A tenants meeting for disgruntled renters at Sunset Garden took place at the Russell Brott Senior Center in the Town of Ulster on Monday night. On hand were municipal leaders and local legislators. Also in attendance were a handful of residents of other area apartment complexes recently bought by E&M Management, the landlords which have been, the tenants say, the cause of their disgruntlement.
Long Island-based E&M Management purchased Sunset Garden at 45 Birch Street and Lakeshore Villas, a 151-unit property in Port Ewen, from Morgan Communities in March for $44 million, expanding a local portfolio which also includes Kingston Waterfront and 30 Black Creek Road in Highland.
At Sunset Garden, some residents say they noticed an almost immediate deterioration in services after E&M took over.
“That morning we had our staff and maintenance people in the office as usual,” said Laura Hartmann, a Sunset Gardens resident for the past 11 years and one of the organizers of Monday’s meeting. “By noon they were gone, removed from service. The office phone was disconnected, the office shuttered and locked, and all we had was a list of numbers and names from E&M Management. They took over on a Friday, and that weekend it felt like we were completely adrift. No one to call in an emergency. That first experience was telling in how they would continue to treat us.”
The stories were similar to those told by Hartmann and other tenants during a meeting of the Ulster Town Board earlier this month, with many of the issues confirmed by Town of Ulster Building Inspector Kathryn Moniz, who said she spends one day each week dealing with problems at Sunset Garden.
“I have matters of infestation, both rats and roaches,” said Moniz last week. “I have floors that are lifting. We’ve had sewer backups that were not taken care of like they’re supposed to be, which led to an issue of sanitation. We have handrails in common halls that serve no purpose because one is attached at the top but not at the return. I have big, gaping holes in the hallways that I’ve asked to be fixed because it’s a fire issue. They’ve taken out a laundry facility, and now I think there’s one for the whole complex. We have lighting issues.”
A May sewer backup in a laundry room at Building 14 was detailed on Monday by Liz Shapiro, a tenant who said she’d tried for over a month to get E&M to tackle an issue she believes led to the backup.
“The entire month of April and part of May I called the office daily, I told (them)…that there’s leakage coming up through my floors,” she said. “‘They’re wet, they’re wet.’ It’s spreading, it’s coming in through my carpets, through my kitchen, my kids are sick, my dog is sick. May 26th is when the backup happened in the laundry room, and now raw sewage is gushing up into my apartment. And that’s what it was for that month-and-a-half.”
Shapiro said she was unable to reside in her apartment for six weeks, staying in hotels due to a catastrophe she says she didn’t cause.
“I’m in the middle of a lawsuit for that because I’ve never been reimbursed [by E&M] for anything,” she said. “And they’re actually trying to come after me for money saying I owe them money for the time I wasn’t living in the apartment.”
Many tenants have said their leases have not been renewed, putting them on a precarious month-to-month basis which they say subjects them to intimidation by E&M, particularly Yitzhak “Yitz” Horowitz, identified on the company’s website as director of property management; and Richard Thompson, who is not listed on the E&M website, but was identified by town officials as the Sunset Garden property manager.
John Mortenson, a Sunset Garden tenant who described himself as a frequent Google reviewer, said that both Horowitz and Thompson recently confronted him about negative feedback left about the apartment complex.
In his Google review, Mortenson — who was also critical of former property owner Morgan Communities — said that after E&M took over, “the place has been going to HELL. We have no laundry room, the pool is not open and it is now June 21, and management does not care. They say that there is a lot of repairs to do to the property and they do not have time. We had a meeting with the tenants and management on May 31st and we were told that the pool would be opened within the week, Still waiting. July 13, 2018.. DO NOT RENT HERE…. THIS PLACE HAS TURNED INTO A SLUM.. I Will be moving when I can…”
Mortenson said that Horowitz and Thompson tried to get him to remove his review from Google, but he declined.
“I’m not going to be intimidated,” Mortenson said. “My wife is not going to be intimidated.”
But others say they have been intimidated. “People are afraid of speaking up for fear of being evicted as they now do not have a lease,” said Hartmann. “Residents are afraid to report the maintenance problems they are having in their apartments for fear of being evicted. They are afraid to come to meetings to ask for help for fear of being evicted. Their fears are justified.”
Complaint, then eviction
Hartmann said that after her dissatisfaction with trying to get E&M to repair a leak in her kitchen that was shorting out the ceiling light, she went to Moniz to report the problem.
“I reported this to the building inspector on October 15,” Moniz said. “On Nov. 14 I was given a 30-day notice to vacate my apartment by Dec. 31. E&M is evicting me. In 11 years I have never been late with my rent and have taken very good care of my apartment. There is no good reason to ask me to leave except for the fact that I have been a leader in our tenants’ association, I have reported problems to the building inspector, and I have been outspoken about what we are dealing with here. Not renewing a lease or two is an oversight, but doing it as standard practice is on purpose.”
Shapiro said she also received a notice to vacate by the end of the year.
“I’m a single mom with two kids and absolutely nowhere to go,” she said. “But because I’ve been complaining and standing up for myself I now have until Dec. 31 to vacate my apartment. Which I’m not going to do. I’m not in a financial position, I have no family, I have nobody here. I have nowhere to go, so I’m going to ride it out and just hope that when we get to court the judge sees this as retaliation.”
In spite of their tenuous living situation, some of the tenants at Monday’s meeting said they felt invigorated by coming forward, hoping that it will lead to more residents of Sunset Garden to come out of the shadows. With no rent stabilization or just-cause evictions available for market-rate dwellings, coming together to change the law may make a difference not only locally, but across New York State.
“I’m here in support as a community member,” said Nina Dawson, commissioner of the Ulster County Human Rights Commission.
“As a community, if we stand together as a community, this man, he won’t be so eager to use his bully tactics with you guys,” she said. “Gentrification is wrong, I don’t care what direction it’s coming from.”
Don’t give up
Lynn Eckert, an Ulster County Legislator representing District 5 including the City of Kingston, said that continuing to bring issues to Ulster Town officials is a good collective step.
“Keep going back, keep going back, keep going back, so the cost of doing this kind of dirty business is too high to stay,” she said, adding that she hoped a change could be made higher up the legislative food chain that would benefit communities in New York. “I don’t think this is OK. We need many legislators, irrespective of whether they have an apartment complex in their area or not out to be upset about this. It’s not right.”
Town Supervisor James Quigley III said that while a change in the law would have to come through Albany, there is plenty a municipality can do on its own, provided it hears from local residents like those at Sunset Garden.
“We are responsible for enforcing the state building codes and the electric codes, and we are responsible for enforcing local life safety codes,” Quigley said. “Kathy [Moniz] spends one day a week at this project. Ever since [E&M] took over we’ve been spending one day a week. The other day when the water line broke, it was the town water department that fixed it, because we got there, we found out what it was. They [E&M] called me, they told me it was on their property. I said, ‘I don’t care, I want it fixed, I want it fixed now.’ And we fixed it. And I sent them a bill for $5,000, and we got a check.”
Representatives for E&M were unavailable as of press time, though the Kingston Times is making arrangements to speak with them in time for next week’s issue.