Building owner John A. Kosman pled guilty to criminal contempt for failing to repair scores of violations of the Housing Maintenance Code, including immediately hazardous conditions in his tenants' apartments. Mr. Kosman will serve a jail term on or before September 12, 2005 and pay $60,000 in civil penalties. He has also agreed to hire a managing agent and to correct all the Housing Maintenance Code violations at his building, 117 West 142nd Street in Harlem. There are currently 241 outstanding Housing Maintenance Code violations.
"Landlords who violate the law will be held accountable," said Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) Commissioner Shaun Donovan. "Landlords have a legal obligation to provide safe and decent apartments to their tenants. HPD will sue landlords who flout the law and seek maximum penalties. An owner like John Kosman deserves jail time for letting his tenants suffer through conditions unfit for human habitation."
For several years, HPD had sought to compel Mr. Kosman to correct hundreds of violations at 117 West 142nd Street, a 24-unit apartment building he owns. In December 2004, HPD filed papers seeking a finding of contempt against Mr. Kosman, as well as civil penalties. At that time the conditions included peeling lead-based paint, mice and rats, plumbing problems, exposed electrical wiring, broken plaster, loose and defective windows, broken floors, holes in the walls of apartments, accumulation of rubbish in the courtyard and a sporadic lack of adequate hot water.
While the case was taken to Housing Court, HPD made emergency repairs that the landlord refused to make including repairs to the fire escape, public staircase, and an entire kitchen and bathroom ceiling after they had collapsed. HPD attempted to treat lead-based paint, but was refused access by Mr. Kosman. More than $27,000 in emergency repair costs incurred by HPD have been billed to the owner and will become a tax lien on the property if the owner does not pay.
HPD's Housing Litigation Division, which handles more than 13,000 cases per year to enforce the City's Housing Maintenance Code, prosecuted the case. At a trial prosecuted by Peggy Collen of HPD's Housing Litigation Division before Manhattan Housing Court Judge Gerald Lebovits, HPD sought a finding of contempt against Mr. Kosman for violating a December 2003 Court Order to comply with his legal obligations as a landlord. HPD asked the Court to compel Mr. Kosman to make the required repairs and pay monetary penalties. Trial commenced on HPD's motion in March 2005. Mid-trial on August 19, Mr. Kosman pled guilty to criminal contempt and agreed to serve three days in jail. In addition, he agreed to hire a managing agent for the building and was ordered to pay $60,000 in civil penalties and to correct all violations at the building by November 27.
HPD will conduct an inspection after November 27th to determine whether Mr. Kosman has complied with the agreement and Court Order. If HPD finds that he has not complied, the agency will ask the Court for a further finding of contempt against Mr. Kosman and for a more substantial jail term.
The last time that a building owner or managing agent received jail time in New York City was on December 23, 2004 when litigators for HPD succeeded in getting jail time for Peter Golia, the managing agent of 2649 Frederick Douglass Boulevard, Manhattan as a result of building conditions that were unfit for human habitation. On October 28, 2003 another landlord, Norman Beckford, was arrested for contempt after he violated a Court Order by failing to repair hazardous conditions in his tenants' apartments at 109-63 134th Street, Queens.
HPD is the nation's largest municipal housing preservation and development agency. A major responsibility of the agency is to encourage preservation of affordable housing through education, outreach, loan programs, and enforcement of housing quality standards.