City to check buildings owned by tenant ‘harasser’ for lead

Tenants protest outside a Toledano-owned building on East 13th Street last June. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Tenants protest outside a Toledano-owned building on East 13th Street last June. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The city will be investigating at least three residential buildings that are under construction for lead dust following a letter from local elected officials accusing the landlord, Raphael Toledano, of harassing tenants.

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene previously took samples from 235 and 233 East Fifth Street and 514 East 12th Street managed by Brookhill Properties, the company owned by Toledano, and found that the concentrations of lead dust far exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s hazard standard, with the lead concentration as high as 15 times what is legally allowed in the building at 233 East Fifth Street.

Local elected officials, including State Senator Brad Hoylman, Councilmember Rosie Mendez, Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, signed the letter urging Toledano to meet with tenants to resolve their concerns and conduct lead testing of all 24 properties owned by Toledano, all of which are in the East Village or the Lower East Side, and a letter to the DOHMH urging the agency to take action.

“After bringing attention to the illegal tactics of building owner Raphael Toledano, tenants had hoped to see improvements in their daily living conditions,” Mendez said.  “Unfortunately, this landlord continues to harass tenants in several of his buildings. His disregard for the safety and health of residents is apparent in the hazardous and careless construction that has exposed lead and endangered families in many of his occupied buildings.”

Tenants in the buildings have organized as the Toledano Tenant Coalition and have repeatedly reported complaints about the possibility of lead contamination caused by construction, which tenants also say has been disruptive and caused uninhabitable living conditions. Tenants have also reported baseless denials of lease renewals, systematic intimidation by agents of the management company and frivolous orders to vacate.

“Since September, tenants have gone through months of continuous harassment to take buyouts, unsafe construction work and dust contaminated by lead in our apartments,” said 510 East 12th Street resident Holly Slayton. “Toledano hired contractors who are not using best practices for construction, so there have been layers of dust in my building and apartment, so much that I was told by my doctor to wear a dust mask in my own house.”

Toledano was previously sued in June, 2015 for tenant harassment by rent-regulated residents living in 444 East 13th Street, who alleged that the management company was forcing out longtime tenants with persistent buyout offers, threats and hazardous construction conditions.

Local blog EV Grieve noted that another group of tenants is fighting their landlord, Icon Realty, for similar reasons and residents, along with local elected officials, hosted a rally in front of Icon-owned buildings on Tuesday demanding safe construction practices, proper lead mitigation and for the company to respect the rights of rent stabilized tenants.

Neither Toledano or a representative for Brookhill Properties returned a request for comment.

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