By Sabina Mollot
In recent months, volunteers from the Tenants Association conducted detailed surveys of each and every building in Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, mainly to check on things like building maintenance and cleanliness. What they also found however were fire code violations in nearly every building — specifically, in all but four buildings, fire doors in stairwells were found not to close properly. According to current city fire code, those doors are supposed to be self-closing, but as John Marsh, president of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, noted this week, “They’ve been that way for as long as I can remember.”
The TA said it has already alerted the FDNY to the issue, even providing the city with a detailed spreadsheet of problem areas. As a result, there was an inspection conducted and CWCapital was hit with eight violations. CW could face $1,000 per violation that the city recorded unless the doors are fixed in 35 days time.
However, newly appointed ST/PCV General Manager Sean Sullivan is very committed to correcting the problem, Marsh said. Members of the Tenants Association’s board, including Marsh, met with management last week to discuss the fire code issue as well as others of concern to residents, TA Chair Susan Steinberg said. Among those issues were student housing and the current scam being pulled by some residents to rent out their apartments as hotels, using websites like Airbnb to advertise.
As for the doors, Marsh said he first became aware that there could be a problem years ago when he was in his apartment and heard a door slam loudly. He went outside expecting to have to give a lecture about not slamming doors to a new neighbor when he saw a security officer in the stairwell instead. After Marsh asked the man why he slammed the door, the officer explained that it was his job to close all the doors. Apparently, this was done on a routine basis by officers who would go from building to building, take the elevator to the top floor, and head down, shutting the doors behind them on the way, then do the same in the other stairwell. But recently, Marsh said he’d noticed the “vertical patrols” weren’t being done anymore.
When volunteers checked out the buildings recently, what they found was that out of 2,900 doors throughout the property, 587 doors (20 percent) of 106 of ST/PCV’s 110 buildings (96 percent) did not properly self-close and latch.
In an official statement, the TA said it was told by a fire inspector, during a recent visit, that the failure of the doors to close on their own was “extremely dangerous, because it could stop the spread of a fire — and especially smoke — to other areas of the structure.” The inspector also placed the situation into “the immediately hazardous category.”
Additionally, Marsh recalled how in a major Stuy Town fire that occurred around a decade ago, which destroyed the old Elm Drug store, part of the problem was that the doors in the stairwells were open, allowing the smoke to travel further through the building.
“Some got through the hallways and a few seniors got really sick,” he said.
Following the recent inspection, Marsh said that he thought buildings should regularly be checked out by management, and that the vertical patrols return.
“This type of safety situation should not be left to the tenants to conduct,” Marsh said. “Management must recognize its obligation to regularly inspect the doors to ensure they are operating properly. Failure to maintain fire doors throughout the community is a situation that presents a very real danger to the lives and safety of the residents of our community.”
Meanwhile, along with the fire safety issue, the TA also said it found, during the building surveys, “substantial” evidence of stairways being used as toilets by dogs and humans. There were also a number of empty bottles of booze, and evidence of smoking, including pot smoking. The TA also found cases of standpipes that were locked and chained and what appeared to be non-fire code-compliant window panes, such as plastic, in the fire doors themselves.
A spokesperson for CWCapital did not respond to a request for comment.