top tips

New Yorkers Shared News Tips With Us. Here’s How We Responded

We learned about the SUV Brooklyn Community Board 1 bought with public funds via a tip.
We learned about the SUV Brooklyn Community Board 1 bought with public funds via a tip. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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It’s THE CITY’s mission to listen to New Yorkers. And in our inaugural year, you told us some strange, infuriating, fascinating and heartbreaking stories.

We heard from a family who couldn’t get their belongings from a self-storage facility. A student at a language school that abruptly shuttered. A homeless man whose struggle underscored problems with how the city tracks people moving in and out of shelters.

That’s far from an exhaustive list of all the incredible tips we get — there are too many to share. But here are some stories developed from readers who helped shed some light on a slice of the city.

We can’t chase down tips, of course, unless you share them in the first place. You can always contact us by emailing tips@thecity.nyc or reaching out to us at 718-866-8674, via WhatsApp, Signal, texting or calling. You can also contact reporters individually here. And if you’d like to mail us something the old fashioned way, find our address here.

The Bridge

The absence of a suicide-prevention phone on the Queens span of the RFK Bridge, despite a sign advertising one, had baffled payphone enthusiast Mark Thomas for some time.

In July, he sent us a note about it.

Hours after we published our story, highlighting the missing lifeline, Thomas sent in another tip: a phone was being installed.

Harold’s Dog Oscar

In May, a grieving pet owner reached out after reading our coverage spotlighting what critics call the lax oversight of veterinarians.

Harold Lehr shared his “absolute horror story” about his dog Oscar’s death after an allegedly botched MRI.

We detailed Oscar’s odyssey and noted how New York is one of only 13 states that categorize pets as property (as opposed to sentient beings).

 Oscar died after an allegedly botched MRI.
Oscar died after an allegedly botched MRI. Photo: Courtesy of Harold Lehr

Karim’s Voucher

Karim Walker sent us a brief email in October explaining a recent Housing Court dispute he’d been in with his former landlord. But it wasn’t until a week later that he revealed he’d been sleeping in the subways for months, just two years after leaving the shelter system for subsidized private housing.

His story revealed gaps in how the city measures success for those trying to leave homelessness behind. Walker is still on the street, but he hopes not for long: He got his housing eligibility back and is looking for places to live in East New York, his old neighborhood.

Walker told THE CITY he’d reached out to about a dozen other outlets over several weeks before contacting us. “You were the first one who responded,” he said.

A Closed School

On the day THECITY.nyc website officially launched, we got an email tip from a distraught student: The Midtown language school she attended was abruptly closing, leaving its visa-dependent foreign pupils stranded.

We responded right away, documenting a chaotic scene at the American Language Communication Center, or ALCC.

The school’s owners had disappeared, taking tuition payments from students, cutting off paychecks and health insurance from staff, and leaving a credit card servicer holding the bag for more than $100,000 in charges.

Angry students crowd the ALCC offices in Midtown on Wednesday, April 3.
Angry students crowd the ALCC offices in Midtown on Wednesday, April 3. Photo: Rachel Holliday Smith/THE CITY

Rent Overcharges

The sweeping overhaul to New York’s rent laws spelled out a host of new responsibilities for the already overwhelmed Division of Housing and Community Renewal, the state agency charged with overseeing rent-regulated apartments.

Even before the reforms were enacted, the agency was drowning in more rent-overcharge complaints from tenants than it could quickly handle, dragging the cases out for years.

We asked tenants if they’d ever filed an overcharge complaint and, if so, how long they waited. Harlem resident Andrew Gerst told us that he and his wife filed an overcharge complaint in late 2017 and even hired a contractor to check his landlord’s claim that a renovation merited in a rent hike.

Another upper Manhattan tenant, who is a housing attorney, also reached out to explain that she hired a contractor to appraise her apartment. The landlord claims to have made $36,000 in upgrades, the basis of a roughly $1,000-a-month rent hike.

And if you’ve ever filed a rent complaint, we still want to talk to you.

A Locked Park

We got a tip over the summer about an odd situation in Harlem where locals need a key to get into a gated green space that was supposed to be an open park for the neighborhood.

An affordable housing deal back in the mid-2000s specified the mid-block lot should be open to the community.

But to this day, the space is shuttered to everyone except a handful of people with keys — a Gramercy Park-like situation in Upper Manhattan.

The locked green space on West 148th Street.
The locked green space on West 148th Street. Photo: Rachel Holliday Smith/THE CITY

Shuttered Storage

Back in June, Antonio Robinson, a reader from Washington Heights, contacted us about his difficulty accessing items his family paid to store at Tuck-It-Away Storage in Mott Haven.

The Bronx storage site closed after an April 2017 fire. The company later ceased operations at all its sites — ostensibly unrelated to the fire — so calls and emails from customers went unanswered.

“The building is boarded up and no one knows if there is structural damage,” he told us in his email. “My family lost everything we were on the first floor where the fire occurred we had extensive water damage.”

Even the city Department of Buildings, when contacted by THE CITY, had trouble reaching Tuck-It-Away’s management.

Since the fire, the storage building has been under a “full vacate” order, racking up numerous violations and thousands of dollars in unpaid fines, records show. Without fixing these structural issues, including several collapsed floors inside, no one can enter, a spokesperson for the DOB said.

The Car

A concerned Brooklyn resident came to us looking for information on why his community board spent $26,000 in taxpayer funds on an SUV, which he’d learned about via a tweet.

No one was more surprised about the expenditure than some board members at Williamsburg and Greenpoint’s Community Board 1, as we later discovered. As a result of our reporting, the Mayor Bill de Blasio called for an investigation into the purchase, and the City Council tightened the rules for community board spending.

Brooklyn’s CB 1 has their own parking space for the controversial SUV.
Brooklyn’s CB 1 has their own parking space for the controversial SUV. Photo: Claudia Irizarry Aponte/THE CITY

Meanwhile, CB1 District Manager Gerarld Esposito — who complained of getting “calls from random people asking me to use the car” after our stories — defended the purchase, saying, “I’m not going to parties.”

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