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Hotel Chelsea Townhouse Tenant Claims She's Being Forced Out by Owner

By Mathew Katz | July 16, 2013 9:16am
  Tina Rossner's ceiling collapsed three times since Joseph Chetrit bought the building.
Hotel Chelsea Townhouse Tenant's Ceiling Collapsed Three Times
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CHELSEA — Tina Rossner doesn't live in the Hotel Chelsea, but like her neighbors, she knows the real-life "horrors" of residing in a building owned by its newest landlord.

After her ceiling collapsed for the third time in just over a month, she began to suspect that owner Joseph Chetrit's staff was neglecting much-needed repairs in an attempt to get rid of her — simply by letting her decades-old, rent-controlled apartment fall down around her.

"I'm the only rent-controlled apartment in this building, so they very much want to get rid of me," claimed Rossner, who suffers from ulcerative colitis.

The 68-year-old has lived on the third floor on 229 W. 22nd St. since the late 1960s, and she pays $331.81 a month for her 500-square-foot apartment.

Her building is a brownstone known as "The Townhouse" that's intricately connected to the Hotel Chelsea and was part of Chetrit's deal to buy the landmark inn in 2011.

Aside from its eight apartments on a prime Chelsea block, the brownstone, which sits directly behind the hotel, is essential to its day-to-day operations. A tunnel connects the brownstone to the hotel and is used to ferry supplies like food and laundry into the landmark, because trucks that can't load and unload on busy West 23rd Street have an easier time parking in front of the townhouse on West 22nd Street. 

Inspectors from the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development have visited the building many times since Chetrit took possession of it.

The agency found 22 violations there in the past year, mostly in Rossner's apartment, records show, including citations for mold, broken heating, leaking water, vermin and numerous ceiling collapses.

It was not clear what the rents are for the other apartments in the building, but no other unit had as many violations as Rossner's apartment, records show. Some of those violations are still open, and failure to make repairs could result in fines for the landlord.

The many issues Rossner has faced are nearly identical to the complaints of tenants living in the Hotel Chelsea, who have brought Chetrit to court several times because an ongoing renovation has covered their apartments in dust, mold and exposed electrical wires. 

The Townhouse, which gets its heat, hot water, and cooking gas from the hotel, lost all three when the Chelsea's utilities went down for weeks in March.

The Chetrit Group did not respond to requests for comment.

Rossner's first indication that something had gone wrong was when the ceiling above her closet began leaking during a thunderstorm in 2011.

"We had a four-story, 25-foot waterfall in the center of the building," she said. 

Chetrit's workers covered the hole, but water still leaked through when it rained, and dozens of mice flooded in as well, Rossner said. She had to move all of her clothing out of the closet and into the apartment, where it still sits in a huge pile.

"I'm a neat freak, so this kills me," she said, pointing to the pile.

The ceiling above one of her windows collapsed in late December because of a leaking radiator pipe, records show. Chetrit's workers once again came to patch it but refused to look at the radiator, despite Rossner's warnings.

"Two weeks later, twice as much of the ceiling fell down," she said. "A few weeks after that, three times of the ceiling collapsed. My apartment was covered in concrete, plaster, rotten wood and rusty nails."

HPD's most recent inspection on June 25 found that the ceiling was still loose, but building staff have yet to repair it.

Rossner said she has confronted staff at the hotel at least a dozen times, asking them to properly fix her apartment, to no avail. 

"The Bards [the hotel's previous owners] were terrible landlords, but they didn't have contempt for their tenants," she said. "These people just don't care."

Rossner is now seeking a lawyer and gathering evidence to prove that Chetrit is neglecting her apartment, but she worries about what disaster will strike next. There's already another crack in the ceiling — right above her bed.

"I've lived here, this has been my home since the late '60s," she said, "and they've turned it into a trash pit."