UES Building Caught in Landmarks Fight Allowed to Deteriorate, Tenants Say
UPPER EAST SIDE — The tenants of two landmarked apartment buildings along York Avenue are living in limbo — and without hot water.
In October 2010, the owner of the buildings, Stahl Real Estate, filed a hardship application with the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, stating that the buildings could not return a reasonable profit and requesting permission to demolish them and redevelop the site.
More than three years later, both parties are still waiting for a decision. Tenants who have fought against the hardship application said that during that time conditions at 429 E. 64th St. and 430 E. 65th St. have continued to deteriorate due to neglect. Residents complained of uneven heat and hot water, severe leaks, mouse infestations and poorly maintained common areas.
“They don’t do anything,” said Elizabeth Pearce, who has lived in the 65th Street building for 31 years. “They don’t even clean the halls anymore. They used to mop the floors every Friday, but even that has stopped.”
Tenants, the majority of whom are rent-stabilized, said that many of the most serious problems arise from the high number of vacancies in the buildings.
"We have a big mouse problem because of all of the empty apartments," said Jay Kusnetz, a longtime resident. "They basically just do the minimum legal that's required of them."
When Stahl filed the hardship application in 2010, 97 of the 190 units spread between the two buildings were vacant. The owners had started to keep vacant apartments off the market in the late '90s in preparation for redeveloping the site, according to the application.
Tenants said that since 2010, several more apartments have emptied out, leaving whole areas of the buildings mostly vacant.
“When problems occur in the vacant apartments, the damage is always worse because they go unnoticed for so long,” said Kaitlin Griffin, a longtime resident of the East 64th Street building.
Griffin related a December 2013 incident in which a pipe burst in a vacant sixth-floor apartment, she said. The leak ran down to the first floor before anyone caught the problem, because all of the apartments on the floors in between were unoccupied, she said. Because leaks have gone unnoticed for so long, mold has grown in the buildings, she said.
“We have really felt that there is an intentional and sustained program of neglect targeting our apartments,” Griffin said.
According to city records, both buildings have had complaints or violations leveled against them.
In April 2011, the Department of Buildings issued a violation for the East 64th Street building for "failure to maintain the building in a code compliant manner." The violation cited water damage and cracks in the walls and ceilings of common areas.
In February 2014, a tenant at the East 64th Street building lodged a complaint about the lack of hot water in the building. That same month, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development issued two violations to the building — one for a defective smoke alarm, the other for a broken carbon monoxide detector.
In December 2013, residents lodged two complaints with HPD about the lack of heat and hot water at the East 65th Street building.
A recent visit to the buildings revealed broken mailboxes, cracked plaster, peeling paint and evidence of leaks.
Stahl did not respond to requests for comment.
Tenants recently reached out to Community Board 8, which opposed Stahl’s hardship application when it came before the board in 2012, for help.
In a letter, they asked that the community board write to the Landmarks Preservation Commission on their behalf.
“We as tenants…are aware that the Landmarks Commission is taking the greatest precautions with the applicant, so as to insure a positive and irreversible outcome for our building,” the letter said. “However, in light of the now over three years of waiting, we would like to address all of our supporters, and call their attention to the fact that the physical building continues to suffer from neglect throughout this hiatus.”
Three years is an unusually long time for the LPC to take to come to a decision, sources said. However, tenants said the process has dragged on due to the complicated nature of the case and the fact that Stahl has often taken months to respond to the commission’s requests for further information.
"This whole process has been hardest on the tenants," said Tara Kelly, executive director of Friends of the Upper East Side. "When you think about the need for affordable housing in New York City and you have all of these apartment beings warehoused...I mean, families could be living there. It could be a nice place to live.”
The LPC held its first hearing on the matter in January 2012. However, Stahl did not respond to questions that arose at that meeting until October 2012, according to records.
The Landmarks Commission declined to comment on Stahl's application.
Hardship applications are very rare. According to the LPC, Stahl’s is only the 18th hardship application submitted to the commission since the landmarks law was enacted in 1965. The LPC sided with the applicant in 13 of those cases.
Residents said that whatever the decision will be, Stahl should be held accountable for maintaining the buildings in the meantime.
In spite of the damage that’s been done, many tenants hope that their homes can be restored.
“We really feel that given the amount of abuse it has suffered that the buildings have held up well and that this damage can be reversed,” Griffin said. “It’s a testament to how well they were made.”