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Lower East Side Tenants Claim Their Building is Unlivable, Sue Landlord

By Patrick Hedlund | January 24, 2011 10:41am

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

LOWER EAST SIDE — Tenants of a Stanton Street building who say their property has been left to rot by a neglectful landlord sued the owners last week, claiming their homes have become unlivable.

Seven rent-stabilized tenants of 101 Stanton St., at the corner of Ludlow Street, said their six-story building has everything from buckling floors and cracked walls, to exposed wiring and rodent and roach infestations, according to the lawsuit.  

The suit also says that the tenants have been without gas since June 2010, and that a leak in the gas riser was fixed without a permit, leading to exposed gas pipes installed in the hallways.

The tenants — many of whom have lived in the building for more than 20 years — are suing to have to an independent administrator take over the 14-unit property from the current owner in order to make the necessary repairs.

"It's not really an action that orders landlords to make changes," said the residents' attorney Shafaq Islam, of the Urban Justice Center, who noted that the Housing Court action is not a typical one where the landlord is compelled to make the repairs.

"It's beyond the point of the tenants having any faith in their landlord to do that work."

A visit to the building showed gas pipes extending through many of the units' walls, some attaching to an apparatus the tenants say was installed illegally.

"The fact is they would never gotten a permit to do the job," said David Mecionis, 43, who lives with his wife, Denise Witzeman, 44, in the building.

In addition, a large gash in the ceiling of the front entryway greets those walking into the building, and many corners of the stairwell appear patched over to cover damage.

Tenants have worked hard to make their own minor repairs to improve the worsening conditions, they said, but things like peeling paint in the apartments and filthy floors in the hallways are out of their control.

A lawyer for the building's owners, who were identified as Michelle Goldstein and Charles Brick in the lawsuit, explained that the Department of Buildings slapped the property with a violation simply because of an error made in the permit application process by the plumber performing the gas work.

"Most of these violations were just written," said Joel Bernstein, of the law firm Solomon and Bernstein, noting that aside from the gas violation, "the others are a little bit picayune."

Some of the 129 open violations currently on file with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development include broken flooring, exposed live electrical wiring, loose electrical outlets, defective sinks and faucets, evidence of vermin, and a lack of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

"It's incompetence mixed with just a complete disregard for law or safety," said Witzeman, who's lived in the building since 1993 and said she's always paid her rent on time. "We gave them every opportunity to make this right."

The landlord did provide tenants with hot plates and toaster ovens to cover for the lack of gas, but Mecionis worried about what could have happened if the gas had actually been turned on.

"They meant for this to work," he said, "but the pipes are still in the wrong place."

The couple, which pays less than $1,000 a month for the apartment, started speaking with other rent-stabilized tenants in the building who had similar problems, and they decided collectively to pursue the lawsuit.

"It's all too common to see landlords letting buildings get into disrepair, their attorney, Islam, noted. "Overall citywide, there's a strong incentive to remove rent-stabilized tenants for the financial incentive."

In 2001, residents of building came home one day to find a portion of their stairwell missing, with ladders set up for tenants to access their apartment, the suit claims.

Witzeman said she also had to sue the owner in 2006 to get repairs to her floor, which is now cracked and sagging.

"At this point, none of us feel safe with them doing the repairs," she said. "Now we've just crossed that line, and it's just totally unacceptable."