In April 2010, the MTA transferred operational matters of the corridor to Zee N Kay Management, run by Zoya and Suresh Kapoor. Merchants said on Wednesday that the management company has failed to fix constant electric, plumbing and water pipe issues that then fall into the hands of the tenants.
“All business owners here on the bridge have been desperately complaining about roof leakage caused by a burst pipe during the winter, torn facades and broken sidewalks,” said Pradeep Agarwal, who works on the Lefferts Boulevard block. “All these problems should’ve been handled by the landlord or the MTA, but they turn a deaf ear.”
The biggest complaint has been the burst pipes in the winter that end up flooding their stores. Nathalie Reid, who has owned Thyme Natural Market for the last seven years, said the flooding ends up hurting her business.
“We have ruined inventory, which obviously we have to pay for in the end,” Reid said. “When the pipe bursts, I have to close down my kitchen because without water, I can’t run a kitchen. We did lose a lot of revenue by having my kitchen closed.”
Reid said there have also been problems with her storefront facade. Customers have come into the store to tell her that things are falling or hanging off the roof, she said.
In Thyme Natural Market’s backroom, there is a large hole on the ground so big Reid can see the LIRR station underneath.
“The structure and the integrity of the stores on the bridge is horrendous,” she said.
Like Reid, Agarwal said many of the fixes end up coming out of his own pocket. Though he has complained to Zee N Kay Management for years, Agarwal said the temporary fixes, like new pipes, still burst every winter.
“The MTA has been totally unsuccessful and did not care to watch Mr. Kapoor’s activities for the last six-and-a-half years,” he said.
Anil Agarwal, who works at PK’s Farm Fresh, said they’ve faced nothing but headaches in the two years since they opened their store. Due to electricity and pipe issues, his store lost between $30,000 and $40,000 in merchandise when the refrigerator goes out and the milk, dairy and produce go bad.
“This electric problem and the plumbing problem, they’ve never taken care of since they built this structure,” he said. “Electric lines are so thin, if you touch it you can burn your own finger.”
Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz stood with the Kew Gardens merchants on Wednesday to bring up another issue: that Suresh Kapoor has been previously convicted of a felony.
In March 1985, Kapoor and his brother ran a newsstand operation above the LIRR station. They pled guilty in 1987 to the evasion of $325,000 in sales taxes and creation of false tax returns.
Though the landlord of the properties is Zoya Kapoor, she gave all contractual responsibilities to her husband Suresh.
“The MTA has violated its own contractual rules of doing business with a known bad actor,” Koslowitz said. “For many years, he has systematically ignored the tenants’ pleas for maintenance, bullied and threatened them, and allowed the properties to fall into disrepair, causing small business owners to reach into their own pocket for critical work that should’ve been addressed by the MTA or their agents.”
Merchants then brought up a host of other issues with maintenance. Agarwal said the work the company’s handyman has done was without any permit or license, which he said endangered the lives of the people above the bridge and below on the station.
“By not following the rules and regulations set forth by MTA, Zee N Kay is jeopardizing the safety of the bridge, businesses and community,” he said. “How could the safety of the community be compromised for quick rental income?”
Brian Charney, whose store has been on the block since 1994, said when railroad inspectors come by to check on the properties, the landlord will often come days in advance to change ceiling tiles and cover leaky roofs and broken facades.
He also said Kapoor has threatened him over the complaints.
“He came over to me and said, ‘If you’re not on my side, you’re not getting a lease renewal,’” Charney said. “For someone who has been here since 1994, this is my livelihood. I find it threatening to know that in two and a half years, when the lease is up, I might be in danger of being out of business.”
Charney said he brought these issues up when the merchants met with the MTA back in June. To this day, he said, nothing has happened.
Tenants said the MTA’s agreement with Kapoor expires in two and a half years, but he has the option to renew it for another five years. Koslowitz and Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz, who later joined the merchants, said the agreement should be vacated right away.
“In light of this, I hereby call upon the MTA to immediately remove the current master tenant,” Koslowitz said, “and issue an RFP for a new one.”
In response to complaints, MTA spokesman Salvatore Arena said the LIRR has conducted a detailed assessment of the property’s physical characteristics and will work with all parties on making the proper fixes.
“With the results in hand, we’re now working with all parties, including Zee N Kay Management, subtenants and the MTA’s systemwide property management company, to ensure that all parties adhere to the responsibilities they agreed to in signing lease and sublease agreement,” Arena said in a statement.
“We will ensure that electrical, plumbing, architectural and structural issues that have been identified will be attended to in a short time,” he added.