An Open Letter from the Mahfar Tenants’ Alliance to SMA Equities [Op-Ed]
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The Mahfar Tenants’ Alliance is saddened to see that SMA Equities (i.e. Samy Mahfar), which has severely disrupted our lives, has once again tried to cloak their activities as “improvements.” We believe that they have denied leases to long-term tenants, disrupted basic services at unheard of levels, exposed some tenants to potentially toxic lead dust, and broken regulation after regulation. There was never a tenants alliance needed in the days before SMA Equities – none of us particularly wants to spend our time in this fight for our health, safety, and homes. We only created this alliance because of the large decline in our quality of life.
Therefore, we would like to point out a few problematic items in the response from SMA Equities to the Bowery Boogie article about 210 Rivington Street.
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Samy Mahfar and friend
“SMA Equities has significantly modernized the building and enhanced safety for all tenants by upgrading outdated electrical systems and lighting; removing exposed wiring; regulating heating across all units; and placing new intercom systems in all apartments.”
- The Mahfar Tenants’ Alliance takes exception to all of these statements. In all areas connected to heating, electricity, water and intercom usage our experience has been markedly worse than before SMA Equities took over management.
- Intercom usage was completely unavailable for tenants for weeks at a time. The intercoms were replaced but they offer no new functionality. From January 7, 2014 to December 18, 2014 six apartments did not have intercom access.
- Heat and hot water have been unavailable for multiple days on many months. There were over forty-five days in which either the whole building or multiple apartments did not have heat or hot water and usually both during the period January 6, 2014 – January 23, 2015.
- SMA Equities had removed individual electrical meters without notifying Con Edison, leaving 5 meters for 20 apartments. Three apartments that we know of have seen electric bills tripled since June 2014.
- Safety has decreased as well. The problems with potentially toxic lead dust are a huge safety issue. The front door which SMA Equities replaced does not spring back far enough to fully close. This problem has been present for months.
- January 14, 2015 – a partial stop-work order had been issued for construction work in progress without a permit. Three in total since construction began (not including the inherited stop-work order from previous owner). A Department of Buildings audit of all construction-related permits issued had found serious deficiencies in the applications for two of the permits and required SMA Equities to cure the objections. In total, 14 modifications had been made after the two permits were initially approved.
“The tenant referred to in Apartment 8 is in arrears since August 2014 and has a court date this week for non-payment.”
- Rather than responding to allegations of intimidation tactics, SMA Equities instead has a pattern of making comments against the tenants that raise issues. This has nothing to do with the complaint that an effort was made to stop the tenant from contacting 311.
- This same pattern of making comments about the tenants instead of the problems they are facing is nothing new.
“On the two occasions that the Department of Buildings found lead traces, SMA Equities remedied the problem immediately.”
- The problem we see with this statement is the notion that the problems were fixed immediately or even quickly and that the amounts were “trace.” In multiple tests done by city agencies, the results were several times the federal threshold. The health effects of exposure to lead are permanent – there is not a way to fix them. This possible exposure was caused by SMA Equities not following the laws and using hazardous construction methods.
- The first problems with toxic lead dust were found on February 16, 2014.
- Government agencies tested a total of 22 samples 13 tested positive above the federal threshold in different locations on two separate dates.
- SMA Equities did not follow up with new tests results on four separate times when ordered to so by Department of Health.
- SMA Equities has not engaged in any communication with 210 Rivington residents about their lead exposure or about at any lead mitigation plan. In fact, their reply in the Bowery Boogie comments section is the only time that SMA has made any statement to us about lead exposure.
The business model employed by SMA Equities exhibits a pattern of what is called “Predatory Equity,” whereby the property mortgage is over leveraged by a substantial amount. An amount that will be impossible to pay with existing rent-regulated income, meaning market rate turnover is built into the financial model. In the case of 210 Rivington, SMA Equities paid $7.625 million in June 2013 and then obtained a loan for $10.5 million based on the property renovated appraisal. We feel that the only way for them to repay the loan will be to force or manipulate the existing tenants to leave. We are not judging the actions of the loan but the actions of SMA Equities to determine “Predatory Equity.”
The Mahfar Tenants Alliance demand that SMA Equities take responsibility for exposing tenants to dangerous conditions. These problems are ongoing and affect many residents at the SMA properties on 210 Rivington St., 102 Norfolk St., 113 Stanton St., and 22 Spring St.and our LES community.