Slum diary: Reporter recounts life as tenant of landlord now in the news

Slum diary: Reporter recounts life as tenant of landlord now in the news
Photo by Jason Speakman

I lived in a Bushwick apartment owned by Al Stark (I would later find out his real name is Aron) for one year starting in July, 2012.

He never struck me as an inherently bad person. Shady? Certainly. But not evil — until I found out he may have been bilking public assistance and perjuring himself to evict a rent-stabilized tenant. At first, I found his caginess and penchant for impromptu visits to our apartment entertaining — like a version of Cato in “The Pink Panther” who I paid rent to — but now I see past that.

Like all great stories of landlord-tenant strife, mine starts at day one.

Our apartment didn’t have gas for the first month we lived there. Stark told us the previous super took an ax to the gas line out of spite toward the building’s owner. But upon reflection, I am less inclined to trust Stark’s version of events.

The contractors Stark hired to fix the gas line and hook up our stove were hacks of the highest caliber. When National Grid workers came to turn the gas on, they found leaks — lots of them. Stark’s plumbers daisy-chained three adapters to connect the gas line from the wall to our stove, a dangerous and potentially volatile no-no, National Grid workers told us. It took the contractors two more attempts to hook up the stove. Each time Stark’s helpers worked their magic, we’d have the gas company come take a look, which required workers first trek into the building’s partially flooded, flea-infested basement before entering our unit. By the time we had working gas, we also had a flea infestation.

Stark also did not respect our space. Sometimes he just walked in without knocking, though we made it clear that was an invasion. Once — as he was leaving our apartment, apropos of nothing — he opened our refrigerator, took a look inside, and left without a word. We took to blasting Iron Maiden when he came by, because it made him uncomfortable and he would leave more quickly.

Con Edison once threatened to kill the building’s power because Stark was delinquent on the light bill for the building’s common areas. I don’t know how it got sorted out, but the strongly worded letters from the power company ceased after a few months.

When we were late paying rent, Stark eschewed the impersonal touches of menacing phone calls and hired goons, instead showing up unannounced at our doorstep, often after midnight and always pushing for an immediate resolution.

When I called him about an issue with the apartment, he would rush to get me off the line, occasionally hanging up on me. It took several such calls before he would consider making basic repairs, and they rarely got done. The skylight over the stairwell leaked incessantly and water pooling on the third-story mezzanine progressively rotted the floor.

When we left, we didn’t get our $1,800 security deposit back, and after we made a few entreaties, Stark stopped answering his phone completely.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Home to roost: The building at 1336 Hancock St. is one of four Aron Stark owns but failed to mention when applying for housing vouchers and welfare. The information came to light when he tried to evict a tennant from a rent-stabilized unit in a different building.
Photo by Jason Speakman