Landlord Baruch Singer: ‘Slumlord’ Was Bum Rap

Mr. Singer traces his troubles to the fall of 1999, when the crusading reporter Jack Newfield wrote a series of articles in the New York Post. The impetus was a bill by State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver that would have allowed Mr. Singer to buy a building back out of bankruptcy after the normally allotted time. Mr. Singer said that Newfield, who died in December 2004, merely used him to exact damage on the Assembly Speaker, who attended the synagogue where, at the time, Mr. Singer’s father was the rabbi.

“I sit next to a guy in synagogue who happens to be one of the most powerful people in New York,” Mr. Singer said during the orientation meeting.

The article tied Mr. Singer to a 1995 collapse of a Harlem building at 142 West 140th Street that killed three people and shocked the city. Newfield cited a New York Times story from a few days after the collapse as proof that Mr. Singer managed the building. However, the official building registration, according to the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development, stated that the managing agent at the time of the collapse was not Mr. Singer, but rather one of the owners, Marcus Lehman.

In any case, a year-long investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau vindicated the owners of the building and suggested that poor management—whoever was doing it—was not the cause.

“The investigation did not uncover any connection between the general maintenance of the building and the collapse,” Mr. Morgenthau wrote in a letter to the city buildings commissioner. Rather, the D.A. found that mortar in a foundation wall had deteriorated and a collapse was “not reasonably foreseeable within the definitions of the criminal law.”

Newfield’s article acknowledged Mr. Morgenthau’s findings, but it also quoted then–City Councilman Bill Perkins, who held Mr. Singer “partially responsible” for the three deaths and said that he “was the worst slumlord I have ever seen in Harlem.” (Mr. Perkins, now a State Senator, didn’t respond to a request for comment.) And while Newfield used other examples to build a case against Mr. Singer, his alleged connection to the building collapse was the most prominent one, and has, over the years, been repeated so often that it has taken on the aura of the truth, even if it isn’t.

Other news stories have said, for example, that Mr. Singer “controlled” the building, or that he operated it. The Observer twice in the last year, in fact, mistakenly referred to Mr. Singer as the building’s owner. (He ended up buying the property, but not until August 1995, five months after the collapse, according to the city’s online property database.)

The Observer was invited to attend one of the tenant meetings after contacting Mr. Singer for another story, and then was invited back a second time, and also was able to ask Mr. Singer questions about his record. He would not, however, pose for a photo unless he was permitted to see the article before it was printed, which The Observer did not allow him to do.

Landlord Baruch Singer: ‘Slumlord’ Was Bum Rap