Renovation work stops in four PCV apartments due to lack of permits

Peter Cooper Village

By Sabina Mollot

This week, the city issued stop work orders on four apartments in Peter Cooper Village that had been undergoing renovations, due to a lack of permits. The four units were among the 115 apartments in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village that are being reconfigured to add an additional bedroom in each, and management is currently in the process of applying for the permits for the work.

The Department of Buildings issued the stop work orders after inspecting the apartments on Friday morning, the ST-PCV Tenants Association said. In five apartments, they found three violations in each, all related to work without a permit. Stop work orders were issued on only four, though, since management was able to immediately get a permit for one of the units.

Tenants Association President Susan Steinberg said it was the TA who tipped off the city to the problem as well as alerting management, who had been unaware of the lack of permits. The TA was initially only looking into the situation after hearing from several tenants in neighboring apartments to the ones being renovated, who were complaining about noise, vibrations and even walls cracking. While management has been responsive to requests for repairs that Steinberg’s aware of, a few eagle-eyed residents also noticed that permits weren’t posted in buildings.

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City Council takes aim at bullying landlords

Council Member Helen Rosenthal has proposed opening an Office of tenant Advocate. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Last Wednesday, the City Council overwhelmingly passed a set of bills that’s been dubbed the Stand for Tenant Safety Act. The legislation aims to crack down on acts of harassment by unscrupulous landlords by increasing penalties and making it easier for tenants to prove they’re being harassed, including when the behavior comes in the form of construction. Other bills call for the creation of a task force as well as a new office to help tenants cut through red tape.

That bill, sponsored by Helen Rosenthal, would create an “Office of Tenant Advocate” within the Department of Buildings.

“While many at DOB do important work on behalf of tenants, the bureaucracy just isn’t in place to make tenants’ voices heard,” Rosenthal said. “This bill will change that, giving tenants a dedicated watchdog and workhorse on their behalf.”

The bill to create a task force is aimed at evaluating current practices used by city agencies with regards to renovation and construction at residential buildings. Dan Garodnick, who sponsored this bill, said the task force would then come up with ideas to improve communication between the agencies, including the DOB, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the mayor’s office.

“Construction harassment is a lesser known but deeply troubling form of harassment,” Garodnick said. “We are determined to deliver effective and consistent strategies to help combat this practice.”

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Local Law 11 facade repairs begin in ST

By Maria Rocha-Buschel 

Repairs on Stuyvesant Town building facades began last Monday and will continue through October 2017. Management announced the work in a newsletter sent to residents earlier this month, noting that the work is being done to comply with Local Law 11, a citywide program through the Department of Buildings that requires owners to inspect and maintain building facades.
StuyTown Property Services community affairs manager Marynia Kruk said that the amount and scope of the work are building-specific based on what repairs are necessary, but most of the work may result in noise and will require scaffolds that will be dropped from the roof of the building.

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Gas finally back on at Frank’s

Frank’s Trattoria on First Avenue (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Frank’s Trattoria on First Avenue (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Frank’s Trattoria, the First Avenue restaurant and pizzeria that had been operating without gas for eight weeks, finally got it switched back on. The gas came back on last Wednesday afternoon, which meant that once again the owners, the Pino family, were able to make pizza and other foods that couldn’t be prepared efficiently using just electric stoves.

Restaurant manager Marcello Vasquez told Town & Village once the gas came back on at around 2 p.m. word quickly got around and the restaurant got busy again.

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One year after explosion, bills aim to prevent similar tragedies

Local elected officials including Council Member Rosie Mendez, Public Advocate Letitia James, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Assembly Member Deborah Glick and State Senator Brad Hoylman stand at the explosion site on Saturday with CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) members. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Local elected officials including Council Member Rosie Mendez, Public Advocate Letitia James, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Assembly Member Deborah Glick and State Senator Brad Hoylman stand at the explosion site on Saturday with CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) members. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Local politicians, East Village residents and former tenants of the collapsed buildings commemorated the first anniversary of the gas explosion on Second Avenue killed two people this past Saturday. The building collapse of 119, 121 and 123 Second Avenue and Seventh Street also resulted in the loss of 30 apartments, many of them rent-regulated.

In an effort to prevent similar disasters in the future, the City Council introduced legislation on February 24 through nine different bills. Councilmember Rosie Mendez, who was at Saturday’s event at the explosion site, is the lead sponsor of a bill that requires gas providers to notify the Department of Buildings within 24 hours of a gas shut off. This is in order to create transparency and hold city agencies accountable.

“A year after the East Village explosion, all that remains is three empty lots as a constant reminder of an avoidable tragic event that took the lives of two young men, rendered dozens of residents homeless, temporarily displaced hundreds of others from their homes and interrupted the livelihood of small business owners for weeks and in some cases months,” Mendez said. “We can never forget the tragedies that were avoidable and we vow to work to ensure that no one else has to suffer and endure what the families and our communities have.”

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Pols name and shame ‘predatory’ landlords

Council Members Dan Garodnick and Jumaane Williams with tenants at a press conference at City Hall (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Council Members Dan Garodnick and Jumaane Williams with tenants at a press conference at City Hall (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Tenant advocate groups have a message for landlord who harass tenants: You’re being watched.

At a press conference last Thursday, the advocates and elected officials said that they have identified predatory equity landlords who tenants say have been mistreating them and forcing them to live in hazardous conditions. Councilmembers Dan Garodnick and Jumaane Williams, who formed the Coalition Against Predatory Equity last year with Councilmember Ritchie Torres from the Bronx, were at the event.

“We now have names attached to these situations so they know we’re going after them,” Williams, chair of the Council’s Housing Committee, said.

The landlords that have been singled out are Alma Realty Corp., Benedict Realty Group, Coltown Properties, Icon, SMRC Management, Steve Croman and Ved Parkash. Various tenants from buildings owned by these landlords were at the event, including residents of 444 East 13th Street, who recently filed a lawsuit against their new management company with the help of the Urban Justice Center because they have no gas or hot water and the management company has been doing construction despite a stop work order from the Department of Buildings.

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Tenant welcome center to open in Stuy Town

By Sabina Mollot

Residents lately have noticed the installation of a new entrance to 250 First Avenue, and have been wondering as to the reason. According to a permit application approved by the Department of Buildings in February to renovate cellar space, the building is to soon house a resident welcome center. The project had an estimated cost of $25,000.

CWCapital spokesperson Brian Moriarty said the center will be called The New Resident Welcome Center and will be a place where new tenants can pick up keys and navigate the move-in process. Tenants will also go there to learn about community rules and regulations like proper trash/recycling disposal and the noise policy and learn now new appliances and the intercom system work.

“We are very excited to open this New Resident Welcome Center,” Moriarty said. “We think it is a great way to welcome new neighbors into our community.”

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East 13th St. tenants accusing landlord of harassment

Residents demonstrated outside their building last Thursday to protest aggressive buyout tactics and other ways they say the landlord is harassing them. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Residents demonstrated outside their building last Thursday to protest aggressive buyout tactics and other ways they say the landlord is harassing them. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Residents at 444 East 13th Street have been without cooking gas and hot water for over a month, but, as the rent-stabilized tenants in the building said during a protest on Thursday, that’s not their only concern.

The problems with their gas, they said, are just one of many that tenants see as harassment aimed at driving them out of their long-time homes.

Stephanie Rudolph, an attorney with the Urban Justice Center, represents the tenants and filed a lawsuit on their behalf last Friday, also requesting – and getting — an injunction, which prohibits any contact by the owners.

There are currently nine apartments in the building that are occupied out of 15 and Raphael Toledano, who bought the building at the beginning of this year, has been using relocation specialists who’ve been offering tenants buyouts from $30,000 to $60,000.

Rudolph had also previously sent the management company a cease and desist order on May 15, telling them to stop contacting tenants about surrendering their apartments and she said that not long after, tenants were showered with gifts from the management company with an apology about the lack of gas in the building.

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Mendez fights on for return of former PS 64/CHARAS center to community use

Councilmember Rosie Mendez at a rally over the former community center

Council Member Rosie Mendez at a rally over the former community center (Photo by John Blasco)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Community residents joined City Councilmember Rosie Mendez at City Hall last Tuesday on Three Kings Day to deliver an online petition and over a thousand holiday cards to Mayor Bill de Blasio, asking him to help return the former PS 64 building for community use. The cards and petition were delivered along with gold-wrapped chocolate coins, frankincense and myrrh, in honor of the holiday.

Local politicians and community advocates have been fighting to get the former public school back from real estate developer Gregg Singer, who bought the building from the city for $3.15 million when then-mayor Rudolph Giuliani auctioned it off in 1998. Three years later in 2001, Singer evicted the building’s tenant, local community center CHARAS/El Bohio, which had been using the landmarked building since the 1970s. The building, located at 605 East 9th Street, has been vacant for the last 13 years.

CHARAS was founded in the 1960s by a group of Puerto Rican men (who used their initials to create the name for the organization) in response to the crisis in the Lower East Side at the time, where an increasing number of residential buildings were in tax foreclosure and residents were fleeing the neighborhood.

Local advocates have had marginal success in fighting Singer’s plans, including saving the building from demolition in 2008, as the Post recently noted. A Post story at the time said Singer had been trying to argue that the building shouldn’t have been considered a landmark, primarily because he had stripped the facade of most of its architectural details, but a Manhattan Supreme Court justice ruled against him, upholding the building’s landmark status and thwarting his plan to build a 19-story dorm.

Singer has yet to give up on his plans for a dorm, however, going so far as to sign leases with both the Joffrey Ballet Center Concert Group Program (CGP) and Cooper Union in early 2013. Singer has steadily continued the work for the dormitory but the plan was put on hold again last September when the Department of Buildings issued a Stop Work Order to halt construction.

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The difficulties of using a bookshelf as a room divider

The O’Connors received a notice to cure from management over their bookshelves.

The O’Connors received a notice to cure from management over their bookshelves.

By Maria Rocha-Buschel
After getting a notice of termination last December over a disagreement on the placement of some bookshelves, 10 Stuyvesant Oval residents Leigh Anne O’Connor and Robert Leon were relieved in mid-March when the issue was cleared up and management declared that their apartment was in compliance, but not before what they felt was a long struggle about the definition of a legal room partition was.
Space is a precious and expensive commodity in Manhattan and New Yorkers have a long tradition of modifying their apartments with furniture to make the best use of the space. In a place like Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, residents have been in a back-and-forth with management for years about pressurized walls, temporary room dividers and what can be used legally to split the space so siblings and roommates aren’t on top of each other.
O’Connor and Leon had been using Ikea bookshelves to break up the space in one of the apartment’s bedrooms for their kids but they started having problems with management after an apartment inspection last September when they got a Notice to Cure, saying they were in violation of their lease.
Leon, who is in construction design, checked with architects and industry professionals about his situation and couldn’t find any building or housing code that they were violating with the shelves. But, he noted, he wasn’t looking to be difficult; he just wanted to come to an agreement and resolve the problem.
“It’s in my best interest to be on good terms with my landlord and if what they’re asking is reasonable I don’t mind complying,” he said, “but I can’t read their mind.” He added that it was difficult to get an answer from management about the standard for this issue.
Susan Steinberg, chair of the Tenants Association’s board, noted that there have been difficulties in defining exactly what constitutes a legal wall or partition.
“The law actually does not give very specific requirements for the legality of nonstructural walls,” she said. “It is very subjective. The basic rules are that every room in the apartment must have a means of egress for fire safety so if a bookshelf effectively divides a room in two and one new ‘room’ doesn’t have a window, it could be a problem. As you can imagine, the fact of whether or not the bookshelf divides a room could be debated.”
Changing the layout of an apartment can be a violation of building code and a spokesperson for the Department of Buildings said that adding a partition or other kinds of floor-to-ceiling dividers can change the apartment’s layout, even if it is a temporary installation, and thus would require a work permit.
Ultimately, Leon said that he was told that if he closed off part of a room by more then 50 percent, then that constitutes a wall. CWCapital spokesperson Brian Moriarty confirmed this. He said that the standard management goes by is the New York City Multiple Dwelling Law, which states that if more than 50 percent of an opening is blocked, it is considered a wall and is not in compliance with the lease.
“For example, if the length of the room is 50 feet and the bookcase is more than 25 feet, it is illegal,” he said. “If it blocks more than 49 percent of the space profile, the rear space will then be considered an interior room with no legal light and air.”

Leasing office building renovation

Stuyvesant Town leasing office (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Stuyvesant Town leasing office (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Along with the ongoing work to build a new management office and an office for the public safety department in Stuyvesant Town, another project is taking place at the building that’s home to the leasing office.

A resident at the building, 250 First Avenue, told Town & Village recently that he learned about a plan to extend the leasing office further into the building from onsite workers. However, the resident, who didn’t want his name printed, said he was less than thrilled about the work, because of all the noise from jackhammering and generators earlier in the month, which he called “deafening.” There were also vibrations in his apartment, he said, adding, “It’s seven hours a day they were jackhammering.”

He also noted that fliers placed in the building early in January alerting residents to the fact that the work would be taking longer than expected (past January 3) “due to unforeseen circumstances” didn’t mention what the project was.

It’s nothing to do with benefitting the general tenants. It’s being done to make more students move in,” he said.

When asked for details about the project, a rep for CWCapital wouldn’t divulge any, only saying that it would be completed by January 24. Fliers that were put up again more recently also noted the new completion date, while classifying the work as a renovation.

Meanwhile, since work began, the building was visited by an inspector from the Department of Environmental Protection. A spokesperson for the department confirmed to T&V that there was an inspection for asbestos. However, none was found.

The resident, however, said he observed that when an inspector came, workers were

Wokers put up a curtain to prevent dust from blowing around at the work site. (Photo by a resident)

Wokers put up a curtain to prevent dust from blowing around at the work site. (Photo by a resident)

made to put up a curtain after excessive amount of dirt from their workspace had managed to fly around the Terrace level and accumulate on floors, even getting into mailboxes. (He also snapped a couple of photos to prove the point.) Still, the rep for the DEP, Mercedes Padilla, told T&V there was no record of an official complaint about dirt. She also said all CWCapital’s necessary work permits were in place.

The construction in that building is a stone’s throw away from Playground 8, which is being upgraded as part of the work on the new management office. The area, including a walkway, around 274 First Avenue on the First Avenue Loop, is currently walled off. Last summer, CW said in an announcement that the new management office would be completed in April. However, there were no updates given on the date a meeting held last October about the project for tenants living in nearby buildings.

A spokesperson for the Department of Buildings did not respond to requests about the leasing office project.