In other ways, however, it’s one of the most costly. Its inhabitants, Magnus Saethre, 97, and his live-in caregiver, Devron King, have been locked in a vicious battle with the building’s landlord for years over the conditions of the unit — which are decrepit — and what they claim are attempts to force them out.
“The landlord’s been calling Adult Protective Services on us,” said King, 56. “He’s trying to suggest that I’m taking advantage of Magnus.”
According to King and his lawyer, John Hlavaty, the landlord, Jack Geula, has also claimed that other tenants complain about noise.
“Magnus is 97 years old and hard of hearing,” Hlavaty said. “They yell. That’s how they communicate.”
There are fewer than 40,000 rent-controlled apartments among New York’s more than 2 million units.
And it’s increasingly the city’s elderly, clinging to the spaces in which they’ve lived most of their lives, who are left to live in cramped, rotting rooms while their landlords wait them out.
Rents can be repeatedly lowered until the problems are addressed, but there is no recourse other than civil court for neglect and harassment.
“You hit landlords where they live, with fines,” said DHCR spokesman Andrew O’Rourke.
“Ninety-five percent of landlords are accommodating,” O’Rourke said.
But some are aggressively stubborn, and what they’re doing isn’t technically criminal.
Saethre and King, for example, live in a 750-square-foot fourth-floor walk-up on Fourth Avenue in Sunset Park. Saethre is so fragile that he almost never leaves the apartment. The paint on the ceiling is peeling so badly that the curling strips resemble stalactites.
“Magnus has laid out $25,000 in legal fees,” said Hlavaty. “That’s what the landlord is trying to do — ruin them financially.”
Saethre, who has lived in the unit since returning from World War II, does not want to leave. “When you talk to him when he’s fully coherent, he says, ‘This is my apartment. I’ve lived here for 62 years. There’s no way that S.O.B. is getting me out,’ ” Hlavaty said.
The landlord Geula responded, “It’s lies, all lies,” before hanging up.
Saethre and King’s lawyer — who believes the landlord is most afraid of King inheriting the apartment when Saethre dies — believes his clients will prevail.
“We are going to send a message to them,” he said, “to stop going after the elderly and the vulnerable.”
Out of control
Number of rent-controlled units in NYC