This Rochester landlord owes $131 million in code violations — and the city is suing him to get it
The city of Rochester has asked a state judge to order an out-of-town real estate investor to pay more than $131 million for code violations at derelict properties he owns.
The request is by far the largest judgment sought since the city began more aggressively pursuing neglectful landlords in court a year ago.
Citations for rodent infestations, holes in walls, smashed windows, and dilapidated roofs are among the more than 470 violations that have accumulated at 15 single-family homes and apartment houses owned by Meyer Hirschhorn, of Rockland County.
Hirschhorn, who has real estate holdings across New York and New Jersey, acknowledged in an interview that the properties in question are “in shambles,” but said he does not have money to repair them and anticipated eventually losing them.
The properties are collectively valued at $1.2 million on the city’s tax roll — less than 1% of what they have amassed in code violation penalties.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” Hirschhorn said of the lawsuit. “I can’t pay the mortgages. I’m not paying a judgment.”
The litigation is the latest in a string of lawsuits brought by the city’s Law Department in the last year seeking to hold landlords accountable for shoddy conditions at their properties, particularly residential ones.
Like the other cases, this one asks a judge to consider imposing the maximum penalty for open code violations, which under city law is $500 per violation per day.
But the complaint against Hirschhorn is extraordinary for the size and scope of the violations and potential financial penalties. The lawsuit was filed Sept. 25 in state Supreme Court. A hearing date has not been set.
The code violations at Hirschhorn's properties will continue accruing fines until they are remedied. As of Sept. 30, though, those fines had reached $131,211,500.
“The city is concerned that (the landlords) have neither the means nor the motivation to repair their properties to a habitable standard as required by law since they amassed this portfolio of properties,” reads the complaint. “(The landlords’) track record for maintaining properties in the City of Rochester is dismal at best.”
City lawyers and housing officials acknowledged in interviews that it was unlikely a judge would assess Hirschhorn the maximum fines.
Indeed, while the city has succeeded to varying degrees in its litigation against landlords, the amount of the judgments ordered — ranging from $8,000 to $52,000 — are a fraction of what a court could have imposed in those cases under the law.
Linda Kingsley, the city’s top lawyer, said pursuing payment for code violations sends a message to neglectful landlords nevertheless.
“There has to be fiscal responsibility,” Kingsley said. “You’re going to have tenants in your property and you’re going to have rodents and broken windows and holes in the floor and holes in the ceiling, we’re going to hold you accountable and you’re going to pay for that.”
Most of the 15 properties identified in the complaint against Hirschhorn are vacant. But a handful are occupied.
Donna Joyce lives in one of them at 301 Seyle Terrace with her 2-year-old daughter. Drop ceilings in the kitchen that are brown and bloated with water damage and bathroom walls pockmarked with mold are among the 19 open code violations there.
Joyce said she pays $1,000 a month in rent, but she fears for her daughter’s safety and wants out.
“It’s just so hard to move,” she said.
Another house owned by Hirschhorn has 41 open violations, including broken faucets, holes in the walls and doors, boarded-up windows, inoperable electrical outlets, and evidence of rodents.
The tenants there, who asked not to be identified out of fear of retribution and embarrassment of their living conditions, pointed to where they said rats had eaten the magnetic seal of their refrigerator and the weatherstripping on the front door.
Joyce and the other tenants said the problems with their places predated Hirschhorn’s ownership, but that the conditions have worsened in recent years.
Property records show that Hirschhorn amassed most of the properties in question shortly before the outset of the pandemic in March 2020.
Like many landlords, Hirschhorn placed much of the blame for his inability to maintain his properties on government-imposed moratoriums on evictions during the health crisis.
Those measures, which lasted nearly two years in New York and were meant to protect tenants who could not pay their rent due to financial hardships, were widely praised by housing advocates.
At the same time, the safeguards created tremendous financial strain for landlords who lacked the means to keep their properties afloat without collecting rent.
While landlords could seek federal pandemic financial assistance, the aid was slow to flow and came with strings that kept many from applying. It required landlords to allow a tenant to remain and not raise the rent for a year after the aid was received.
Property owners could have also sought financial judgments for back rent. But many of those cases are still winding their way through the courts.
Hirschhorn claimed to still be owed nearly $1 million in rent.
“The state of New York enabled this,” Hirschhorn said. “I’m not going to pay the banks. I’m not going to pay the fines. The state did this. The city did this. They need to take responsibility for themselves.”
He added: “It could all burn down. The whole city could burn. There’s no money up there.”