In January, for example, a student named Carolina Sutaj petitioned housing court to rectify housing violations after Mr. Singer tried to get her out of an apartment on Morningside Avenue that she had taken over from her boyfriend. Her lawyer, Stuart Shaw, told The Observer that by having accepted her rent, the landlord had accepted her tenancy. Mr. Singer says that he stopped accepting her rent when he found out; he said that he doesn’t
fix apartments where legitimate tenants don’t live.
“We take them to court, and we do whatever the court says we have to do,” he said.
There is an economic benefit for landlords to get those tenants on new leases, of course: They are permitted to charge up to an additional 20 percent in rent even when rent-stabilized units change hands.
H.P.D., meanwhile, says that it is responsible for enforcing the housing code regardless of whether or not the tenants are on the lease, according to Mr. Coleman, the H.P.D. spokesman.
In Mr. Singer’s system, honesty has its rewards. One young woman at a recent lease-signing had moved in with a roommate in one of Mr. Singer’s buildings and then could have tried to take over the apartment outright when the roommate left New York.
“But she was honest,” Mr. Singer said, “and came to us.” And so Mr. Singer remodeled the two-bedroom apartment and gave her a new lease at $1,200 a month—higher than she was paying before, but about $600 less than market rate, he said.
The woman came into the side office choked with emotion. She said she had just graduated from school and, since her father couldn’t afford to give her an apartment, she was grateful that Mr. Singer had.
She said she was reminded of a story in which a man comes into a rabbi’s classroom and none of the students get up to offer the man a seat; then he walks out. One of the students asks, “Who was that?” The rabbi says it was the Prophet Elijah, but that no one had bothered to offer him a seat, and so he left.
“I am reminded of that,” the young woman said. “Do you know what I mean?”
Mr. Singer, who normally takes praise with a humble nod and a thank-you, was too taken aback to do anything more than mumble.