NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas announced that a warrant of arrest was issued this week for Mr. James Caban, one of the owners of a multifamily residential building at 1547 Commonwealth Avenue in the Bronx. The property is in such a deplorable state that it was placed in HPD’s Alternative Enforcement Program (AEP), an initiative that annually targets the 200 most distressed buildings in the City for remediation. Mr. James Caban and the other respondents in the case previously failed to appear in Court, failed to comply with Court orders directing the correction of violations, and failed to comply with AEP Order to Correct issued by HPD. Bronx County Housing Court Judge Jerald Klein granted HPD’s motion for a sentence of up to 30 days in prison for civil contempt, and signed the warrant of arrest which was delivered to the Sheriff earlier this week.
“If you neglect your property and your tenants, disregard your legal responsibilities, and defy court orders we will seek the maximum penalties available under the law,” said HPD Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas. “Unfortunately Mr. Caban is finding that out the hard way, but in reality it is his tenants who suffer the most, and it is the welfare of his tenants that is our overriding concern. Thanks to the unwavering commitment of the staff in HPD’s Housing Litigation Division and Alternative Enforcement Program countless tenants have found relief and their landlords have been held accountable for their actions.”
1547 Commonwealth Avenue a 12-unit property that currently has 308 open housing code violations—or 25 per unit—was placed in the AEP in January 2011. After the owners failed to make repairs to meet the criteria for discharge, HPD issued an AEP Order to Correct on August 25, 2011, directing the owners to correct the violations and replace major building-wide systems to address the underlying conditions which are the cause of many of the violations. The AEP Order to Correct required: pointing, an upgrade and re-wiring of the electrical system, and a roof replacement. To date, HPD has spent approximately $115,000 to perform emergency repairs which the owner failed to do. These repairs included replacement of the heating plant and providing fuel deliveries to keep the heat on, lead abatement work, and repairs to recurring water leaks.
The owners failed to comply with the AEP Order and did not take any action to perform the necessary work, so in December 2011 HPD’s Housing Litigation Division (HLD) initiated a proceeding against the owners in Housing Court. On February 27, 2012, the parties settled the proceeding. James Caban, although not a named respondent, was a signatory to the Consent Order and represented himself as an owner and member of the corporate entity.
Pursuant to the February 27, 2012 Consent Order, the owners were to correct all violations of record and comply with the AEP Order to Correct and agreed to pay a civil penalty. They failed to satisfy the terms of the Consent Order in all respects. Accordingly, HPD moved to restore the proceeding for additional civil penalties and to hold them in contempt of Court.
Their attorney was subsequently relieved as counsel, asserting he lost contact with his clients. The respondents continued to fail to appear in Court on the contempt motion. On May 1, 2013, the Court found them in contempt after Inquest, fining them approximately $500,000 and subsequently issuing a warrant for their arrests. The Bronx County sheriff apprehended Mr. Caban who negotiated his surrender and later voluntarily appeared in Court and obtained new counsel. He then moved the Court to vacate the contempt finding. The Court denied the request and the contempt finding remained in effect.
HPD then moved to restore the proceeding for sentencing. Mr. Caban argued that he should not be sentenced because he could not afford to make the necessary repairs. HPD opposed the claim and sought a sentence of imprisonment until Mr. Caban complied with the order to correct the conditions at the building.
On September 30, 2013 the Court found in favor of HPD and issued a decision finding that Mr. Caban had not met his burden of establishing economic inability to comply, and sentenced him to be imprisoned for a period of up to 30 days or until he complied with the original court order before that time had expired. The Court signed the Warrant of Arrest on Monday, October 7th and it was delivered to the Sheriff the following day.
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About the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD):
HPD is the nation’s largest municipal housing preservation and development agency. Its mission is to promote quality housing and viable neighborhoods for New Yorkers through education, outreach, loan and development programs, and enforcement of housing quality standards. It is responsible for implementing Mayor Bloomberg’s New Housing Marketplace Plan to finance the construction or preservation of 165,000 units of affordable housing by the end of fiscal year 2014. Since the plan’s inception, more than 156,400 affordable homes have been created or preserved. For regular updates on news and services, connect with us via www.facebook.com/nychpd and www.twitter.com/nychousing. For more information, visit our website at www.nyc.gov/hpd
About the Alternative Enforcement Program (AEP)
AEP is an initiative to effectively identify and increase the pressure on the owners of some of the City’s most distressed residential buildings to bring the buildings up to code, so that the tenants are not forced to live in substandard and hazardous conditions. The program calls for the designation each year of 200 different multiple dwellings, each to be chosen based on specific criteria set forth in the Safe Housing Law. Landlords with properties selected for the AEP have been put on notice that comprehensive repairs must be made. If those repairs are not initiated HPD is authorized to undertake roof-to-cellar inspections of the building, issue orders to the owner to repair and replace major building systems, and to make the necessary repairs and bill the owner for that work they fail to do it. To date 704 buildings have been successfully stabilized and discharged through the program, and more than $26.2 million has been recovered in emergency repair and AEP charges, fees and liens.