Bed-Stuy Landlord’s Neglect Nearly Left Tenants Homeless

BED-STUY, BROOKLYN — When Celeste Spicer suddenly found out she was homeless in early November last year, the first thing she grabbed was the two urns that sat by her bedside.

One contains her mother’s ashes, the other her beloved aunt.

Her building at 155 Hancock St. in Bed-Stuy had just received a full vacate order from the city due to the building’s crumbling facade — an eight-by-five foot slab of stucco was dangling off of the front of the building over the entrance according to the citation — which the Department of Buildings said posed an immediate threat to residents.

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It was at night and the Red Cross was outside, offering assistance and guidance to the tenants of the building’s 10 units on how to navigate the city’s shelter system.

That evening, Spicer told Patch, was a culmination of years of neglect from an absent landlord and management company.

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“This is a working class, apartment building,” Spicer, who works in childcare, said.

“We work, we pay our rent. And when you do those things, you expect to be able to have peace in your home. And to have that taken away from you by someone else’s negligence, and not really have a recourse to what happens to you next — that’s the thing that was the most disheartening.”

“Ten Families Homeless Immediately”

“Pack up anything you can’t stand to lose,” Spicer struggled to tell her 15-year-old daughter as she grabbed a few days of clothing, prescription medications, passports and documents into her suitcase, in addition to her ancestor’s remains.

Her daughter grabbed her guitar and skateboard, plus some of her favorite drawings.

The family cat, Buddy, also came along.

Luckily, Spicer and her daughter had relatives to stay with in Brownsville.

And two weeks later, DOB rescinded the order, stating that the owners had put up a sidewalk shed and remedied the immediate hazard.

155 Hancock St. in December, 2022 (Peter Senzamici/Patch)

“I’m grateful that this didn’t mean that I was homeless,” Spicer said.

She moved back in, but her daughter, traumatized and fearful of being homeless again, remains at her relative’s home, despite the extra 30 minutes it takes her to get to her midtown school.

Her daughter might be right.

With so many other issues in the building, which Spicer says suffers from years of neglect, she fears that in a subsequent inspection, another vacate order could be issued.

“If the city deems this property not for us to be able to come back in — that’s 10 families homeless immediately,” Spicer said.

Spicer said she believes that the owner, Neil Smilen, passed away in 2022. The management company, JWasser, confirmed to patch that they manage the building but did not reply to a request for comment.

Years Of Neglect, With Little Action From The City

The city issues hundreds of vacate orders due to a “failure to maintain” each year, with nearly 200 in 2022, a last resort order only made when a building is no longer safe to occupy, according to a DOB spokesperson.

A previous DOB violation for 155 Hancock St. cites a crumbling facade in 2005.

“The landlord ignored this violation of that slab that had been in place for about 10 years,” Spicer said. “And he did nothing about it until the city basically told us to get out of our homes.”

The neglect is part of a pattern since Smilen bought the building 19 years ago, Spicer said, a year after she moved in.

A hole in Spicer’s ceiling was recently fixed, but not the leak that caused it. (Peter Senzamici/Patch)

Since 2014, the building has had 403 housing complaints, according to, with over 100 in 2022 alone.

There have been several housing court cases as well, according to the city’s department of Housing, Preservation and Development, mostly for heat and hot water issues.

Currently there are 60 open violations, according to HPD data.

Spicer shared a long list of issues.

Piled up trash welcomes hordes of rats to infest the building. Spicer’s wooden window frames have rotted out, creating strong drafts when standing nearby. Light switches no longer work. Bricks are missing from the. A hole in her ceiling was recently fixed, but the leak that caused it remains.

“Ever since he bought the building, he’s done the bare minimum,” she said.

Spicer is no stranger to taking action. She says she has been in touch with the Division of Housing and Community Renewal to help get repairs. She frequently calls 311 and city agencies, even taking time off work to allow for inspectors to visit, who, she added, often don’t show up.

As she watches new neighbors move in and quickly move out after they realize how poorly maintained the building is, Spicer wonders if the neglect could amount to systemic harassment.

“You refuse to do the repairs, and for those who have the option of not staying when their lease is up, they leave,” she said, noting that no tenant has remained in the unit beneath her for more than a year.

Missing bricks around a rotted out window frame. (Peter Senzamici/Patch)

“They can leave and go to another building, but there are some of us here who don’t have that option.”

Spicer says the apartment, her daughter’s childhood home and where she was born, no longer feels like her home anymore.

The whole situation, Spicer told Patch, is an “example of the power that your landlord truly has over you.”

“When he decides that it makes better financial sense to let the building crumble and empty the building, as opposed to making sure your tenants have a place to live.”

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