Gary Fuller, a retired resident of Skyline Apartments, says he has only ever wanted to live safely and in peace.
“When I moved here 10 years ago, it was that way,” he said.
Fuller was getting ready to wash dishes Monday only to find himself without hot water.
“We haven’t had hot water since,” he said. “It just bothers me that we are unable to live like normal people. You need hot water to live your life and we just don’t have it.”
On Friday, for the eighth time in just over three years, Syracuse’s Division of Codes Enforcement deemed at least a portion of the building at 753 James St. unfit for human habitation. Friday’s declaration came because of the lack of hot water.
Tim Green, a former NFL player, and his son Troy own the 12-story building, along with a slew of other apartment complexes in Syracuse and the region. Skyline and Green National have been the subject of public scrutiny and criticism since early 2021 after a woman was murdered in the building. Since then, local and state officials have honed in on the structure’s disrepair and lack of safety measures, attempting to bring Skyline into compliance with local property codes.
This week Code Enforcement has responded to at least four complaints from residents of the notorious apartment building detailing a lack of hot water, according to the city’s service request portal.
“We have a severe violation that is impacting the livelihood of those tenants that live there,” Director of Code Enforcement Jake Dishaw said at a news conference Friday. “Part of our determination declaring this building unfit was that this is widespread across the building, and also the time frame that it’s taken to get the repair done.”
Sean Frey, a Green National spokesperson, said management contacted an HVAC company Monday to assess the situation. Technicians found the boiler was not running at 100 percent capacity and needed repair parts to fix it, he said.
“They are being shipped here (Saturday) at 10 a.m., at which point the boiler technician is going to install them,” Frey said.
Frey expects a solution to the issue by 3 p.m. Saturday.
The city is directing government entities that provide public assistance to residents of Skyline to not make any rent payments on behalf of tenants until the unfit determination is lifted, Dishaw said. The order, he added, does not deter residents who pay rent out of pocket from making payments.
Typically, city codes does not declare a structure unfit for human habitation because of a lack of hot water. Dishaw said the city resorted to the unfit designation to apply pressure on Green National and expedite the repairs.
“It has just taken longer to fix than we would have liked,” Dishaw said.
Skyline has previously been deemed unfit for habitation over the presence of excrement and urine in common areas. Other issues highlighted by codes include vermin infestations and sewage backup.
Fuller, who receives public assistance from the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, said he did not have heat around Christmas time last year. He said the issue has been somewhat addressed, although it still gets cold in his apartment, he noted.
“It is super cold out there today, and I’ve been wrapped up in a blanket all day,” he said.
Fuller said addressing disrepair in the building often takes too long.
As a member of the Skyline Tenants Association Board, Fuller is connected to his neighbors. He said recently management taped a letter on the door of every apartment, telling tenants they could be evicted if they don’t pay rent or if they are identified as a nuisance.
Central Current reviewed a copy of the letter, signed by attorney Anthony Galli. Galli did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
“Many residents have taken advantage of the eviction moratorium,” Galli states in the letter, referring to New York’s halt on eviction fillings that ended early last year. “Residents cannot breach their lease agreements and engage in misconduct on their properties without consequence.
Frey said Friday that Skyline has tenants who owe anywhere from $1,500 to $38,000 in back rent. He said some residents who owe rent have declined Green National’s efforts to find assistance through public programs.
Code violations have cost the Greens thousands. Unfit declarations have led local officials to consider pumping the breaks on public subsidies that allow low-income city residents to afford a home. Onondaga County has previously halted payments to nonprofit organizations and Skyline directly, potentially costing Green National thousands in rent subsidies, according to local reports.
New York Attorney General Letitia James fined Green National $300,000 last year. At least $250,000 will be kept in escrow, as Green National failed to correct more than 100 property code violations within 60 days, breaching an agreement previously struck by both parties
Green National’s agreement with the AG’s office also included the immediate appointment of an independent monitor who would ensure property code compliance and report to the AG’s office monthly. That monitor was to be appointed by the Greens by Jan. 18 this year.
Four code violations have yet to be fixed and the Greens have yet to appoint an independent monitor.
In December, State Supreme Court Justice Gregory Gilbert ordered Green National to pay $5,000 for each violation still open, $100 per day of noncompliance with their agreement with the AG’s office, and $2,000 in other costs.
Attorneys Jon Devendorf and Kayla Arias, who represent Green National, filed a motion last week to appeal the decision, court documents show.
They argued providing repairs within 60 days and closing property code violations in conjunction with city codes was not possible due to factors outside of the Greens’ control. These included needing repair parts that were unattainable due to vendor unavailability, or ongoing pest control strategies that needed constant treatment before they could be closed by the city.
The attorneys also argued they shortlisted six candidates for the monitor role, but they all declined to participate.
For Fuller, who lives on the west side of the building, Skyline’s history seems tragic. He has seen the building he once deemed one of the most prestigious places to live in Syracuse mired in controversy and often cited for providing unfair living conditions. For now, he holds on to his motto of peace and safety.
“A friend of mine who passed away had his nephew make pins that say ‘peace and safety’ with a dove on them,” he said. “I wear one all the time now.”
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