on top of Netz/Mandy, one of the fastest-growing landlords in town. The company has snapped up hundreds of apartments all over town in recent years on behalf of investors from around the globe; some of its properties have been magnets for crime in the West River neighborhood. Its recent acquisitions have included hovels abandoned by the city’s most notorious slumlords, Michael Steinbach and Janet Dawson and, among other corporate entities they controlled, Apple Management. “They’re acquiring properties that need a lot of work” and more staffers on the job, said LCI deputy chief Rafael Ramos (pictured above).
State prosecutor Judith Dicine, who handles housing cases at the Elm Street courthouse, declined to comment on the 1523 Chapel case.
LCI acted in this case after more than a year of tussling with Mandy over conditions at 1523 Chapel. LCI also came under pressure in recent months from elected officials and community activists.
After receiving repeated complaints from tenants, neighborhood Alderwoman Evette Hamilton said, she visited the building. She compiled a “dossier” of “color photographs” and evidence of bedbugs, broken ceilings, and other “deplorable conditions.” “I got fed up” and sent a certified letter to the building’s legal owner in Brooklyn and brought her dossier to LCI, she said. She spoke of one obese woman who spent months having to navigate the stairs in order to go visit her doctor while 1523 Chapel’s elevator remained broken.
“They’re bringing our community down,” said West River community organizer and retired police detective Stacy Spell. “A lot of our problems in West River come from that building.” Spell said he regularly sees drug dealers go in and out of the building. He also cited repeated crime at a second Netz/Mandy property in the neighborhood at 66 Norton.
It’s nice that Netz/Mandy gives a second chance to down-and-out renters who can’t find other places to live, Spell said. But he argued the firm hasn’t done its job in screening those tenants and then enforcing rules.
Netz/Mandy’s top manager, Mendy Edelkopf, told the Independent his company has invested over $130,000 in the building over the past year. That included installing 16 security cameras and replacing a long-broken elevator. He has added 10 employees to his staff to follow up on complaints from the city, he said. He has hired a licensed electrician on staff. A reporter’s return visit to the building revealed patched walls and ceilings from a year ago along with the elevator and cameras.
Edelkopf said he’s “waiting on LCI” to revisit the property to see the repairs.
“We have enough people. We’re doing a good job. We’re getting better,” Edelkopf said.
Right now, Edelkopf said, he is in the process of evicting several tenants who have attracted troublemakers to the building or have caused trouble themselves.
Moss Fights The Mice
One of those tenants is Tyrone Moss. Netz/Mandy served him notice to vacate his fourth-floor apartment by month’s end.
Moss (pictured), who shares the apartment with his girlfriend, said he wants to fight the eviction. He doesn’t have a lease; he rents month to month. He denied the landlord’s accusation that he shouldn’t spend so much time loitering out in front. “I’ve been living here for 12 years, man. I can’t even sit on the front porch?” he said. “I feel like he’s harassing me.” On one occasion he was “waiting for UPS” to make a delivery when the landlord asked him not to hang out there, Moss claimed. (“I gave him some back lip,” he acknowledged.) Moss said he does custodial work for a living. He and his girlfriend pay $625 a month for their one-bedroom “humble abode.”
On a tour of his apartment the other day, Moss pointed out a broken ceiling tile and a hole in the wall of the bedroom. He pointed to black mold and deterioration in the ceiling above the bath.
He acknowledged that a Netz/Mandy crew had patched the wall and replaced tile in the bathroom. He complained about the quality of the materials.
Most of all, though, he spoke about the mice. He hears them running in the bedroom ceiling at night. He said the glue traps in the kitchen catch as many as 10 a week. He pointed to new mice droppings under the sink in an area he said he’d recently vacuumed.
A fourth-floor neighbor, Carol Lewis, was less critical of the landlord.
The landlord tries to get rid of the “rats and roaches,” Lewis said. “They come in from time to time and spray. It doesn’t work.” She pointed out that 1523 Chapel is an old building. The 3,711-square-foot building was constructed in 1920.
Overall, Lewis said, “I’m happy with the landlord. The stuff they were neglecting, they finally got to it, because people were complaining.”
Downstairs on the second floor, Carol Miller (pictured) is ready to move. At 65 years old, living on disability, she’s tired of chasing mice.
“This is not worth no $800!” she said of her the monthly rent. She’s hoping to land an apartment at Bella Vista or the rebuilt Brookside development.
The landlord did finally fix holes in her walls, Miller said. But she complained that repairs take too long—and that above all she has to contend with the rodents.
“You can hear them in here running across the [kitchen],” she said. “Every morning I have to get up I drink my coffee. I have to wipe down things before I make my coffee. Their stuff is in there. And then my grandbaby he comes over. He’s not even a year yet. I’m just so scared one of the mices may run up to him.
“These mices are bold. They come out here. I could be sitting here in the living room. They come right out and look at me or whatever. They won’t move until I move. They stay right there ...”