The city of Syracuse is taking legal action against Green National, the owner of Skyline Apartments, requesting that a judge terminate the company’s existing business in the city.
The city’s legal team filed a petition Friday for a receivership with the state Supreme Court, which would intercept incoming rent payments at Skyline Apartments, The Vincent, The James, and Chestnut Crossing, Mayor Ben Walsh said at a press conference Monday. The funds would then go toward fixing up Green National’s four remaining properties in the Salt City.
A receiver would have to be appointed by the court, Walsh said. The city has already vetted several suitable candidates.
“That’s been one of our challenges, as we’ve explored this, is to feel like we can find a receiver that is up to the task,” he said. “This is a monumental task.”
Walsh did not name the prospective entity that could collect rent instead of Green National as the legal process is still unfolding. He said the potential receiver was based in Binghamton.
The petition also calls for the court to legally compel Green National to pay a $1 million fine to cover the costs of repairs, maintenance and payments made to the receiver before rent is due in March.
Friday’s legal motion for an expedited court action is the latest in a series of measures taken by local and state elected officials to bring the company founded by Tim Green, a former NFL player, to comply with property maintenance codes and general safety regulations. Green and his son Troy own the 12-story Skyline building at 753 James St., and other apartment complexes in Syracuse and the region.
“While they will still technically own the property, no money will be going into the Greens’ pockets,” Walsh said. “It will be going back into the properties to give these tenants the homes that they deserve.”
The city’s petition says Green National has failed to provide safe, clean and habitable living conditions for their tenants. Instead, the city argues, they have continued to collect rent from tenants and allow buildings like Skyline to become a source of “unmitigated violence and narcotics trafficking, mortally jeopardizing the safety of tenants.”
Related: Skyline Apartments declared unfit for habitation for 8th time since 2019
Green National is also accused of violating a settlement with the city that would have required the Greens to correct a litany of property code violations, sell their Syracuse rental property portfolio, and pay a $60,000 fine by an extended deadline of Sept. 12 last year. Green National paid about $128,000 to be able to extend that deadline.
City officials, according to the petition, believe Green National has purposely stalled selling their properties in order to try maximize a potential offer while also minimizing expenditures at the expense of tenants.
Walsh, who met with about 25 tenants from all four buildings owned by Green National prior to the press conference, said renters have expressed concerns about conditions in these buildings that have long been known by city officials, including relaxed security measures and overall unsanitary conditions.
Skyline and Green National have been the subject of public scrutiny and criticism since early 2021 after a woman was murdered in the building.
In the court petition, city officials estimated that there have been 1,500 calls to emergency dispatch services in the last six months across the four buildings, along with 11 separate declarations of unfit living conditions in two years, and multiple occurrences of failed utility systems.
Juanita Nanowsky, who has lived at Chestnut Crossing for 10 years, reflected on the changes she noticed when Green National bought the property in 2015.
“From day one they had no care or concern for the tenants,” she said. “They also didn’t care about the building.”
Nanowsky said the building has a roof that is caving in, as well as a laundry room that feels unsafe to tenants.
“It is a disaster. The room has a broken door and you see people sleeping there who do not live here,” she said. “They repair nothing. You call, they don’t answer. You get a ‘please leave a message notification’ and it always says the mailbox is full.”
Most recently, the building was cited by the city’s code enforcement division for not having working heating fixtures. Records from the city’s service request portal indicate code enforcement deemed apartment 38 unfit for human habitation and issued a stop rent order due to a lack of heating. Records show the violation is still considered unaddressed.
“We went 60 hours without water or heat last Christmas,” Nanowsky said. “Sixty hours, no water, no heat, no help. I melted snow to be able to flush my toilet.”
Similarly, Skyline was deemed unfit for human habitation at the start of February due to a lack of hot water across the building. The city’s unfit declaration also directed federal, state and local agencies that help tenants receiving public assistance benefits to stop payments to Green National. Both the unfit declaration and the stop rent order are still in place, according to city Senior Public Information Officer Brooke Schneider.
Larry Fuller, a retired, longtime resident of Skyline, told Central Current he saw hot water services return that weekend, only for him to not have access to them days later. For now, the water remains lukewarm, he added.
“It is ridiculous. This is no way for anyone to live,” Fuller said.
Sean Frey, a spokesperson for Green National, did not respond to a request for comment made Monday.
The ownership group is also entangled in a legal battle with New York Attorney General Letitia James. The AG 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.
Despite a state court judge’s recent court ruling that ordered the Greens 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, the Greens have filed a motion to appeal that ruling.
Walsh noted the petition to file for a receivership does not affect the attorney general’s suit.
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