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Pols Rally Against Conditions at Turtle Bay High Rise

By Mary Johnson | August 6, 2011 5:18pm
Amid ongoing tenant protests, several elected officials urged the landlord of a Turtle Bay high rise to improve what they say are deteriorating conditions.
Amid ongoing tenant protests, several elected officials urged the landlord of a Turtle Bay high rise to improve what they say are deteriorating conditions.
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

TURTLE BAY — An ongoing conflict at a Turtle Bay high rise escalated Friday, as several elected officials urged landlord William W. Koeppel to improve conditions in a building that residents say has drastically deteriorated in recent months.

State Senator Liz Krueger, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio all spoke at the event in support of the tenants, calling on Koeppel to provide basic safety and security to the residents of 350 E. 52nd Street.

In June, the building saw mountains of trash pile up as doormen and porters went on strike. Sanitation workers refused to pick up the garbage in solidarity with the workers.

The bulk of the issues with the building, residents said, stem from Koeppel’s failure to strike a deal with the doormen’s union, 32BJ, last year.

Three thousand buildings throughout New York City have agreed to work with the union, but  Koeppel is one of only 12 landlords who have refused, de Blasio said.

Now, tenants say there has been a rotating crew of different doormen, which has led to security issues. Several residents spoke of outsiders freely entering the building. And Kirk Swanson, who is spearheading the tenants’ protests, spoke about one instance in which an acquaintance of one resident was given keys to that resident’s apartment, without permission.

When the tenants emerged from the building on Friday, they all wore matching T-shirts printed with a photo of the building and the phrase: “We the tenants stand by our 32BJ building staff.”

Union protesters cheered when they came out. And the whole crowd erupted when Senator Krueger arrived.

Krueger found out about the issues at the building when Swanson, a friend, contacted her. The pol attended a recent tenants’ meeting to hear concerns and mailed a letter to William Koeppel on July 20 in which she noted the New York State Multiple Dwelling Law, which requires that apartment buildings be maintained in a safe and habitable way.

“The conditions described by tenants at 350 East 52nd Street would likely constitute violations of these statutes and may entitle tenants to receive a rent reduction from the state office of Homes and Community Renewal,” Krueger wrote.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said that security was of particular concern, especially given the recent groping attacks and sexual assaults on the East Side.

“[Doormen] are on the front lines. They are the eyes and ears of the community,” he said. “There are consequences to putting people in harm’s way."

In addition to the security problems, Swanson also recited from what he called a “voluminous” list of other problems and concerns, such as the garbage buildup and an increasing pest problem.  

“For the first time since I’ve lived here, we’ve got rats…mice and now water bugs,” said Swanson, who has lived in the building for nine years.

Koeppel has been the subject of scandal in the past. In 1996, he pleaded guilty to pressuring tenants and brokers to contribute to the Giuliani campaign.

In responding to the current allegations, Koeppel staunchly defended his building and the quality of life it provides.

“Their concerns are unfounded,” Koeppel said in an interview. “These allegations are designed to get leverage in our negotiations with the union.”

He said the doormen he hired to replace the union workers are mostly former law enforcement officers and veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There has been a bit of turnover, he said, but the doormen are getting to know the tenants and strengthening those relationships.

Koeppel also said the problem with the trash stems from the city. Because sanitation workers have refused to cross the union picket lines, he hired a private company to remove the trash — a move he said went above and beyond what is required.

As for the bugs and rats, Koeppel acknowledged that he received a violation from the city. But he said the problem has been taken care of, and he has increased extermination services to four times a month.

“The building is spotless,” he said.

Koeppel said his negotiations with the union are ongoing. The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 30.