A landlord is subjecting his tenants in a South Bronx building to a “reign of terror” through harassment and inhumane housing conditions, according to a new lawsuit.
The tenants association at 919 Prospect Avenue and the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center have filed the lawsuit against landlord Seth Miller, accusing him of a litany of offenses regarding maintenance at the property. Tenants say they went through several winters without adequate heat and hot water, endured a broken elevator at the six-story building for almost a year and were left without bathrooms for months during illegal demolition activities meant to drive tenants out of the building.
“Children took ill from the lack of showering and restroom facilities,” the lawsuit reads, “and elderly tenants were forced to use buckets as latrines because they could not scale the several stories to the building’s one publicly accessible restroom.”
The suit accuses Miller of overcharging his tenants for rent and failing to offer timely lease renewals as well.
Demands from the tenants’ association include a jury trial, a permanent injunction requiring Miller to stop harassing tenants and an order to correct all violations at the building.
Miller purchased the property in 2011 for $3.7 million, according to property records. He did not respond to a request for comment.
The South Bronx building has a long history of problems. Former Public Advocate and current New York Attorney General Letitia James named it the worst building in the Bronx in 2016, citing its then-525 housing violations with the city. Tenants took Miller to Bronx Housing Court later that year, where they sought an injunction to have the court appoint an administrator to make repairs.
Miller then declared bankruptcy on Dec. 22, 2016 to prevent tenants from moving forward with their case, and a judge appointed a federal bankruptcy trustee to lead repairs at the building, according to the lawsuit.
The U.S. Bankruptcy Court also stripped Miller of his management role, providing tenants with some relief, “but since resuming control over the building, Miller has engaged in further threatening and frivolous behavior that threatens tenants’ health and safety,” the lawsuit says.
Sherief Gaber, the Community Development Project attorney spearheading the lawsuit, said it represented a chance for tenants to be heard on issues at the building that have not been addressed yet thanks to Miller’s earlier bankruptcy declaration.
“Tenants got some repairs when the bankruptcy court judge took the building out of Miller’s hands,” he said, “but here we are a month or so into Miller’s re-management of the building, and tenants are feeling and being harassed again.”