Virginia Garcia and her kids were home sweeping the floors and throwing out furniture. Not because they’re moving out—though they’d like to. But because mice and rats have gotten to nearly everything they own.
“When we were putting up our Christmas tree, I saw a shirt moving on the floor,” recalled Garcia (pictured), who lives on 102 Haven St. with her five children.
A closer look at the floor revealed that it was all chewed up—and mice were tugging it from one of the many holes in the wall through which they enter the house. (One of the holes, in the second-floor bathroom, is pictured above).
Part of Garcia’s rent is paid by the federal Section 8 program. The money goes directly to her landlords—poverty landlords Michael Steinbach and Janet Dawson.
Section 8 will pay those rents only if units pass at a regular housing code inspection.
How could the Fair Haven apartment pass such an inspection?
Rafael Ramos, an official with New Haven’s Livable Cities Initiative (LCI), has the same question. His agency inspects apartments for the Section 8 program if the rents are run through the city’s housing authority. LCI inspected Garcia’s apartment at 102 Haven. The apartment failed.
That inspection occurred in June. Ramos refused to allow a prospective family of Section 8 tenants to move there because of multiple housing code violations ranging from a hole in the wall and missing screens to cockroach and rodent infestation, a defective sink, and a leaking water main valve. (Click here to read the report.)
Later Garcia moved in, in August. Because her landlords, Steinbach’s and Dawson’s Diamond Properties, had found another route to get Section 8 approval—with different inspectors.
Garcia’s Section 8 voucher came from the state Department of Social Services. DSS contracts out its management of Section 8 to a Waterbury-based company called J D’Amelia and Associates.
A month after LCI failed the house, J D’Amelia and Associates inspectors approved it for Garcia and her family to move in. The inspectors didn’t make a single comment about the house in their passing report.
Ramos was in the neighborhood recently. Curious to see whether anyone else had moved in, he paid a visit. He was outraged.
“It’s a hack job,” he said of the minimal repairs Diamond had made to the house since he failed it in June. “I refused to pass this house.” He found all the problems he’d cited it for in the past—a lack of carbon monoxide detectors, free-falling windows, a dummy vent, and rampant rodent infestation.
The second-floor bedroom’s heat source was blocked, just as it had been in June. “I have a picture of my head looking at that,” Ramos said. “They didn’t do anything.”
Garcia said she had been in a hurry to move in. “I kinda regret it. I want to get evicted,” she said.
Garcia (pictured) said she had been looking for a place since the beginning of the year, because her old apartment also had rodents. She first saw a “For Rent” sign in front of 102 Haven around March, she recalls. The rental agent she called told her a family was already moving in there.
That family never moved in because Ramos failed the house in June. So the rental agent called her back in June and told her the house was available again. Why? she asked. “It was ‘too complicated’ for that family to move into this house,” she recalled being told.
She didn’t know it had failed a housing inspection. Nor did she know she would be renting from notorious slumlords Dawson and Steinbach; she knew her landlords only as “Diamond Properties Management, LLC.”
That’s the latest name Dawson and Steinbach have chosen to run their rental-property empire. Last year they called themselves “All Star Management,” and before then, the notorious “Apple Management.”
Garcia said she rented from Apple years ago and swore she’d never go back. She hadn’t known about the name change. “I wouldn’t have dealt with Apple Management if I knew it was them,” she said. “Then I started thinking, ‘why do these faces look familiar?’”
Properties all over the city have “For rent” signs on them. There’s no name on the signs; they simply tell passersby to call 203-909-6642. That’s Diamond’s phone number. Properties listed on Craigslist do identify the rental agency as Diamond and refer searches to a rental agent.
Steinbach and Dawson, who now live in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, owns hundreds of properties in New Haven, many of them rundown and in poor neighborhoods. They have 73 Section 8-subsidized units through the city’s housing authority and another 57 covered by the State DSS and D’Amelia.
They have failed to respond to repeated requests for comment for a series of articles on conditions at their holdings.
Their real-estate empire is the defendant in dozens of defective-premises lawsuits because of the decrepit conditions of their properties. They’re also defendants in hundreds of foreclosure lawsuits filed by mortgage lenders, which have drawn out for years as the couple continues to collect rent from each of the units.
Diamond recently told the housing authority of more than 15 units that are newly available for rent for Section 8 tenants. Almost all of them have been involved in a foreclosure lawsuit that has yet to be resolved. The properties are at: 128 Greenwood St., 252-242 Sheffield Ave., 51 Lines St., 37 Rosette St., 121 Greenwood St., 366 Front St., 161 Clay St., 62-64 Derby Ave., 260-262 Orchard St., 869 Elm St. Dawson and Steinbach had taken multiple mortgages out on all of those properties from various lenders.
David Dearborn, spokesman for DSS, said in an email that “Section 8 inspection standards fall under what is termed industry housing quality standards…there may be differences depending on each public ousting authority’s particular administrative policy.
“DSS’s Section 8 contractor reports that it spoke directly with the inspector on this unit. We are advised that the inspector recalls the resident being pleased with the repairs made after the special inspection.
“When they spoke to the inspector last week, he was reportedly confident that there weren’t holes in the walls of this single-family house. They further report that there weren’t holes in the walls at the original inspection.”
Dearborn said that J D’Amelia and Associates is ordering another special inspection of the Haven Street house based on the Independent’s inquiry. In the meantime, LCI inspectors visited the house Thursday and failed it again—for nearly all the reasons Ramos had failed it in October, and in June.
102 Haven has for years been owned by companies regularly drawing the attention of Rafael’s team at LCI. Land records show it was bought by the well-known Anthony Perrotti’s Connecticut Housing Company LLC in 2006 for $130,000. Janet Dawson snapped it up two years later for $85,000. Most recently, it was “sold” to Sun Escape LLC—registered to a Roger H. Dawson, who lives at Janet Dawson’s address in Fort Lauderdale—for $75,000. Sun Escape then used that “sale” as the basis for a $60,000 loan from Natasha Cuyar Llenca, who appears to be an administrative assistant who’s done some work for Diamond Properties. Click here to read more about those transactions.
The tenants weren’t aware of the sale. They said no maintenance has been done on the property to justify a new mortgage in November.
“This is supposed to be a family house,” said Anthony Sanabra (pictured at the top of the story), Garcia’s stepson. “What’s going on?”
• Slumlords “Sell” Properties, Still Collect Rent
• Slumlords Unload 9 Properties
• Ceiling Fell. Baby Died. Slumlords Paid Nothing
• Slumlords Stiff Banks—& Rake In Sec. 8 Bucks
• One family moves in, another forced out
• Showpiece House Rises Next To Problem House