One Bronx real estate operator had an interest in more than 100 buildings, most of them severely troubled. But when regulators or tenant advocates tried to push for improvements, they found no one to hold accountable. One of the buildings burned in a 2002 blaze that killed an 8-year-old boy.
A team of J-School reporters, led by Investigative Reporter in Residence Tom Robbins and veteran Bronx editor Jordan Moss, produced for City Limits magazine “The Phantom Landlord,” a multi-part tale of wealthy real estate executive Frank Palazzolo and the buildings connected to him. Among the stories they uncovered, with help from J-School alum Jeanmarie Evelly:
•An examination of the elusive Palazzolo, detailing how many troubled Bronx buildings – plagued by everything from rodents to lead paint dangers – were registered to corporations at his Scarsdale headquarters.
•How 8-year-old Jashawn Parker was killed in a 2002 electrical fire in a northwest Bronx building where a Housing Court judge had ordered repairs to the electrical system a year earlier. The repairs were never made and the building had 387 code violations at the time of the blaze – including citations for electrical problems.
•How Palazzolo obtained tens of millions of dollars in mortgages – even as, records show, many of the properties linked to him were already in severe distress at the time the loans were made.
•How a city inquiry found that Palazzolo stayed under the radar with a real estate operation organized like a McDonald’s franchise: He controlled major financing decisions, while corporation officers acted like local franchisees, handling management of the individual buildings.
•A look at calls by some housing advocates and elected officials to overhaul the rental housing system – with suggestions ranging from licensing landlords to creating a tribunal that would deal exclusively with fining landlords for violations and ordering repairs.