Robin Shimoff’s brick home has seven bedrooms, spans 7,000 square feet and is located in an outer lying suburb called Rockland County. The palatial home features four full baths and a multicar garage.
Investigative reporter's from The New York Daily News visited one of the worst buildings in Shimoff’s portfolio. It’s an 86-unit building on Decatur Ave. near Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. The News spied a basement play area for kids that featured a brightly colored alphabet stenciled into the filthy floor.
Just inches away sat a trap for rats.
“It looks like a dungeon here,” said tenant Jasmine Rodriguez, 31, pointing at a gaping hole in the wall where she says menacing rodents roam freely near the children’s play spot.
Above the play area hang electrical wires and gas meters. The walls are pocked and peeling. “Day Care” is scrawled in fluorescent pink on a doorway.
In two apartments the city has denied Shimoff’s recent request to postpone cleaning up toxic lead paint.
Shimoff’s company, 3525 Decatur Avenue LLC, has reduced the number of violations since Aug. 31 — the cut-off point for data to be included on the worst landlord list. But as of Friday, there were still 2,490 open violations, including 458 deemed by the city Department of Housing Preservation & Development as most serious.
In some of Shimoff’s buildings, tenants have gone to court again and again to force repairs. The city has been forced to obtain warrants to gain entry to properties to clean up lead paint or turn on heat in the depths of winter.
The issues in these buildings go back years, mostly because they were owned previously by her slumlord father, Jacob Selechnik, who also managed to rack up hundreds of violations in the years he ran things, records show.
The public advocate’s list singled out an amazing 6,800 buildings across the city that have accumulated significant numbers of code violations per unit. The list presents a catalog of miseries — collapsing ceilings, busted boilers, rodent infestation and toxic lead paint.
Many of these landlords have been on this list since James’ predecessor, Bill de Blasio, started it four years ago when he was public advocate. Some of the landlords on the list live in the city, but others live far away from their properties, relying on building managers, porters and superintendents to deal with what some tenants say is a never-ending list of repairs.
“Some of these landlords are absent landlords,” said James. “They don’t see (the conditions) and we visited some of these units and it breaks your heart. A lot of these residents are seniors, immigrants, and there’s a lot of children.”
Shimoff, for one, lives far away in the leafy Rockland County suburb of Monsey. She and her husband bought their mansion in an upscale neighborhood in the early 1990s with a $260,000 mortgage.
Shimoff did not return numerous calls seeking comment. But the building manager assigned to oversee her properties, Jose Peña, agreed to answer questions.
Last week he said the number of violations listed by James has been reduced dramatically in the last few weeks. He emphasized that Shimoff is on top of the situation, aggressively assigning workers to fix what’s broken.
“She does visit the buildings and she knows what’s going on and what she’s inherited,” Peña said. “We have tons of work crews doing work every day.”
Over on Decatur Ave., however, tenant Rosemary Cabrera, 58, says Shimoff may as well be a ghost — like an urban legend.
“Nobody’s ever seen her,” she said.
Cabrera says her two-bedroom apartment has been in need of repairs for years with persistent water leaks that cause the ceiling to collapse repeatedly. On Friday she burst into tears as she pointed out mold creeping into the corner of her bathroom ceiling — an indication that the leak had returned yet again.
And there are other persistent problems. The bathroom sink ran continuously, the spigots unable to stop the flow. And she said Con Ed cut off her gas for two months after the used stove the landlord provided shot flames up to the ceiling.
Shimoff should be sentenced to live an an apartment in one of her own slum building's for at least one week, because fines and money mean nothing to someone who's wealthy. Experience is the best teacher, in order for Shimoff to understand what it's like to live in a rat infested slum she has to experience it. It is then and only then that she will see the humanity behind the names on her list of tenants. No one should ever be allowed to live the American dream at somebody else's expense.