Rodent infestations, piles of refuse, and tall weeds: These are the unresolved complaints sent to the city in 2020 by neighbors of a building that went up in flames seven weeks ago.
On May 30, a four-alarm fire broke out at 234 Montgomery St., a building that had long been vacant, according to records obtained by the Jersey City Times. Neighbors noticed the fire starting from a pile of tree branches they say had been stacked against the building.
“It was an accident waiting to happen,” one tenant at 232 Montgomery Street said. The owner, they said, “didn’t bother to keep it in a safe condition for the neighbors.”
The fire spread to 236 Montgomery St. All four residents were displaced indefinitely due to the extensive damage to the building.
In 2020, a city inspector issued two summonses against the building, one for “improper storage of refuse” and another for “creating a public nuisance.”
A neighbor told JCT that rodents from the building that were there due to a “mess in the backyard with debris and high weeds” had infiltrated her home.
The site had been “under construction” according to city officials, but a neighbor said “there hasn’t been a lick of construction” there.
A sign that has hung for years on the side of 234 Montgomery proclaims “Another Fine Job Done by Bees Construction.” However, a visit to Bees’s website reveals that the URL is for sale.
Jersey City law deems properties left “vacant or boarded” for more than six months “a fire hazard and unsafe.” Yet, it appears, nothing was done to mitigate the risk. The Jersey City Municipal Prosecutor, Jake Hudnut, who oversees the Office of Code Compliance, is responsible for enforcing the city’s codes, but some tenants who file complaints with the city (often using SeeClickFix) say little action is taken.
“It needed to be renovated, but it had been sitting there vacant for probably around five years,” Doug Hinrichs, a neighbor, said. Other neighbors said the building appeared dilapidated with a gaping hole in the roof.
Official records indicate that 234 Montgomery Street is owned by 234 Realty, LLC. The summonses issued against the building were addressed to 234 Realty “c/o Muhammad Shahid,” a well-known property owner Downtown. Shahid, who operates a small real estate empire out of 250 Newark Avenue, apparently bought the building through 234 Realty in 2018 for $1.25 million. JCT was able to connect Shahid to at least 14 buildings in Jersey City. Shahid also operates a real estate management company, Data Realty LLC, out of the location.
Shahid’s reputation for leaving problems unaddressed extends beyond 234 Montgomery Street. Tanya Tripi-Weiss, who rented an apartment for eight years from Shahid at 153 Columbus Dr., reported having made numerous complaints “for egregious issues like fire code, illegal construction, infestations, building code.”
On several occasions her apartment lost heat and hot water for weeks at a time, she said. Inspectors made visits to the unit and gave the property manager “almost half a year to fix it,” but the repairs were never made, she added. She also noted that city fire officials made several visits to survey reports of gas leaks.
She said that most of her complaints were later dismissed by the municipal court. Tripi-Weiss laid the blame for inaction at the feet of Hudnut’s office, which, she claimed, “drops fines” against landlords who violate the city’s laws.
“Nobody will give me any answers. I keep calling and I’m like, ‘why are all these cases being disposed?’”
Tripi-Weiss claimed that a city inspector told her that a number of tenants have made similar complaints against Shahid with no action taken.
In June, JCT mades requests for copies of building and code violations on 153 Christopher Columbus Drive. JCT has received two emails from the Jersey City clerk saying “Please note that the city is conducting its search and two additional weeks are needed for processing your request.”
JCT retrieved records for 14 properties connected to Shahid. All properties had violations such as illegal dumping, unsafe structure, failure to remove weeds, and early recycling. Other properties, like 27 Gray Street, had reports of mold; Shahid was given a summons citing “failure to maintain property.”
A restaurant at 289 Grove St., another property connected to Shahid, was cited for violating twelve fire codes.
The city inspected 217 Pavonia Ave., another property connected to Shahid, in October 2021 and issued two summonses, one for “Failure to maintain property. Refuse and debris accumulating on property” and the other for “Failure to maintain property. High weeds on property.”
Data Realty and Shahid have received several negative reviews on Porch.com.
JCT emailed Shahid and Jersey City spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione for comment. Neither responded.
Two days after the fire, inspectors issued a “notice of unsafe structure” to 234 Realty. The notice ordered the company to correct conditions by June 30.
On Monday night, 234 Realty LLC and the owners of 236 Montgomery Street applied to the Jersey City Historic Preservation Commission for permits to demolish the buildings due to fire damage. Architect Diane Kaese, who testified for the commission as an expert witness, called 234 Montgomery St., which was built with rare “post and beam” construction, “a jewel.” The commission denied both applications.