The Real Deal New York

City orders dozens out of “illegal” Chinatown SRO

Rents reported to be as low as $600 per month for a room
By Adam Pincus | January 21, 2014 10:56AM

The city ordered more than 30 people to vacate two floors in a Chinatown mixed-use building after an inspection alleged the space had been cut up into 18 illegal single-room-occupancy units.

The New York City Fire Department requested the vacate order for the third and fourth floors of the four-story 47 Bayard Street, Between Bowery And Mott Street, on Jan. 15, city Department of Buildings records show.

The vacate order was served the next day for the two floors, “due to the creation of 18 SROs and inadequate light, ventilation and no second egress,” the DOB website says.

The American Red Cross found temporary housing for 30 adults and four children, a spokesperson said yesterday.

The Queens-based Chinese-language newspaper the World Journal first reported the vacate order. It said in one of several stories that one tenant was paying $600 per month and another $730 per month for a unit in the building.

If the occupants of each of the 18 rooms paid $600 per month, that would bring in $10,800 per month, which would yield about $65 per square foot for each of the two, 2,000 square foot floors.

The landlord, Donald Nathin, told The Real Deal in a telephone interview from Florida that he was not fully informed of the situation in the building, and that as of yesterday the city had not reached out to him. He said he leased the residential floors to an individual he identified as David Lo, who then subleased the space to the residential occupants.

David Lo could not be reached for comment.

This was the second public complaint alleging illegal SROs in the building. In late 2009, a caller complained of illegal apartment units in the building, but in January 2010 a DOB inspector reported that no violation was justified because there was, “no illegal conversion in progress at time of inspection,” DOB records say.

The most recent certificate of occupancy, from 1949, lists offices on the third floor and two apartments on the fourth.

Despite the skepticism over the quality of $500 apartments in Chinatown, there are several listings on Chinese-language websites in the $600 per month price range, for example at or

The fundamental problem for the neighborhood is that it has old housing stock and little new development, said Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Partnership, a local development corporation.

“How do you pull more rabbits out the same hat?” he said. “This is the fundamental struggle for Chinatown. We want preservation and we should, but at the same time we have not been building any housing stock.”

The strong demand encourages landlords and tenants to subdivide their space like 47 Bayard.

“You can go into multiple buildings and you will find conditions like this,” Chen said. “It is not unusual.”

  • tenant punched me cuzza cold?

    Wow, really? Does Wellington Chen ever look at those shadow market ads in the Chinese newspaper, on bulletin boards in the supermarkets and lightpoles and especially on the web? There is NO affordable housing shortage. If he can’t read Chinese, use Google Chrome as the web browser and the ads will automatically translate.

    The people with spare rooms all over the five boroughs or unused rent regulated apartments (shh
    don’t tell we’re all in on it together) are not picky. They don’t want
    to do credit checks, ask no personal questions, just want cash money
    and here’s the keys to the kingdom. The only one who suffers is the
    landlord who is paying to subsidize other people’s income property. If we get caught, maybe you can pay me some cash and I’ll swear in court that you are my cousin and you can take custody of something better than a condominium – lower monthly fees and a yoked building owner whom you can abuse and AAFE will back you up. So what if you’ve never set foot in the building, the other rent regulated tenants who had no problem committing perjury before will say otherwise and you won’t even need the sushi defense.

    No one asked the working families who aren’t subsidized how they are on their own when something breaks down at home, when they can’t afford their heating bill without doing without cable tv or internet at home. No one asks if they mind taking a bus and multiple trains to get to work but illegal subtenants and rent controlled tenants claim that it would be inhumane to be forced to relocate “all the way to Brooklyn” where they have their “nonprimary” addresses. FYI – the landlord who has to share her car got kicked off the bus at 26th Street an hour ago and is now walking in sneakers to her building where there aren’t enough market rent apartments from those HORRIBLE young people who “invade” Chinatown (actually Little Italy and at least two of the young tenants are of Italian descent) to afford to use one of those few apartments herself. Thank you so much, young people, for tolerating the gossip and the ongoing complaints against you so that the heat stays on this winter so your neighbors can keep their right to maintain their apartments as potential airbnb cash cows even if they have lucrative income property in Battery Park City with a water view of the Statue of Liberty.

    • MaryJane

      The problem is the cost of running these tenement buildings, they are old and the taxes are high. Landlords are only making money on new tenants to subsidize the old tenant apartments. There are still many rent controlled apartments where tenants are paying less than $100 a month. A lot of these tenants are using these apartments for storage or pied a terre’s. There are always 2 sides to a story and unfortunately, I really think it is the middle class who suffers, low income have affordable housing, some paying less than $100 a month for 2 bedroom apts with all utilities included. Are these people truly low income? I wonder, many people don’t want to work to stay on this level so that they can reap all the benefits of low rent and food stamps and medicaid. They have a lot of free time and spend time gambling and gossiping in local community centers.

      Those who want to get ahead will, we were new immigrants once, and worked our way up without ever being helped in anyway. We worked hard and set examples for our next generation.

      Unfortunately, for the newcomers, the minute they land, they want to know where the welfare office is. I say, that the government must stop encouraging idleness, and must have stricter rules and enforce their policies for the people who really need help.

      America is a great country, and help should only be for those who truly need it and not be abused.


    They should check more buildings on Mott Street.

  • punched when not even a vortex

    No one ever calls a tenant greedy for renting out their apartment for cash during Chinese New Year while they are away in Hong Kong but a landlord is greedy for charging market rent even when those rents still don’t cover the full cost of carrying the majority of the rent regulated units. And now the mayor seems to be interested in subsidizing MORE housing despite the FACT that cheap apartments exist and probably collect rents in cash and don’t pay taxes on them. What kind of research do the city planners actually do anyway? Do they think non-Chinatown immigrants from other countries are living in the subway tunnels? If there was an affordable housing shortage, wouldn’t there be dearth of commerce going on along Roosevelt Avenue if there was no affordable housing in the vicinity and rents are too high for them to afford the little luxuries in life? It’s a fact that is being denied that there is an affordable housing market and anyone who cares about the truth, can call those numbers in the listings on the provided websites and call and ask to rent a room. They can ask a guy from El Salvador riding the 7 train where he lives, how much he pays and was it easy to find a place and how far is it from ne plus ultra Manhattan.

    Find out the truth for yourself. Do you really think all that unposh income property near subway lines is sitting unrented when they are not hot button Manhattan luxury buildings depicted in such a way as to invite envy and resentment?

    It’s not just the Chinese shadow market, there are definitely affordable rental opportunities even on craigslist if you deign to suffer a commute like the rest of New Yorkers.

  • unapologetic punching tenants

    It’s no different than those “lovable jerks” described in who walk past multiple senior citizen facilities to squat from 5am to closing at McDonald’s when someone who owns real estate refuses to give up a rent regulated apartment or more than one (not uncommon in Chinatown) shielded by pretty much every person in the spotlight in Chinatown because “affordable housing” and “race” is something that everyone seems to cling to as their excuse for everything but NO ONE cares to offer an opinion on the fact that such desperately needed affordable housing is held by someone who doesn’t need it and there are other market options available that don’t use up limited government resources.

    Just remember – for every affordable housing unit taken up that is funded by the government and our taxpayers and not some “slumlord” who deserves to be punched, murdered, financially sabotaged is one less unit that actually should go to someone still on the waiting list who has had many blows dealt to them other than the blow of being born of a certain race or not starting out with a silver spoon in his mouth.

    My dad gave back his Mott Street apartment when the landlord asked for it and commuted from Queens ever since. He didn’t take any Mitchell Lama housing because he had a starter home. He didn’t ask a widow to do him a FAVOR and then pretend to not know her when she approached him outside Wing Wong’s to try to resolve the situation in the apartment in his name that was described by market tenants in the past as similar to the Clown Car at the circus in terms of foot traffic – often emerging freshly scrubbed and shining from hot showers because there is no heat and hot water problems in our building. Certainly, our building hosted a number of nontenants during Hurricane Sandy because despite the tenant’s Con Ed electrical accounts being off, they enjoyed hot water and heat on the “slumlord’s” dime.

    • tenants own property

      My Chinese retired seamstress neighbor across the street gave back her Chinatown apartment unasked when she finally could buy her starter home. “Why would I want to hold onto it?” is what she said about that.

      It’s cruel to not only hold onto an apartment when you KNOW that someone who hasn’t been mean to you EVER is going out of pocket including dipping into her social security to pay for the upkeep of the building when you don’t need it and you can afford to move your so-called family obligations someplace else.

      My dad passed on owning a commercial building on the Bowery and bought a rent regulated building on Forsyth Street because NO ONE wanted to give him any apartments for his incoming brothers who had a different reputation than my dad and my dad couldn’t lie and say that he would be living there and get the apartments under false pretenses when he was told that they would rent to him if he was the tenant. That decision cost my family a great deal but we must be rich as well as evil if we own a money pit, correct? Because my dad never owed employees money and certainly never claimed to be unemployed whilst being sued for underpaying staff in a heavily-reviewed restaurant in Flushing nevermind the reviews for the New Jersey restaurant where the tenant of record claims to not exist but the reviews NAME him as being such a delight with the customers.

  • why ignore the truth?

    Check out the last comment for a curbed comparison:

    “$600 for a room in Sunnyside”

  • Bullied and Damaged by Rent Re

    I wish I had known to register my comments when I wrote on this coverage so I could have the bread crumb trail. What ever happened to this landlord who didn’t even know about the vacate order?

  • Bullied and Damaged by Rent Re

    It’s not fair to penalize landlords who do this but not profiteering tenants:

    There are a lot of abusive situations even in condo buildings and a management company was diligent but fighting a losing battle.