Building Linked to Rat Disease Had Shown Improvement After City Action

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The disease blamed for a Bronx resident's death saw a spike in 2015 but is still extremely rare.

The building linked to one of three recent cases of a bacterial infection blamed on rat urine was, by some measures, a success story for the de Blasio administration’s efforts to crack down on bad landlords.

Last May, the city announced it was withholding the rent payments it makes on behalf of welfare recipients in 12 buildings around the city. Ved Parkash was listed as the owner of five of those properties, including 750 Grand Concourse, the building linked to one of the leptospirosis cases. Two other people who worked at a small business in the same area were also infected with the rare disease. One of those two people died. The resident of 750 and the other small business employee recovered.

Mayor de Blasio and Public Advocate Letitia James announced in December that 10 of the buildings on that “Dirty Dozen” list had improved, resolving more than half of 2,000-odd housing code violations that were on record against them. No building resolved more of those code violations than 750 Grand Concourse, which went from 308 violations in May to 88 in December.

As of this morning, the 99-unit building had 84 open violations. Generally, a building with fewer than one violation per unit would not be considered severely troubled, although not all tenants file complaints regularly and the conditions in individual apartments can differ sharply from a building’s overall status. Some critics also say the city has long been too quick to consider a housing-code issue closed.

Twenty-one of the open code violations were issued on Wednesday, for problems like mice, roaches, broken stairs, peeling plaster and missing smoke or carbon monoxide detectors.

The denial of rent payments might have been especially effective in the case of 750 Grand Concourse because Parkash had in March secured a $6.3 million mortgage from Signature Bank for the property.

The denial of welfare rent payments is one of several steps the de Blasio administration has taken to try to rein landlords in. It has also sought criminal charges against at least three landlords whose alleged neglect of tenants, the city argued, merited possibly jail time. One, Ephraim Vashovsky, goes to trial in March. Another, Steven Croman, has a court date in April. In fiscal 2016, the city issued 440,000 housing-code violations, an 8 percent increase over the year before.

Housing-code violations aren’t the only issue at the building, however. There are 15 open building-code charges and 25 open Environmental Control Board violations, and the city has issued orders to stop work on allegedly unpermitted construction and partially vacate the building. Among the complaints the city has registered on the building are these claims, according to city records:

• “There is a family living in the basement and I would like to have an inspector come and see that this is illegal conversion.”
• “Apt 5e is in the process of being illegally converted from a 2-bedroom to a multiple-room apartment”
• “The basement floor collapsed”
• “Broken elevator”
• “The gas in the home has not been working for about two months now. The building is changing the pipes and everyone else has gas except for me.”
• “Elevator not working 6-story building … . Caller has a disability and cannot get out of the building”
• “Reconstruction work is being done on my building most likely without a permit”
• “Dept. of Buildings inspected damage to my building and issued a stop work order on 3/12/2016. However the workers are back and continuing the reconstruction work, most likely without a perm[it]”
• “Building received a partial vacate order. However the sign was taken down earlier today, which I believe was not supposed to happen.”
• “There is a defective gas line in the building that caused a floor to collapse and the gas to be shut off. The condition needs to be inspected and fixed before the gas could be turned back on.”
• “Person said that there are eight people living in a one bedroom apartment”
• “Elevator has not been working for past four days. Notice no response from building management”
• “Elevator in residential building is chronically not working. Has been breaking for the past fifteen years.”

Five of the open violations on 750 Grand Concourse involve mice, but only one—issued Wednesday—cites rates (” abate the nuisance consisting of rodents rats at rear yard” is how it’s worded. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all rodents are potential carriers of leptospirosis, although they are not the only carriers.

In 2011, then Manhattan-Borough President Scott Stringer and then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg jousted over whether the city’s rat population was surging. (City Limits published a brief tutorial on rats in 2014.)

Incidence of leptospirosis in the city did spike in 2015, according to the city’s searchable database of infectious disease, to 5 cases, more than in any year since 2000, a span during which the city averaged two cases per year. One indication of how rare the disease is: Over that 16-year period, the city notched four times as many cases of leprosy as it did leptospirosis.

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