By Sabina Mollot
What do you do when your upstairs neighbors are up all night, every night, making noise, sometimes by playing basketball on bare floors and other times by engaging in screaming matches, which are made worse by the fact that there are a total of 15 people living in the apartment? The answer is, unfortunately, not much, beyond wait for the wheels of justice to turn in housing court and for the offending party to get evicted.
For one family in Peter Cooper Village, the wait to lose their nightmarish neighbors took close to a year. It was last Tuesday when a city marshal finally visited the family’s neighbors’ apartment, but by then the residents, who were in arrears with their rent, had already skipped. A spokesperson for CWCapital declined to comment on the situation, citing litigation.
However, the downstairs neighbor, a resident of 350 First Avenue, spoke to Town & Village about her family’s ordeal on the condition of anonymity, out of fear of retaliation from her former neighbors.
They had after all, upon leaving, intentionally flooded their apartment by letting the bathtub run over, and, in order to ensure they’d inflicted the most damage possible, poured coffee grounds all over the floor.
Naturally this caused water damage and staining in the apartment below, and the downstairs resident gave the interview while staying at a hotel with her family. (However, she noted that the hotel stay wasn’t due to the flooding, but because she didn’t want to be around on the day of the marshal’s visit.) A spokesperson for the marshal’s office didn’t have details of the job available when T&V called for comment, but she did confirm the apartment had been left a mess with “garbage basically” everywhere.
According to their neighbor, other damage to the apartment included doors off of their hinges, walls that were covered in graffiti and floors covered in dog and cat feces.
The resident described her upstairs neighbors as a very large family whose members are believed to have used false identities in order to obtain a lease. From what she heard, other than the first month’s rent and a security deposit, the tenants paid no rent. “They completely stopped paying — they knew how the system worked so they played it out,” she said.
She believes around 15 people were living in the apartment, including a baby and two other older children and there was also a dog. The tenants also apparently had a kitten; it was later discovered locked in a closet without food or water.
Stuyvesant Town resident Marilyn Pascarelli, an animal rescuer with City Critters, has since placed the kitten, which she said was in good health, in a new home. She believes the animal is about eight months old, and despite being abandoned, is “a very nice cat. She’s very sweet and friendly.” As for her old owners, Pascarelli had suggested that management report them to the authorities. She then learned that the landlord had been unable to reach them; their cell phone numbers had been disconnected.
But long before the tenants left – apparently deciding to keep the dog — they were making the resident downstairs and her family miserable. Mostly this was due to nighttime noise, which began as soon as they moved in last July. The resident said that approximately six nights out of seven, she’d be woken up because of it. “I have a newborn and it wasn’t my newborn waking me up; they were,” she said.
Sometimes the disturbances would be parties that would begin at around 6 p.m. and last until dawn. Or, “it was dragging around furniture, stomping in high heels, playing basketball at 10 p.m., 2 a.m., 4 a.m. They’d drop things, and they never got carpets.” Then there were the fights. “We heard everything. There were a couple of domestic disputes. We could hear them screaming and cursing and the baby crying. It was very unsettling.”
At first, the resident said she and her husband tried to get the neighbors — at least the couple who appeared to be the tenants of record — to keep the noise down by asking. And it seemed to work.
“To our faces, they said, ‘Yes, we understand,’” she said. “Then that night they were even worse than they were the previous night.”
As a result of the disruptions, which also woke her baby, she had to take off numerous days from work. Social activities were also curtailed. Inviting family members or any other guests from out of town to stay over was unthinkable.
Another issue was that people were constantly in and out of the apartment above. “I don’t know what was going on but it seemed very fishy and suspicious,” said the resident.
There was usually someone in the apartment to let them in, but one time, the resident’s husband saw one of the tenants rig the downstairs door with a folded piece of paper.
After finally having enough, the resident asked management if her family could be moved to another apartment.
“We begged them to relocate us,” she said. The answer was that this could be done but they’d have to pay for their own moving expenses and there wouldn’t be a rent abatement.
“We had to retain a lawyer to get an answer as to when this was going to end,” the resident added. “The answer was that they were going through the (legal) process.”
She noted that the family above had actually been evicted on March 30 for nonpayment of rent. But then they just didn’t leave. Because they may have been using false identities and because Town & Village had no way of reaching them for comment for this story, their known names are not being printed.
But according to their former neighbor, “They’re not traceable. They’re not Googlable. You cannot find them in a day when everyone has a digital footprint,” she said. Although the resident said her family chose to stay in their current apartment, she added that it was “not without sacrificing a lot of mental health. We got sick a lot this year.”
At this time, she said her family is in talks with management and she’s hoping for a rent abatement for the time the previous tenants lived above her apartment. She declined to say exactly how much her family wanted but said the amount was to make up for the fact that they’d been without “quiet enjoyment” of their apartment during that time, which is a clause in the lease.
She added that while she’s been less than impressed by the way the matter has been handled by the landlord and the legal department, she appreciated how quickly her building manager was working to fix the damage to her family’s apartment. They’d moved to Stuy Town 10 years ago, then Peter Cooper when they had a baby.
Meanwhile, when it comes to squatter tenants, or large groups who pile into an apartment for as long as they can get away with it, this isn’t the first time such a group has invaded Stuy Town/Peter Cooper.
Linda Ayache, a resident of Stuyvesant Town, recalled how three years ago, her own building had around 10 people jammed into a one-bedroom apartment. In order to gain entry to the building without key-cards, they’d Crazy Glued the lobby door to break it. They also threw garbage out of the windows. At one point, Ayache asked for a security presence at the building hallway, which she got. The nuisance tenants, who were also not paying their rent, were thrown out after 17 months.
“I’m grateful we had security because nobody felt comfortable,” said Ayache. “I feel it’s very sad that the court system takes so long. It shouldn’t happen. I’m sad it happened again.”
As for why the process takes so long, even when certain types of behavior would seem to be an obvious red flag, according to attorney Steven Sladkus, part of the reason is that housing court is tenant friendly. Additionally, a case then has to run its course, and this includes giving the tenants time to cure the problem.
Sladkus, of the firm Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas, has represented hundreds of buildings and condominiums in a wide range of disputes, including those he refers to as “upstairs downstairs” cases. And as for that lease clause that provides for the right of quiet enjoyment of one’s unit, “It doesn’t mean quiet,” said Sladkus. “It means undisturbed enjoyment.” When a person does in fact end up being disturbed, “it’s the landlord’s responsibility to investigate this issue.” However, he added that the owner isn’t necessarily obligated to relocate a tenant.
“It depends on how nice a landlord wants to be,” said Sladkus. “If the landlord sees an instance where an upstairs neighbor is acting so egregiously in disturbing the downstairs person, the landlord might say (if there’s another available unit), ‘Let me relocate you temporarily until we get them removed.’ But no, they don’t have to.”
In situations like the one experienced by the tenant at 350 First Avenue, Sladkus said she could get a partial rent abatement if the apartment was uninhabitable. While the word uninhabitable might have different meaning to a tenant than it would to an owner, Sladkus described a case he represented for a co-op/rental building, in which a tenant was making life unbearable for a neighbor because of her habit of chain smoking. His client, “was waking up at night gasping” as the smoke wafted upwards. Eventually, the chain smoker was removed from the building. “You’re not allowed to engage in conduct that has a negative impact on people around you,” said Sladkus. “If the apartment becomes uninhabitable or even partially uninhabitable, a landlord might be required to partial or full abatement under the circumstances. You might have a standup landlord who might say, ‘This is fair and equitable, how do you feel about x (amount)?’” Of course if the tenant refuses the offer, said Sladkus, “They have to send it to court.”