Condo owners at risk of losing homes

Residents at a Melrose complex are fighting to hold onto their homes, saying the management company never paid mounting water and gas bills or informed them of the growing debt.

Homeowners at Melrose Court Condominiums say their management company is to blame  for a $1.2 million debt they owe on their water bill.
Melrose Court Condominiums on St. Ann’s Avenue.

But management firm is at fault, they say

Angry homeowners at the Melrose Court Condominiums are at risk of losing their homes because, they say, the company that manages the three building complex has allowed over $2 million in water and gas bills to accumulate over many years, without informing them.

Over 100 residents came to a Feb. 25 meeting at the Betances Community Center in Mott Haven, eager to elect a new resident-comprised board of managers, something they say hadn’t happened in years because Wavecrest Management didn’t organize homeowner meetings where elections could be held.

But although homeowners and tenants who live in the 263-apartment complex on St. Ann’s Avenue between 156th and 159th Streets say Wavecrest is at fault for never informing them of the massive bill, the company contends it is not to blame. Instead, a Wavecrest representative says, dozens of residents who haven’t paid their bills over many years are responsible, and all the homeowners must now bear the brunt.

Residents argue that they have been hounding the company to keep them informed for years, to no avail, and were shocked to learn of their mounting debt last August.

“Every single homeowner here has been calling Wavecrest about this situation, and they kept saying they had to respond to the board,” said longtime resident Sara Morales. “But there was no board.”

“We weren’t getting financial statements and there were no annual meetings of the board being held,” she said.

Homeowner Jose Reyes, who has lived in the building since 1994, said the management company is unresponsive to residents’ calls.

“They don’t answer phones,” he said. “They’re very polite but they never call back.”

Natalya Burgos, who has lived in the building since 1999, said residents like her have been regularly paying their maintenance fees to Wavecrest.

“Maintenance has been paid every month,” Burgos said. Others say the company never responds to their calls for repairs, and that residents pay for and conduct their own repairs when necessary.

State Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. told the residents his office would intervene to pressure Wavecrest to be more responsive.

The Queens-based firm manages over 18,000 apartments in over 300 buildings around the city, according to its website. Residents of the Melrose complex say the company began managing their homes 13 years ago.

An accountant who was hired by the building’s former board over a decade ago and is paid by Wavecrest, told the restless crowd that because some residents hadn’t paid their bills, all were responsible for picking up the tab.

“When people don’t pay, we can’t pay our bills and you subsidize them,” said Carl Cesarano. “We got ourselves behind in bills, particularly water bills, and it’s created an economic hardship.”

He acknowledged that management and the complex’s previous boards have long known about the debt, but said it’s now up to residents to push elected officials to keep a lien from being placed on the building.

“I would lean on those politicians who come and make a big scene,” he said.

Avi Slansky, Wavecrest’s director of property management, said his firm is not responsible for the problem. He echoed the accountant’s words, saying the debt has amassed over many years because dozens of homeowners didn’t pay their bills, going back well before Wavecrest became involved with the building.

Burgos countered that when Wavecrest received the accountant’s troubling numbers, showing how deeply in debt the building was, they should have alerted residents.

“Some people just don’t understand,” she said. “Some people don’t have the time. People trust that everything is fine.”

After the meeting, homeowner Lisette Nieves, who had just been elected to be a building board member, said Wavecrest officials ignored several requests she made in recent years for management officials to meet with residents at Betances Community Center to elect a board, because they wanted to keep homeowners in the dark. Wavecrest has a contract with the building for six more months, residents say, adding they will seek to have the contract voided.

For now, residents like Morales say they will fight to keep the building they have called home for 20 years.

“We’re the pioneers of the Melrose community,” she said. “There’s no way they can take the rug out from under us.”

Additional reporting by Joe Hirsch.