Anwar Faisal: Lord of the Sties
Faisal has built an empire renting to the city’s college students, but he hasn’t been so good at making sure his apartments are actually habitable.
The tenants were stunned, and unlike Faisal’s typical student renters, they tried to fight back. With the help of the social-justice group City Life/Vida Urbana, they created an organization called Malden/Medford Tenants United to fight the drastic rent hike. They appealed to the mayor’s office and the media. The Globe reported the MMTU’s allegations that Faisal played hardball, including that he had “changed locks without residents’ permission, allowed rental agents to come and go freely in people’s apartments, and used a parking sticker requirement to leverage residents into signing paperwork.” Faisal says that, after meeting with tenants and the mayor’s office, he reduced the amount of the rate hikes. But in the end, the old tenants were shoved aside. Now, with the rents raised, nearly all the original occupants are gone. College kids quickly moved in to fill the void.
Faisal’s lawyer, Joshua Krefetz, says that his client “was only doing what was his right.” According to Krefetz, a big part of the city’s attempts to keep tenants in their homes “was trying to embarrass [Faisal] in public, and it just doesn’t bother him.” He added, “He’s kind of a man unto himself. Some people might be bothered by people marching outside his office, by name-calling this and that. I think he just takes it as part of the game.”
In my dealings with Faisal, he consistently deflected any suggestion that what he was doing, as a landlord, was in any way wrong. He told me that on a scale of one to 10, he rates his management at an eight or nine. He blamed the litany of complaints on his tenants, who he said were just trying to break their leases. Whereas many building owners would be mortified by an ISD complaint, by repeated appearances in housing court, or by cases brought to the attorney general, Faisal considers these the burdens he must pay for his success. When we talked about these conflicts, he said, “I always have the guts for anything. I always think that it couldn’t be worse than being in a refugee camp.” I asked him once about the many rodents that had been found in his rentals, and why he didn’t do a better job of eliminating them. “Which apartment does not have a mice?” he said. “You have a rat everywhere in the city.”
When I repeated that line to Timberlake, she said, “I don’t care where you live in the city of Boston, that’s not normal. That’s not normal living anywhere. We’re not accepting that as an excuse from any landlord in the city of Boston.”
He may be ruthless with his tenants, but in person, Faisal does have a certain charm. “For someone like me—I’m a younger entrepreneur—he’s not reticent to give advice,” Krefetz, his attorney, said. “He would like to see everyone be a success.” There’s something about Faisal’s unkempt appearance, his backstory, and his openness that can make him endearing, at least in small doses. In the course of my reporting he submitted to every interview I requested, and one afternoon in mid-September he even offered to show me any of his apartments in the neighborhood. I think he wanted to prove to me that all of these complaints I’d been reading were blown out of proportion, taken out of context.
I randomly selected an upper-floor unit at 309–315 Huntington Avenue, directly across from Northeastern University. Faisal knocked on a few doors and finally one opened. Living there were two undergraduates in their late teens. Faisal told them that he was there from maintenance and asked if they had a refrigerator leak. We must’ve seemed a strange pair; we certainly didn’t look like maintenance men. At first the girls were a bit skeptical, clearly concerned for their personal safety. They said they didn’t have a leak. When I asked if they had any maintenance issue whatsoever, they showed us an active leak in the bathroom ceiling—the tiles were soaked and sagging.
Amazingly, Faisal didn’t call his maintenance crew. He didn’t demand an investigation. He didn’t even look alarmed. Instead, he informed his tenants that someone must have taken a shower upstairs and forgotten to make sure the shower curtain was drawn. His denial was so preposterous that we all just stood there awkwardly. Eventually, Faisal walked out of the unit, victorious: An embattled landlord had won yet another round against his needy tenants.
Later, when asked about the ceiling, Faisal said it was fixed the day after our visit: He had sent over a second shower curtain to the tenant upstairs and instructed him to close it completely. Problem solved.
Need more evidence? Read these customer-service calls to Boston’s Inspectional Services Department.