A new speaker for Landlords NY event — and a new protest

This time, tenants' rights group up in arms over appearance of Joseph Sitt

TRD New York /
Feb.February 25, 2014 10:50 AM

It’s getting tougher and tougher for Landlords NY to put on its annual Property Management Symposium. The organization of property owners and managers which helps those getting started in the business ran into a brick wall a few weeks ago when it announced this year’s event.

The problem? Tenants’ rights groups started mobilizing once they discovered that Bruce Ratner, head of developer Forest City Ratner, was slated to be the keynote speaker at the event in the Barclays Center. Ratner eventually pulled out and Landlords NY sent an email to attendees saying the event was postponed, as reported in The Real Deal.

Now, the group is facing a similar problem. Landlords NY rescheduled the symposium, their first annual event, for March 4 at the Roosevelt hotel. But it appears the new headliner – Thor Equities’ Joseph Sitt, whose property purchases in Coney Island were the subject of a documentary film – is also high on the list of landlords who ruffle feathers of tenant’s rights groups.

“I think that the activities of Thor Equities have had a very destructive effect on our communities,” said Jackie Del Valle, director of Organizing And Advocacy For Fifth Avenue Committee, a tenant group that plans to protest at the rescheduled event, too.

“There has been a lot of displacement of affordable housing, in Coney Island,” she said, and fingered Sitt as “another developer who seems to be able to take what he wants.”

Through a spokesperson, Sitt took issue with that characterization. “It’s clear that this group would protest regardless of who was the keynote speaker,” the spokesperson said in a statement via email. “Joe is very much looking forward to speaking at this event and would welcome a civil dialogue with any one interested in discussing New York City’s real estate market.”

Thor has developed countless residential and commercial projects in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Last August, Sitt was one of a handful of New York City developers whose relationship with Albany lawmakers came under question after it was revealed they had received 421a tax abatements from the state for projects in prime Manhattan enclaves. The 421a abatement is intended to spur building in underserved areas.

Protesters said the main gripe about Ratner was that, in their eyes, he was not a good example of a landlord — and not the right choice for an event that aims to provide instruction and insight for new and seasoned landlords and property managers. Sitt is not an improvement, Del Valle claimed.

“[Sitt] is doing this for financial motivations as opposed to trying to strengthen and protect a community,” she said. “Really, [it’s the] tenants [that] need to school landlords.”

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