New York City’s most prestigious apartment buildings sometimes hold dirty little secrets. Literally.
Take what happened at a pad in a tony Emery Roth-designed Park Avenue building last summer. The pad was so full of belongings — about 10,000 books, 300 framed photos, plus old computers and filing cabinets — that the owner tripped on the accumulated mess and died right there among the junk.
Afterward, Raul Toscano’s team was called to clean up — quietly, so as to maintain appearances.
“The person [may have] a good name and they don’t want it thrown out there,” said Toscano, 45, who owns the Queens-based Hoarding Cleaning Specialists and regularly works in high-end buildings around the city. “And a lot of times, [the buildings] don’t want the neighbors freaking out. [It’s bad if] you pay top dollar for a nice apartment, and you’re living next to someone, and you can smell the person’s apartment and you’re wondering where the roaches are coming from.”
Recently, Toscano was hired to help a 90-year-old resident who had books, papers, boxes, clothing and jewelry piled high in her three-bedroom apartment at a luxury Central Park West address.
“It was just clutter everywhere,” said Toscano, whose company is an offshoot of Clutter Free Junk Removal Service and Cleanup Pros.
All told, there was some 18 tons of junk in the pricey apartment.
Toscano said his company deals with situations like this “once, sometimes twice a week.”
The tricky part is that luxury-building management often insists “we’ve got to be discreet,” he added, in an effort not to alarm neighbors.
That means keeping logos on uniforms hidden and obscuring just what it is they’re disposing of.
“We have bins, so people can’t really see what’s coming out, and they’re covered,” said Toscano. “What we try to do is prep everything and get it out [quickly].”
Sometimes that’s nearly impossible. Like the job a year-and-a-half ago at a Central Park South building that stands in the shadows of Billionaires’ Row. Toscano’s team had to rip out the floors of a unit because the tenant’s mess — including multiple piles of paper standing several feet high — also had a bedbug infestation. In one high-end building, there was a woman whose hoarding situation included a husky left dead in its cage for eight months; at another, a man preferred to defecate in the bathtub.
“We see it all,” said Toscano.
A 2019 cleanup on the Upper West Side meant throwing out bottles full of urine and oodles of sex toys. That assignment ran around $18,000. Toscano, who charges by the job, said his priciest tab was $40,000 for a house in New Jersey; his team removed about 16 tons of trash and repainted the whole place.
Hoarding disorders, which affect between 2 and 6 percent of American adults, know no economic boundaries.
“Oftentimes when you have luxury hoarding . . . people might convince themselves it’s not hoarding,” said Dena Rabinowitz, Ph.D., clinical director of Cognitive Behavioral Psychology of NY. “‘If I’m hoarding 500 Prada bags, well, doesn’t that feel like a collection?’”
For Toscano, the one thing that stands out among classes is that, once a high-end unit’s massive mess is being cleaned out, he “can see the beauty of the apartment.”
Typically, Toscano added, his company receives calls from concerned relatives. The jobs are rarely complete throwaways, though, and the team saves items as instructed.
Toscano started the company, which is one of a few doing this locally, in 2013 after helping clean up houses hit by Hurricane Sandy.
“They were just very straightforward [and] did the job,” said one city resident who called the service to help out a friend on the Upper East Side in the fall. “They just go in and they have a whole routine, like six of them, and they take each room, tear it apart and clean it.”
For Toscano, it’s bigger than just a cleaning job. “I love helping people,” he said, adding that he asks customers to leave while cleaning. “When they come back they’re like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe this is my home.’ ”