Making Money by Clearing Out Poor Tenants

By Sydney H. Schanberg

New York Newsday, December 9, 1986

Alan Sackman and his partners in real estate have engaged, from time to time, in activities that government officials and agencies have described in language usually reserved for a crime wave. (Even the mayor’s office “perceived…criminal techniques” in one of Sackman’s buildings.) But Sackman and his partners, all millionaires several times over, have managed, through cunning and sharp lawyers, to avoid the jail sentences and other penalties generally awarded for such activities.

Though they have paid some modest fines and settlements here and there, Sackman et al. remain at large to continue their work. It is because their work deserves public attention and so rarely receives it — and because they are but one of many real estate companies practicing these skills in our midst — that I devote this column to recounting a few of the Sackman exploits.

The latest government case that Sackman wriggled out of involved his purchase, six years ago, of the single-room-occupancy Hamilton Hotel at 315 W. 99th St., whose 189 units were occupied primarily by poor people living on public assistance or disability benefits. Sackman wanted them out quickly so that he could avail himself of the Koch administration’s generous tax abatements and convert the building to luxury co-operative apartments. Here is what the state attorney general’s office said took place almost immediately after Sackman purchased the building:

“Actions taken against the tenants by the defendants included continuous verbal and physical harassment and intimidation, removal of room locks and doors, room break-ins, theft and destruction of personal property, assaults and involuntary physical removal from the building.

“A group of men was employed…to take control of the Hamilton Hotel and to remove the tenants by any necessary means. A reign of terror ensued…This group of men broke into several tenants’ rooms and removed personal possessions, furniture, clothing and pets. Several tenants were physically assaulted and injured by this group of men.”

After all this work was done, Sackman collected his city tax gifts, renovated the building into 33 upscale apartments, sold them for up to $200,000 each — and gentrified the name from the Hamilton Hotel to the Paramount.

The attorney general’s office used the language above in a lawsuit it brought against Sackman, his wife, Barbara, his partner, Teddy Krain, and several others in the Sackman real estate gang. The suit sought heavy damages and also sought to bar the Sackman group permanently from selling real estate securities in this state — that is, from dealing in co-ops or condominiums.

But Sackman’s maneuvers once again prevailed. He tied the case up in court with motion after motion. He swore he was out of the country when the events occurred and had nothing to do with the marauding at the Hamilton Hotel. He and his lawyers knew that the longer they stalled, the greater the likelihood that the evicted tenants and other witnesses, many of them transients, would fade out of reach.

And that, of course, is just what happened, leaving the attorney general with a weakened case. Thus, three months ago — six years after the gang of muggers that Sackman never heard of terrorized the vulnerable residents out of the Hamilton Hotel — Sackman et al. closed out the case and remained in business by paying a settlement of $375,000. Considering the millions he made on conversion of the building, it was anything but a hardship. And it was barely noticed in the press, allowing Sackman to continue his pose as a civic pillar who contributes to the public good by improving the city’s housing stock.

Sackman is no doubt encouraged in his activities because he has succeeded before with this strategy for doing well by doing ill. 

In 1982, he and Teddy Krain took over another single-room-occupancy hotel, known as the Arvia, on West 112th Street, and there, too, a mysterious gang of musclemen went on a rampage.

A tenant’s ribs were broken. A man was shot and killed on the sidewalk outside. One night, four of the thugs stormed through the building, banging on the doors of terrified tenants and firing weapons in the air. The police captured the four men and found guns in the building’s office — i.e., the office of the owners. Three of the four were found to have criminal records for such pursuits as robbery and assault. Two admitted that they were employees at the Arvia.

But nothing happened to the Sackman bunch here, either. The district attorney decided the evidence linking the guns to the thugs or the thugs to Sackman/Krain was not strong enough to proceed with a prosecution.

The building was soon converted to a luxury co-op, and Sackman’s profits grew by more millions.

Sackman’s success seems to rest on a formula of keeping his distance from the distasteful business of emptying buildings and making the helpless homeless. He collects his tax concessions in New York City, but he chooses to live in the exclusive calm of Sands Point, Long Island. 

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