By Deborah Privitello
Another Fourth of July is upon us, and I write this in remembrance of my late beloved husband Michael Privitello on what would have been our wedding anniversary.
My children and I have been rendered homeless since April 2018 from our three-bedroom duplex on E. 50th Street. We have lived here since the 90s. Our billionaire landlord Francis Greenberger/Time Equites, dubbed the “Condo Co-op King” since the 80’s, has constructively evicted us.
We are the last remaining rent-stabilized tenants. Our apartment is the most valuable, worth well over three million dollars (more than he paid for the two buildings together).
His empire, headquartered at 55 Fifth Avenue, owns over 36 million square feet of real estate, and nets over four billion in revenues across 5500 residential apartments. Greenberger’s credo, “it’s the hold in real estate,” fueled his purchase of our building to convert to condos. He made sure to maintain his hold by managing the buildings.
The cruelty toward us for the past 20 years has been so painful and scary. And for the last three years homeless, forced to live in hotels and 16 months of that in the pandemic. We have everything we owned destroyed, including irreplaceable possessions of my beloved husband.
Four days after September 11th, while the world wept, Greenberger managed to close on the building, and the country was at a standstill. He even sent us a letter of eviction in 2005 for flying the American flag. The flag flew prior to his purchase.
Since his ownership, we have been subjected to harassment, and our apartment has been left to rot and fall into disrepair. There have been numerous structural emergencies with collapses of ceilings and caving in of floors—one in April 2018 and another just two months ago in April 2021. The NYC Department of Buildings issued a second emergency vacate order for our apartment, emanating from the leaks coming from the main waste line in the building.
Greenberger was again cited for failure to maintain the warrant of habitability and for structural violations for the basement and the joists that support the foundation to the building.
Deadly toxic mold was detected again and Greenberger denied that it ever existed, with stachybotrys growing. My beloved husband died from a brain tumor directly correlated to the mycotoxins found in the mold in our home. These dire conditions have been covered up for years—leaks, repeated flooding, compromised structures due to rotting pipes, holes in the foundation, and a cracked roof that has been leaking and has never been properly weatherproofed since their ownership.
In 2018, over 92 violations were issued and our pleas for help ignored. The landlord continued to force us out using every illegal landlord tactic to evict us, including taking away our grandfathered amenities that were part of our tenancy long before his ownership—the washing machine, fireplace, and fuse box room.
Greenberger uses the courts, agencies and politicians at his disposal to get away with harming us by using any means necessary. In court he falsified papers and framed us, shifting and twisting the blame that somehow we were responsible for these hazardous conditions. He even utilized Governor Cuomo, who started the tenant protection unit and who has done nothing except get reduced office space rent and large campaign contributions all these years from Mr. Greenberger.
The collapse in 2018 made headline news in NYC. The super was caught tearing down the vacate order put there by the Department of Buildings. Instead of immediately providing us with housing, he had his PR firm take the story off the air and did nothing to help us.
While refusing to remediate, Greenberger took out another baseless lawsuit against us to force us to accept an unsolicited buyout offer. Their lawyer and property manager falsely obtained a default judgement with a restraining order against us! They hid from the court their own deadly toxic mold report for almost one year. A year later we were finally granted a dismissal of their false proceedings and awarded damages. Greenberger immediately appealed the judge’s ruling and continued to keep us homeless.
On June 17, 2020 on a Zoom conference, his attorney did not even show up for his own appeal. It was like Greenberger had it in the bag. One month later the appellants took away the judgment! After three years still homeless, Greenberger continues to fight us ruthlessly and illegally in court with no repercussions whatsoever.
As the founder of his Center for Social and Criminal Justice, he has never done anything for us resembling justice.
In the context of bad landlords Greenberger gives Steve Croman, a run for his money!
Twenty years of suffering, my husband dead, we remain homeless, they continue litigation against us, emotionally, physically and financially broken, our apartment decimated and our lives destroyed.