• Ruth Walker

Barry Haviv, beloved Hell's Kitchen landlord, dies of coronavirus

Baruch (Barry) Haviv, opera fan, pilot, and landlord, died of coronavirus last month

The phone rang in David Serchuk’s kitchen. At 27 years old, he was still living in his mom’s house in Closter, NJ, after trying for months to get an apartment – any apartment – in New York.

He picked up – on the other end of the line was Mrs Haviv, mother of his friend Elana. “There’s an apartment available in one of our buildings,” she said. “Do you want it?”

He didn’t have a chance to get over to the city to see it, so hesitated, but she urged him to take it. “This’ll be gone if you don’t.”

"Mr Haviv was unlike any other landlord I ever had or would have ... He truly treated his tenants like family, the good kind of family."

He swallowed and took the plunge. “So began my four-year stint as a renter for Mr Barry Haviv, owner of 431 W45th St, in NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen. I moved in May 2000, and lived in apartment 5C. My rent – I hope I’m not talking out of school here – was $700 a month. By the time I left four years later, it had gone all the way up to $760. A deal out of all deals.

“Mr Haviv was unlike any other landlord I ever had or would have,” he says. “Always around, always ready to chat, and share his wisdom. He truly treated his tenants like family, the good kind of family. If I ever, ever had any problems he would either fix it on his own – and he was already in his 60s – or have the super Louie do it. I never had to wait more than a few days.”

Baruch (Barry) Haviv passed away on May 24 from COVID-19. New York City landlords have rarely been considered exemplary citizens, but his tenants say Barry was an example of how to do it right.

Mr Haviv took his crew to the opera

Born in 1937, he arrived in the US in the early 1960s. With barely any money, he supported himself by painting apartments and buildings in Harlem and, after obtaining a GED, studied at Colombia, majoring in mathematics. A former Israeli Air Force pilot, he taught flying lessons at Teterboro Airport, and went on to become a commercial pilot for American Airlines, rising to the title of International Captain. A lifelong lover of opera, wherever he was in the word, whenever possible, he would treat the crew to a night at the opera.

Looking for a building to buy and run as a landlord, in 1979 he took a chance on Hell’s Kitchen, at the time a neighborhood that was still notorious for its gangs and criminal activity. But Barry liked it; it was within walking distance of his beloved Lincoln Center, where he would go to the opera at every available opportunity. It was worth the risk.

He bought a rent-stabilized building on W45th St, and worked towards creating a safe and affordable community for artists. Legend goes that he paid the resident drug dealers and pimps in the building a visit and, while the finer points are lost to history, he made it worth their while to go elsewhere.

He personally renovated each apartments (he had no money to spare for contractors) and went on to buy two more buildings on the block. Even at the age of 75, he could often be found up a ladder or under a sink, fixing something.

He made regular special appearances on film sets, most recently driving his red 1964 Falcon on the set of HBO’s The Deuce. But his legacy is in the lasting relationships he forged with his tenants.

With the super, Louie, outside 431 W45th St in the 1980s

“He was a most extraordinary man,” says David Serchuk. “I cherish the memories of times spent simply talking on the street or in the building. I developed a tremendous respect for this self-made person who had the foresight to invest in Hell’s Kitchen when its so-called turnaround was anything but assured. I once asked him about whether he was ever worried, back when the neighborhood was a bit more on the dangerous side, about walking down the street. He looked at me like he didn’t quite understand what I meant. ‘I walk down the street, and never bother anyone, so no one bothers me,’ he said.  

"When I moved out, he not only gave me my full deposit back, but with interest too.” 

“I thought him kind and caring. He treated his renters like people who deserved to live with dignity and respect. He was easy to love and consider a friend. And how many people could ever say that about their landlord?

“He was also a mensch. When I moved out, he not only gave me my full deposit back, but with interest too.” 

Rebecca Losick was a tenant for 16 years. A documentary film producer, she says: “He was a true gentleman who always had a sparkle. He also had a humility about him, which is hard to believe because he lived such an interesting and adventurous life.

"Getting a rent stabilized apartment in New York City is like winning the lottery, but having Barry as your landlord is an even greater miracle."

“The landlords I had when I was growing up in the West Village in the 70s and 80s were notorious for doing terrible things so that tenants would move out and they could raise the rent. This was the first apartment I had as an adult (my studio was $500 a month in 1994) and I was braced for the worst. But Barry was an entirely different type of landlord. He was so caring, attentive, and generous. It's completely unheard of in NYC. Getting a rent stabilized apartment in New York City is like winning the lottery, but having Barry as your landlord is an even greater miracle. 

“If I ever had a problem of any kind, Barry would have it fixed within hours of my phone call, every time. And he actually didn't charge me the full rent, even though it was rent stabilized. He was charging me about $20 less per month on my already reduced rent. He did this for many other tenants too.

“Landlords like Barry sound like a fairytale, but I hope he is an inspiration to all of us that kindness and humanity are always an option, no matter what.”

“I was living at 427 W45th St when Barry bought the building,” says Jimmy Godsey. “When he came, the changes began immediately – renovations across the board and (gulp) actual responses to requests for repairs, even from those of us in the old-style units. 

“As fellow Hell’s Kitchen neighbors voiced their legitimate complaints about their landlords, I would tell them that I had a good one – and as time went on, when I mentioned his name, they would nod their heads in recognition of his reputation.  We were lucky to have him in this neighborhood and he will be missed."

"He told me he didn't need to run a credit check or take more than one month's security deposit because I was a friend of his daughter and I was pursuing a life in the arts."

“Barry was nothing less than a gem,” says Danielle Di Vecchio, an actress and entrepreneur.

“When I first met Barry, he was renovating the apartment that I would eventually live in for the next 18 years,” she says. “When I went to sign my lease a couple of weeks later, he told me he didn't need to run a credit check or take more than one month's security deposit because I was a friend of his daughter and I was pursuing a life in the arts. 

"Without that apartment, I would not have been able to afford to lead the life I did. It was a respite and a haven for my many actor friends, stopping by between auditions or readings or taking a nap in between Broadway shows.”

Barry was kind, generous, and compassionate, she says; a man interested in his tenants’ lives and always a phone call away. “He was my NYC ‘dad’ even though my real dad lived only an hour away in CT.”

"I was 27 years old, living at 431 W45th St for 10 years, and then another two years at 427 W45th St," says Anthony Grasso. "Both buildings had many actors and performers, and Barry was like a father to us all. My father passed away shortly after I moved into 431, back in ‘92, and Barry always looked out for me.

"I suffered an accident on stage and couldn’t work for three months. I was unable to pay rent, but Barry allowed me to catch up when I returned to work.

"He took a chance on me. And I respected him more than anything. I always thought my dad after he was gone would be at peace knowing there was Barry looking out for me."  

Baruch had recently taken up the piano and, when COVID-19 struck, he had been preparing for a June recital. During his final moments, his four children, three of them in person and one via Zoom, sang along with one of his favorite songs, ‘Too Darn Hot’ from Kiss Me Kate.

“New York City has always been known for its characters,” says his daughter Talia, “its ‘personalities’: the unique, sometimes eccentric, always vivid, who leave, whether for good or not so good, indelible impressions. Barry Haviv was most certainly one of these. But, coupled with his genuine empathy and countless acts of generosity to generations of New Yorkers, the pleasure he took in taking a troubled area and turning it into a thriving microcosm of art and life and joy, he was far beyond colorful. He was extraordinary."

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