Officials said the property manager and chair of the condo board, Neal Milano, is behind the controversial decorations. They also accused him of “terrorizing the people of the building” with threats of fines, retaliation and harassment.
“It is an absolute disgrace that there are Sunnysiders who are living in fear, literally held hostages in their own homes,” said Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer. “We have to end the terror campaign that’s happening here.”
On Tuesday, city agencies hosted a “Day of Action” to inform Sunnyside residents about their rights. The New York City Human Rights Commission then announced that they are launching an investigation into tenant harassment and discrimination in the condo lobby.
“We’re looking into the hostile environment created by alleged threatening behavior connected to the Nazi imagery, swastikas and other hate symbols,” said Hollis Pfitsch, deputy commissioner of the law enforcement bureau.
“Tenants in New York City have the right to feel safe, secure and live free from discrimination and harassment in their own homes,” added Franck Joseph, managing director at the Human Rights Commission.
Van Bramer said Milano, who is currently out of the country, should be returning to his home within the week, putting all residents and law enforcement “on high alert.”
“The whole world is watching,” he said.
In front of the building at 47-55 39th Place are two Uncle Sams, hovering and wagging a finger at those who enter through the front doors. Inside, the lobby contains pictures of the countries and leaders in World War II, including Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Images of guns and NRA stickers appear throughout the lobby, including a giant “We the People” poster hanging above the elevator with a gun. Murals paying tribute to World War II and September 11th adorn the walls.
The mish-mash also contains Jim Crow-era caricatures of African Americans, a quote from and poster of Martin Luther King, Jr., a swastika and tributes to President Donald Trump.
The building directory features a list of hip-hop artists and celebrities, including Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur in one apartment, Suge Knight and Snoop Dogg in another, LL Cool J, whose name appears twice, Pitbull and R. Kelly. It also contains the name of former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who does not live in Sunnyside.
But the directory also contains the names of Rudolf Hess and Josef Mengele,two notorious high-level Nazis who committed war crimes.
“That is not a joke, that is not funny, that is awful,” Van Bramer said. “That is a symbol to every single person walking into this building that this is a place to fear.”
“If you live in this building and you see those names in the front of the directory, what are you supposed to think?” he added.
Milano's, his attorney, Jacob Laufer, told media outlets that the images are patriotic and historical. He also said members of the condo board approved the murals, and residents who want them down can run for the board.
In response to Laufer’s comments, Van Bramer said the images are not a history lesson, but rather “a lesson in violence, harassment and intimidation.”
“You can talk about World War II without having a giant swastika on top of somebody’s apartment,” he said. “You can talk about World War II without having an image of Hitler giving the Nazi salute.
“When the lawyer for this man says it’s just a matter of personal taste and a history lesson, it is so not that,” he added. “It is so dangerous and wrong. We have people who are terrorized in Sunnyside.”
Evan Bernstein, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, called the images divisive, offensive and hateful.
“No one should have to walk though their own lobby adorning swastikas and portraits of Adolf Hitler,” he said. “Our communities, homes and neighborhoods should be inclusive and welcoming places, not decorated with instantly recognizable symbols of racism and hatred.”
Michael Nussbaum, president of the Queens Jewish Community Council, tied Milano’s actions to a “growing sense of emboldenment for people who spew hate” throughout the country.
“What Milano is really doing to people in this building is a form of terrorism,” he said.
In addition to the intimidating images in the lobby, the property manager has also threatened to charge residents for hosting guests in their apartments and placing garbage in the wrong bins.
In a building notice dated January 2, the board of managers accused some residents of having “animalistic behavior regarding the disposal of garbage.” They warned that video surveillance will be monitored daily and those in violation would be fined $1,000.
The councilman said he heard from residents that Milano told them he has guns in his apartment. When combined with the posters of guns throughout the lobby, Van Bramer said, residents feel a sense of terror.
When residents complain or file reports of harassment, Milano retaliates by plastering their doors with Donald Trump stickers, Van Bramer said. Two apartments on the first floor were filled with those stickers.
In one instance, Van Bramer said a couple’s lease wasn’t renewed after they spoke about against Milano.
“It is a house of horror, a nightmare for people living in this building,” he said. “It has to end.”
Lynn Calvacca, the owner of two units in the Sunnyside building, said she and her husband are suing Milano and the condo board. She ran for the condo board in 2014, but did not prevail.
Though she doesn’t live in the building, Calvacca said she’s heard from many residents that he intimidates them and “makes people fearful.”
“I don’t live here, I can’t really feel it,” she said. “He’s a bully, everybody is so afraid.”
Van Bramer said he sent a letter to and has been in touch with the mayor’s office. He called on law enforcement to take action to protect the building residents.
“The NYPD needs to have a full and comprehensive investigation into all of the acts of violence that have been threatened against the residents here,” he said. “All of the acts of retaliation.”
He also called on Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to get involved because he has specific powers over condos.
State Senator Michael Gianaris, who called the building lobby “bizarre,” also echoed the call for law enforcement agencies to be involved.
“What’s going on in this building must end,” he said.