Editorial: Calling Out Problem Buildings

Michael Cotto of Norwood, along with his wife and two kids, are among those lucky to be alive in the Knox Place blaze that disrupted them and the lives of many others on Dec. 27. They escaped the four-alarm inferno unscathed. When compared to the devastating fire at Prospect Avenue in Belmont that claimed 12 victims a day later, the Cottos were presented with a silver lining.

The fire happened at 3414 Knox Pl. a building notorious for its subpar living conditions, according to the New York Public Advocate’s Office. For the last few years, the city has placed the building’s landlords, Narsinh Desai and Nick Gazivoda (records show his name has been spelled as Gazivova) of Norwest Realty, and the buildings they manage on the 100 Worst Landlords Watchlist. It’s a shame the list holds no legal authority, yet helps make problem buildings livable again through sheer embarrassment.

Lack of heat and hot water complaints were among the common grievances filed by tenants at the Knox Place building in 2017, according to a review of the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development website. Of the 21 violations the building was hit with since 2000, 12 were found credible, three were found in default because representatives for Norwest Realty did not appear at an ECB (Environmental Control Board) hearing, and one is pending. In all, Norwest Realty was hit with fines totaling $12,973.59. Among the recurring issues is a poorly maintained elevator.

Cotto and his wife had been fighting their landlord for the last two years over what they claim is an electrical issue. The lights along the apartment line he lives in had flickered continuously, a condition that befell other lines. A legal battle ensued, resulting in an uncertified electrician to “fix” the circuit board, Cotto claims. It’s unclear whether faulty electrical lines was the culprit in the fire.

What is clear is that this eight-story building was a ticking time bomb. Problems inside buildings like these could mushroom beyond control, and the cost could be human life.

These problems at Norwest Realty buildings apparently didn’t spring up overnight. On the review website Yelp there was only one commenter who spoke poorly of the building. The comment by Diana N. chronicled a poor electrical issue at a building owned by Norwest Realty. “I can say with conviction that this management company needs a management company,” wrote Diana N.

Much of what can be done to fix the problem requires an investment of time. Working within the bureaucratic judicial system, action is barely swift. Like Cotto’s case, resolution could take years.

It’s tough for tenants to speak out against their landlord, particularly those who have little recourse in the way of moving. But to grease the wheels of change, an investment of time needs to be made. There are some great places to start getting help, including West Bronx Housing. The non-profit fights to improve living conditions at residences, connecting tenants with pro bono attorneys. Then there are your local legislators on the city, state and federal level. Most of their offices have a constituent services unit that handle complaints. Housing issues are pretty common.

There is strength in numbers, and the more tenants confront a problem landlord in a unified way, the faster resolve can come.

The day of the Knox Place fire, the Norwood News attempted to speak to Gazivoda, who was present at the site. We passed a message to one of his employees, who insisted that Gazivoda couldn’t talk but agreed to take our information. Much like tenants who call the company to fix an issue, our request was ignored.

Perhaps Norwest Realty would do well to get out of the management business. Clearly the manner in which they’re managing their building leaves a great deal to be desired.

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