‘Nothing has really changed’: After a year-long rent strike, Crown Heights tenants hope to go co-op

sterling place residents on rent strike anniversary
Tenants of 1392 Sterling Place marked the one-year anniversary of their rent strike with a rally and a call to action — they plan to try to buy their building and turn it into a co-op after years of dealing with shoddy landlords.
Photo courtesy Charlie Dulik

Tenants of a deteriorating Crown Heights apartment building marked the one-year anniversary of their rent strike with a Halloween-themed rally on Oct. 30.

Residents of 1392 Sterling Place have been refusing to pay their rent since last fall after their building management continuously failed to meet the repair demands of their decaying home, said Charlie Dulik, a tenant organizer for Housing Organizers for People Empowerment. 

rent strike fliers on sterling place doors
1392 Sterling Place tenants started their rent strike a year ago, protesting deteriorating conditions and unresponsive building owners. File photo by Ben Brachfeld

Residents have long complained of infestations of pests and mold, falling ceilings, leaky pipes, and more. There are nearly 500 open violations against the building, according to city records, and management has been ordered to find and abate mold, provide hot water, fix or replace smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and more. 

Rally organizers detailed the condition of the building and what they plan to do next — fed up with the negligence of Iris Holdings, the management company responsible for maintaining the building, they are looking to take matters into their own hands by collectively purchasing the building and turning it into a cooperative.

“Nothing has really changed,” Dulik said of the building’s condition under current ownership. “What needs to happen in general is getting everyone in the buildings organized and on the same page in fighting for it. [Second] is to find financing [and] convince the landlord to sell to the tenants.”

He said while the decision to run the building as a co-op will a long term fight, it is something that Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, which operates HOPE, has done before — earlier this year, they successfully converted a Bronx apartment building into a co-op after years of struggle with a bad landlord.

In 2019, the longtime landlords of 1392 Sterling Place began the process of selling the building to Iris Holdings Group. They planned to deregulate the rent-stabilized building raise rents to market rate in order to kick the current tenants out.

people rally at apartment building on sterling place crown heights
Not much has changed at Sterling Place since the strike began — tenants say the management company is as unresponsive as ever and long-needed repairs remain unfinished. Photo courtesy Charlie Dulik

Dulik said right as these plans were being finalized, the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019 was passed, effectively outlawing  high-rent and high-income deregulation  – causing Iris Holdings to back out of the deal. The company then began to claim they were “tricked” into the deal. Now, they want nothing to do with the Crown Heights apartment.  

In 2021, the former landlord, Rubin Dukler, passed away — leaving the management company more-or-less in charge and tenants unsure who really owned the building. In 2020, tenants of another of Dukler’s buildings sued he and Iris Holdings for illegally overcharging for rent. 

Attempts to reach Iris Holdings by phone were unsuccessful.

“What you have is two entities and both of them are claiming they’re not the landlord so both of them are not trying to make any repairs [or] not trying to do anything to assume ownership,” said Dulik.

State Senator Zellnor Myrie, a longtime supporter of the Sterling Place tenants, said the state government needs to pass the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, which would give renters the opportunity to buy their units or building from the landlord before other potential buyers.

“Landlords never make excuses when it’s time to collect the rent, but have every excuse known to man when it comes to providing habitable conditions to earn that rent. Enough,” Myrie said in a statement. “If bad actors refuse to provide safe housing, they should not be in the business of owning property, and it’s time we consider other models of ownership, like those provided in the Tenant Opportunity Purchase Act which I have the honor of sponsoring in the state senate.”

Tenants also say Iris is keeping rent-stabilized apartments in the building vacant intentionally.

“Some of these apartments have been vacant for ten years, and management has repeatedly ignored the requests of elderly tenants to move downstairs,” said longtime tenant Michelle Stamp, in a statement. “Now they say it will take money to fix up the vacant apartments—but where has our rent money gone for years?”

Not only has the building been in subpar conditions  — hasn’t been legally registered with the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development for roughly three years, according to a tenant spokesperson. HOPE brought the situation to ​​HPD’s  attention, but they say the department hasn’t been able to collect retribution fines or punish the parties responsible. 

mold in sterling place bathtub
Tenants say they’re dealing with persistent mold and vermin, a lack of heat and hot water, and more. They hope to collectively purchase the building to turn things around. File photo by Ben Brachfeld

“The city’s enforcement mechanisms are pretty much non-existent and while there are individuals who work at HPD who do their best to be really supportive, they can’t really do anything to punish landlords,” Dulik told Brooklyn Paper. “We’ve had to push HPD to file a lawsuit to collect the penalties that they issue.”

According to a spokesperson with HPD, the building was validly registered on October 25. The organization initiated comprehensive litigation against this property in Housing Court in May 2022 and says their Tenant Harassment Unit has conducted inspections at the property and will continue to monitor owner compliance in connection with their litigation.

The spokesperson encouraged tenants to call 311 to report any new conditions that require repair.