Tenants in New York Observer Publisher's Building Say 'Nonstop Construction' Is Meant to Drive Them Out [Updated]
In December 2013, New York Observer publisher and real estate magnate Jared Kushner bought two connected buildings, 170-174 East 2nd Street. (The buildings are laden with some serious New York history: Allen Ginsberg lived at 170 for three years and wrote "Kaddish" there.) In the intervening nine months, landlord-tenant relations have gone swiftly and steadily south. First, Kushner's company distributed eviction notices to many of the current tenants, with an eye toward converting the apartments into higher-end versions of themselves, according to DNAInfo. That resulted in a nasty and, in some cases, ongoing fight in Housing Court. Now the remaining tenants, many of them living in rent-stabilized apartments, say the constant construction in the building is causing broken tiles, eroding floors, collapsing ceilings and weeks in which their mail has gone undelivered. They allege the chaos is deliberate, part of an attempt to force them out to attract newer, fancier tenants, the kind who don't mind paying $2,658 for a one-bedroom. A group of the remaining tenants are planning a protest today in front of their own buildings.
Image via Google Maps 170 and 174 E. 2nd Street, with adjacent psychic
Kushner has been busily purchasing much of the East Village: The Local East Village put together a nice little photo map showing his inroads into the neighborhood, where he's bought 36 buildings so far.
In the case of 170-174 East 2nd, DNAInfo reported in a July story that Kushner soon started handing out buy-out offers, and, when that didn't work, eviction notices to the tenants. Several of them sued back in Housing Court, pointing out they were rent-stabilized and could not be evicted. A representative for Kushner Companies, Kushner's real estate company, subsequently told real estate blog Curbed that they were only trying to evict market-rate tenants.
After the eviction attempts, according to the Cooper Square Committee, an affordable-housing advocacy group focused on the Village, came the disruptive construction. In a press release, they call the construction work being done on the buildings "lengthy and severe," resulting in the collapsing floors and ceilings, considerable dust and debris, unpredictable hot and cold water shut-offs, and undelivered mail, which they attribute to confusion over some newly installed mailboxes. A tenant, Cypress Dubin, says Kushner Companies and the property management company in charge of the buildings, Westminster City Living, have shown "blatant disregard for the safety and well-being of the tenants."
Records from the Department of Buildings show that on July 28, the FDNY asked for an emergency response team to inspect apartment 1D, after they found a collapsed bathroom ceiling and cellar ceiling cracks forming. A partial stop-work order was issued for the property, due to the fact that the "structural stability" of the building might be at risk. Numerous other complaints about the construction have been filed at both buildings, presumably by the residents: 12 at 174 East 2nd and 11 at 170 East 2nd since January of this year. Most of them assert that permits aren't posted for construction work that's being done, or that demolition is happening in apartments only permitted for minor renovations. Most of the complaints have been closed after inspection by the DOB.
Westminster and Kushner Companies told DNAInfo the buildings were in poor condition when they bought them, and pointed to several crucial repairs they say they've undertaken, including repairs to the roof, new hot water and heating systems, hallway upgrades and various "structural improvements." They're adamant they haven't tried to force rent-stabilized tenants out. Yet the Cooper Square Committee points out that there are only 11 occupied units left in the buildings, out of 45 total apartments. The Cooper Square Committee says much of the exodus happened in the first three months Kushner owned the buildings.
The remaining tenants don't seem particularly appeased by the supposed repairs. A group of them, backed by the Cooper Square Committee, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and City Council Member Rosie Mendez, are planning a protest/rally in front of the buildings today, where they aim to display large banners showing the damage to the property. In a press release, Mendez called the situation unacceptable: "The lack of notice coupled with the lengthy construction that has resulted in five ceiling collapses as well as damages to personal property is unbearable for the remaining tenants." She added, "We cannot sit back and let tenants suffer through living conditions that interrupt their right to 'peaceful and quiet enjoyment' of their apartment." In the same release, Brewer vowed, in a general sort of way, not to allow "millionaire landlords" to intimidate people into leaving their homes.
A public-relations representative for Kushner Properties says he's looking into the matter. (The PR outfit used by Kushner Properties is Hiltzik Strategies, a firm used by the Village Voice's owners in the past.) A call to Westminster City Living was not immediately returned. We'll update with further comment from both companies when we get it.
Update, 2 p.m.: Patrick Crosetto, the Chief Operating Officer of Kushner Properties, sends us this statement:
The building was in severe disrepair prior to its purchase in December, but we are in the midst of a $3 million plan for extensive, ongoing improvements including electric system upgrades, new heating and hot water systems, plumbing repair and replacement, roof work, pointing, sidewalk repairs, refurbishing hallways and lighting systems and new intercoms and mailboxes. As always, we will continue our ongoing communication with all of our residents to address any of their concerns, despite the actions of a handful of illegal tenants who continue to sabotage our efforts for their own personal gain.