NY Observer Owner Sues to Kick Tenants Out of Apartments He's Renovating

By Lisha Arino on July 9, 2014 7:48am 

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 Rent-stabilized tenants living recently in 170 and 174 E 2 St., which were recently acquired by Jared Kushner, are fighting to stay in their homes.
170-174 E. Second St.
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EAST VILLAGE — Real estate scion Jared Kushner is using lawsuits, disruptive construction and neglect to force rent-stabilized tenants out of two buildings he owns in the East Village, as he converts them to high-end apartments, according to court documents and residents.

Kushner, the developer who is Donald Trump's son-in-law and also owns the New York Observer, paid $17 million for 170-174 E. Second St., where poet Allen Ginsberg once lived, late last year, records show. Kushner immediately began handing out 30-day eviction notices, followed by buyout offers, tenants said.

When some tenants tried to stay, arguing that they were rent-stabilized and could not be evicted, Kushner sued them in Housing Court, according to court records and the 170-174 East Second Street Tenants Association. Just 11 of the buildings' 43 apartments are still occupied, as the last remaining tenants fight to keep their homes, said Mark Fritsche, president of the tenants group.

“We feel like they’re messing with us,” said Fritsche, who has lived at 170 E. Second St. for 17 years and said he will not leave.

When eviction notices didn't work, Fritsche and other tenants said Kushner's management company, Westminster City Living, refused to fix problems in their apartments including cracked floors, roach infestations and exposed electrical wiring, which have all drawn violations from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, records show.

At the same time, Westminster workers have gutted the empty apartments and installed high-end fixtures like stone countertops and video intercoms, according to residents and listings on Westminster’s website.

Westminster is charging $3,025 for a renovated one-bedroom and $5,179 for a renovated three-bedroom, according to online listings, which Fritsche said is more than three times what the previous rent-stabilized tenants were paying.

A spokesman for Westminster released a statement defending the company's record at 170-174 E. Second St.

"In the six months since Westminster has managed the building, they have been in frequent contact with the building’s residents, been consistently responsive to their concerns, and have quickly sought to address them," a Westminster spokesman said.

The trouble at 170-174 E. Second St. started in January, shortly after Kushner bought the buildings, when tenants began receiving eviction notices along with offers of money and help with moving costs if they left, Fritsche said.

Kushner's Village K2 Associates, the company that owns the building, then sued nine of the remaining tenants in the late winter and spring. In most of the cases, Village K2 Associates said the tenants were not rent-stabilized and needed to move out, and the tenants responded by saying they had the right to stay, records show.

Some of the cases have been settled or discontinued, but others are still pending, records show.

New York State Homes & Community Renewal, the state agency that manages rent-stabilized apartments, declined to say how many rent-stabilized units were listed in the two buildings. But a state database listed at least some rent-stabilized apartments in 170-174 E. Second St. in 2012, records show.

Fredy Kaplan, one of the tenants who is still locked in a legal battle with Kushner's company, said he's frustrated with the deteriorating condition of his apartment at 174 E. Second St., where he and his husband have lived since 2009.

“The floors are coming up," Kaplan said. "It’s already broken through tiles in the kitchen and in the living room, which requires them to rebuild the floor."

He and other tenants said they're also concerned about the noisy, dusty renovation work on neighboring vacant apartments, which often extends into the weekends. 

The tenants association and tenant advocacy group Cooper Square Committee sent a letter to Westminster and Village K2 Associates in May listing their grievances and asking the companies to agree to “construction and communication guidelines," including covering all apartment doors with plastic to keep out the dust and giving advance notice of utility disruptions or major demolition projects.

The tenants never received a response, they said.

The tenants' association is also turning to Community Board 3 for help. The group will speak about their concerns to CB3's Land Use, Zoning, Public and Private Housing Committee at 6:30 p.m. on July 9 at the Manny Cantor Center, 197 E. Broadway.

UPDATE:

After this story was published, Kushner Companies representatives spoke on the record to clarify several points.

A Kushner spokesman said the East Second Street buildings were in poor condition when Kushner purchased them, and since then his company has done work to add new hot water and heating systems, repair the roof, make structural improvements and upgrade hallway fixtures including lighting. Some repairs could not be done during cold weather but are being done now that it is warmer, the spokesman said.

Patrick Crosetto, COO of Kushner Companies, said Fritsche, the tenant association president, initially received an eviction notice because the previous owner had misfiled paperwork, but Fritsche is in fact rent-stabilized and has since been given a rent-stabilized lease.

Crosetto added that the management company has tried to get access to Kaplan's apartment to make repairs but that Kaplan has denied access to workers. Kaplan said the workers did not come at the agreed-upon time.

After receiving the tenants association's letter in May, the management company spoke to tenants on the phone to address their issues, a spokesman said. Tenants are given 48-hour advance notice when construction will affect their utilities, Crosetto added, though sometimes emergencies necessitate immediate shutdowns.

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