By LAURA SCHREIER, Hartford Business Journal Staff Writer
August 06, 2007
Emmanuel Ku has topped New York City’s list of worst landlords and evoked the wrath and outrage of renters’ groups across three states.
Now he wants to buy housing in Hartford.
The controversial Queens, New York-based landlord was the high bidder on a May 16 Housing and Urban Development auction for 25 residential buildings north of downtown Hartford.
Ku has not yet been approved to take ownership of the package of buildings, for which he bid $2 million, HUD officials said.
Profit Through Neglect
If approved, Ku will become the owner of 150 Hartford units, heavily concentrated near Main Street in Clay Arsenal, just north of downtown. Those properties require $4 million in repairs, according to HUD’s auction notice.
Lemar Wooley, a Washington-based HUD spokesman, said before Ku can be approved for ownership, the department will review his other state or federal multifamily housing. That process, Wooley said, takes a minimum of 90 days.
But renters’ advocates in states where Ku already does business accuse him of buying low-income properties and squeezing profits out of them by neglecting upkeep and repairs. With subsidized properties, rent checks typically come from the federal government.
In New York, Michigan and Alabama, housing advocates want him gone.
“We’re currently trying to get him knocked out of the (auction) because of his terrible record,” said Mary Koler of New York state’s Tenants and Neighbors. Her group has been working with residents of a Sullivan County New York building after a representative of Ku’s management company bid on the building in March.
Ku’s 11 buildings in New York City had 1,400 code violations in 2003, a number, “which is, even by New York standards, substantial,” said Dina Levy of Urban Homesteading Assistance Board. Her group, too, has had previous squabbles with Ku.
Ku now owns 13 multifamily buildings in New York City. As of this May, the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development reported 667 violations in Ku's properties. Of those violations, 113 are classified as "immediately hazardous." At least one building, Pueblo de Mayaguez in the South Bronx, was acquired through a HUD auction.
Because of Ku and other alleged slumlords, Levy’s and other renters’ groups have urged HUD to reject bidders based on past building code violations. The groups cite a certain section of HUD law that requires HUD to ensure buyers have followed “applicable state or local government housing statutes” with their other properties.
So when Ku made the high bid for a complex on auction in Ypsilanti, Michigan, in 2005, renters’ advocates in the area cited Section 219 to try to keep him from taking over.
Although Wooley said HUD considers ownership records nationwide, renters’ advocates involved with the Michigan case said they got a different story at the time. HUD officials there said bidders couldn’t be rejected based on violations outside the area of purchase.
Ultimately, Ku’s Michigan bid was rejected because the building’s owners declared bankruptcy during the auction process.
He did, however, manage to buy a disability-housing unit in Birmingham, Alabama, where he has a number of disgruntled tenants.
Truitt Evans, an enforcement coordinator with the nonprofit Fair Housing Center in Alabama, said he’d received complaints from tenants in Ku’s building about cost-cutting measures that hurt access for disabled tenants.
“More than one (tenant) told me they were being intimidated (by management) because they came to see me,” Evans said.
When Evans tried to organize a meeting on the subject, he said, the individual tenants just seemed to drop the issue.
Koler, who continues to fight Ku’s ownership of the upstate New York building, said Ku’s high bids were the first red flag. These properties usually require millions in repairs and aren’t worth the money he bids on them, as was the case in the South Bronx.
“People became very suspicious of his motives,” Koler said.
Ku did not respond to e-mails or phone messages seeking comment.