SINGER SINGS BLUE

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Last week, the federal housing department auctioned off a building to one of the city’s most notorious landlords, Baruch Singer of Triangle Management. Singer became infamous last fall and winter in a series of New York Post articles that portrayed him as an old-fashioned slumlord, complete with nasty pitbulls, lousy management and decaying properties.

That didn’t stop him from snapping up the 52-unit building near Morningside Park for $2.58 million. But now, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development is already having second thoughts about the sale. HUD, as mortgage insurer, is in the process of repossessing the building at 437 Manhattan Avenue from its previous owners. The property went on the auction block last week.

Bidders did not have to meet any special criteria, aside from being able to pay the price tag. But Singer’s sketchy record is well known in New York City. He owns an assortment of crumbling Harlem buildings–one of the buildings he’s involved with collapsed in 1995, killing three–and has come under special scrutiny from the city’s housing department lawyers for his persistent maintenance problems.

Two days after the sale, the head of HUD’s New York office told City Limits that his office would be launching an investigation into Singer’s business practices and won’t finalize the sale until it’s convinced that Singer will take care of the property.

“When HUD sells foreclosed property, we are always concerned about prospective landlords with a history of deficiencies and violations,” said Charlie King, the secretary’s representative for the New York regional HUD office. “Based on the information that we have to date, this is certainly a concern with respect to Mr. Singer.”

Singer did not return repeated phone calls made to Triangle Management. While applauding the inquiry, Michele Bonan, organizing director of the New York State Tenants and Neighbors Coalition, criticized HUD’s decision not to screen bidders to begin with. “If there were more of a requirement to begin bidding, there wouldn’t need to be an investigation,” Bonan said. Conditions of the sale include a rider that the purchaser make repairs amounting to an estimated $613,931 within one year, and maintain it as “affordable housing” for 20 years.

Ivy Thomas, president of the residents association, said tenants are apprehensive. The building has 285 code violations on record, according to the city’s housing department, and tenants have had to battle for vital repairs. “We were scared already,” Thomas said. “Now we really have to worry.”