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.
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.
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.”
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)
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.