Hotel Chelsea Tenants Sue Landlord for Renovation Dangers

By Mathew Katz on December 3, 2011 3:20pm 

Hotel Chelsea
Hotel Chelsea
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Flickr/andrewmalone

CHELSEA — After weeks of trying to arrange a meeting with their new landlord, a group of Hotel Chelsea tenants, fed up with the chaos caused by an extensive renovation to their building, have sued the hotel's owners in Manhattan Housing Court.

The lawsuit, filed Friday, asks the court to order the hotel's landlord to repair dangerous conditions in both apartments and the hotel's common area that tenants said were created by months of renovations. The first court date in the case, brought by 34 tenants, is scheduled for Dec. 16.

The landmark building at 222 W. 23rd St. was bought by developer Joseph Chetrit in the summer, and soon stopped accepting guests, but around 80 residents remained. Renovations began shortly thereafter.

A recent environmental and health report by Olmsted Environmental Services, first reported by DNAinfo and commissioned by the tenants' association, said the renovation has kicked hazardous levels of dust, mold, and lead into the air.

Tenants also said that a steam pipe burst in one apartment, covering it in water and mold. In another, tenants said the bathroom ceiling collapsed after a day of loud jackhammering.

The city's Department of Buildings has records of 16 complaints about the renovations on file, including those two incidents.

Other complaints include workers using drills and other mechanical demolition equipment that is not allowed by the work permit.

The tenants' lawyer, Samuel Himmelstein, said he has tried for weeks to arrange a meeting with the Chetrits through their lawyer, Michael Brown, but they cancelled two meetings already, including one scheduled for Nov. 23.

"I've given up on the notion of meeting [with the landlord]," Himmelstein said. "We'll meet in front of a judge, that's my attitude now."

Chetrit, who runs the Chetrit Group with his family, largely stays out of the public spotlight. His lawyer did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

In the meantime, residents said conditions where they live have worsened because of the renovation, and they feel legal action is their only choice.

"It got that bad and it's not going to get better," said resident Zoe Pappas. "We have no choice."

On Nov. 21, Himmelstein and tenants gave a tour of the renovation to representatives of several politicians, including City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, State Senator Thomas Duane, and Congressman Jerrold Nadler, all of whom have pledged to help the residents if the renovations became disruptive.

"Anybody has the right to repair their building, but It's a complete disregard for us," said Pappas.

"We are people, we are not objects."

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