There’s a battle brewing in Bed-Stuy: on one side, a property management company attempting to raise tenants’ rent by as much as 56 percent; on the other, a folk hero, a leader of men hoping to rally his neighbors to take a stand against their landlord. His name is General Shithawk. He stands for truth and he isn’t going anywhere.
About a week ago, the tenants of a loft building at 885 Park Avenue began seeing cryptic fliers posted in the halls and lobby of their building. There were long, winding letters assuring them that the recently-announced rent hike was on legally shaky grounds, and images of a Civil War-era general emblazoned with the name Shithawk.
“Have no fear private shithawk, the law is on your side,” read one of the letters in part. “The management company is hoping against hope that you don’t realize that. I am here to tell you the truth. I am your connection to reality, open up the doors of perception!”
For some residents it was a message of hope in a dark, trying time. “Hearing that the rent is being raised does make me feel like we need to move,” said Ian Bell, a tenant of the building. “We got our term extended until the end of March, so we have until then. We were going to try to find a place before then, just to avoid all this nonsense, but then General Shithawk came along.
“We thought we had no legs, legally speaking, but this makes me reconsider.”
For Shithawk, our story begins in 2011, when he began suing the management company for attempting to raise the rent on what he and his lawyer believe should be a rent-stabilized building. Since then, he’s been embroiled in a legal battle with two different companies–the property recently changed hands–and maintains that the current round of hikes is in fact illegal.
“It seems like all buildings built before 1974 in New York City that are over six units need to have a reason why they’re not rent stabilized,” he told ANIMAL in a phone interview. “They have to have gone through some substantial rehabilitation. The building is trying to claim they did those renovations already, but I believe they have not done them yet. I believe they are kicking everyone out to do the renovations.”
As long as tenants stay in their apartments, the landlords can’t make the necessary improvements deregulate the building, Shithawk says. So the owners are attempting to raise the rent in order to get residents to clear out, then making renovations, rendering the apartments legally un-rent stabilized.
Representatives at Silverstone Property Group, the current owners of the building, have not responded to our request for comment at the time of this writing.
For Shithawk, the battle is as pragmatic as it is philosophical. He believes the only way his neighbors can secure their apartments is by lawyering up and fighting the landlord, and he fears a future in which he is the last man standing, all of the other tenants forced out. But he also sees himself in poetic, symbolic terms.
For one thing, he’s recorded a “Shithawkian fight song,” with rousing lyrics telling of glory, loaded muskets and blaring trumpets, and he’s holding a “Shit Soiree” benefit show at Bed-Stuy’s Xpo 929 performance space March 1st. His communiqués are peppered with fiery rhetoric (“get the fuck out or suck our puny management genitalia” goes a typical reference to the landlords), and he describes himself in the terms that hew closer to performance art than community organizing.
“The concept of being a Shithawk is very post-everything,” he says. “In the era of Seinfeld, and Friends, and Always Sunny, and stuff–Shithawk is one step past that. It’s the new thing. It’s a new concept. Nobody thinks about it, but it’s a really great thing.”
Ian Bell says he’s unsure whether he and his roommates will be able to take legal action–the cost of a lawyer may outweigh the benefits of staying in the building–but he should take comfort in the fact that either way, the Shithawk is out there in the night somewhere, fighting the good fight for all of us.
“What’s more scary to people that a guy running at them who’s covered in shit?” General Shithawk asked rhetorically near the end of our conversation, referencing the notorious late punk rocker GG Allin. “And that’s how I like to think of myself in this situation. Basically, I’m that guy who’s going to totally fuck with these landlords and their stupid plan.”
(Photo: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)