Caviar Dreams

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The name Beluga Caviar usually brings to mind the finer things in life, not a rat-infested basement, cigarette-strewn hallways, and days on end without electricity, hot water or heat. But these were the conditions a group of Bronx tenants faced last month after their building, owned by the real estate company Beluga Caviar International, caught fire.

“The boiler blew up. It was smoking up the whole building, so we had to be evacuated,” says Roxanne Dillon, a tenant who was in the building at the time.

But days after the October 30 fire, the tenants were still without lights or heat. They were forced instead to light their apartments with glass-encased vigil candles and heat water on the stove. “You see all these pans, here?” says Dillon, pointing to a pile of oversized aluminum pans on her kitchen stove. “This is how we wash. In a bird bath.”

The tenants, who have been without a superintendent for years, repeatedly called building manager Judy Jacobwitz to remedy the problem. According to the tenants, she stopped answering her phone. When the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development was called in, “she hung up on them, or told them someone was down here fixing things, but they weren’t,” says Dillon.

HPD’s Kim Brown reports that by November 6th all services–with the exception of half of the building’s electricity–had been restored by the owner and that the city’s intervention was not necessary. “No [emergency repairs] were put in place,” she says. “The management company just wasn’t moving as quickly as tenants wanted.”

The remainder of the building had its electricity restored on November 10. But tenants say that services remained sporadic, with heat and hot water coming and going.

“We worked around the clock to restore the services,” responds Jacobwitz. “They had all of their services restored in a short while.” Asked how many days that took, she answered, “A short while. I don’t know. A short while is the answer.”

Beluga Caviar International Foods, the well-known fish egg importers, says it has no affiliation with the real estate company that shares part of its name but often receives its mail. “Sometimes we get their taxes,” says company treasurer Raya Lembrsky, in a rich Russian accent. “I think they do it to mislead. Because when people can’t find them, they call us.”