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Landlords vs. Tenants: One Small Property Owner Shares Her Perspective

'It seems like the landlords and tenants are put against each other. It shouldn't be, because the small landlords see people as their bread and butter.'
Brownstone homes in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. Photo: Will Fritz

This is the second in a 3-part series on property management in Brooklyn. The first installment takes a look at the experience of tenants. This installment looks at the experience from the perspective of a landlord. And part-three will give insight from a regulatory and legislative perspective.

It’s true that the majority of New Yorkers are renters.

But if New York is a city of renters, then it is also a city of landlords—behind every story from a tenant about mold or nonfunctioning hot water, there’s an actual human being (or at least a corporation consisting of human beings) who’s meant to be providing that service.

But for those small landlords trying to manage property with a corporate shield, life can be hard as well. They are certainly part of the fabric of the city, even if their stories aren’t heard as much as those of their tenants.

Victoria Stennett was one such small landlord for a rent-stabilized 16-unit apartment building in Flatbush for about eight years. She still owns the building, although her bank manages it now as part of a convoluted fight that BK Reader has covered previously. A two-family home and a store are her only two other properties.

She said during her time managing that apartment building on Flatbush Avenue between 2006 and about 2014, it was a pretty big challenge—it was and remains the largest property she had ever bought. It wasn’t in great condition when she purchased it, requiring lots of attention and numerous repairs. But she said, as someone who lives in Flatbush, she wanted to help give her community decent affordable housing rather than just use her property for nothing more than profit.

“There are terrible landlords out there,” she said. “But there are also good people out there who own homes and these people who rent from us, they’re our life. If you make your living from a golf club resort where people come, a hotel where people come—we make our living from people coming and renting the space which is their own while they’re paying rent.”

She said she does remember trying to evict one tenant. But ultimately, Stennett said she couldn’t go through with it after the tenant, who had a young child, pleaded with her.

“She said to me, ‘Miss Victoria, I don’t have anywhere to go.’ The marshall had come and locked her out but I let her back in,” Stennett said.

Stennett said she couldn’t help but think about the tenant’s daughter and the fact that Stennett herself has two daughters.

“I couldn’t, my heart wouldn’t allow me,” Stennett said. “My mother raised children that did not belong to her and I didn’t know the difference — really, there is no difference, biological or nonbiological. That is the heart I was raised with — always shelter people.”

She also said where some landlords can let on that they are frustrated when tenants call about repairs, she tried never to see it that way. After all, her apartment building is her property, and she wants it to stay in good shape.

“Frustrated isn’t a word I would use,” she said. “I’m glad when they call, because remember, the ultimate goal, unless the person is literally destroying the place because they don’t want to pay rent, they need to call me when something happens because if I don’t fix it right away, it’s going to deteriorate.”

Even now, she’s trying to fight to get the property back from the bank and prevent it from being sold.

“I just can’t let a developer take it over, push people out, get rid of rent stabilization,” she said. “We need affordable housing to stay in our community.”

Stennett said she laments the fact that tenants and landlords are often in opposition to each other-- something she attributes more to the city than to individual owners, especially in buildings with rent-stabilized units.

“The city comes in and increases taxes and water,” she said. “The landlord now sees themselves as trapped because they can't increase rent. You can't go to your job now and say, “My rent just went up.’ It doesn’t work that way!

She said her hope was always for her tenants to be able to ultimately buy their own property, although that of course has become much harder today.

“It seems like the landlords and tenants are put against each other,” she said. “It shouldn't be, because the small landlords see people as their bread and butter.”