MIDTOWN — A woman who paid top dollar for a new luxury apartment says she wound up getting a moldy, mouse-infested mess — and now she's locked in a yearslong court battle with one of the city's most powerful real estate families.
In 2006, Sarah Schottenstein, now 28, bought a nearly $1.65 million apartment in Windsor Park, the 14-story former Helmsley Windsor Hotel that was converted into luxury condos by developers Yitzchak Tessler and the Chetrit Group — which was behind the controversial renovation of the Hotel Chelsea.
Schottenstein was told her two-bedroom apartment would have new plumbing and electrical systems, she said. But within a month of moving in she found her apartment was infested with mice, had toxic mold growing beneath her floors, brown water coming from the tap and leaks from the ceiling, according to court documents.
"They defrauded me," Schottenstein, who has the autoimmune disease lupus and cannot enter the apartment without wearing a surgical mask, told DNAinfo New York. "This was supposed to be all new plumbing, new electrics, new mechanics. And that was not the case."
Schottenstein first tried to work with the building to repair the unit. But when a burst pipe caused her ceiling to partially collapse in 2007, flooding her apartment and forcing her to move out of the unit, she realized she had no other choice but to sue, according to court documents.
Since then, Schottenstein has battled Windsor Tov, the Chetrit-owned LLC that renovated the building, along with its condo board and property manager, all in the hopes of walking away from the apartment and recovering her closing costs, plus damages, according to court papers.
Since 2011, the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development has found a dozen violations at the apartment.
In 2008, Rand Engineering & Architecture found the building had more than $6.5 million in deficiencies, including problems with the roof, facade, electrical systems, heating and air-conditioning systems and water-bearing tiles, according to a report commissioned by the building's condo board.
That same year, VIP Vi Cleaners, a commercial tenant in the building's ground floor, sued Windsor Tov for $620,000, accusing the company of depriving the business of heat and hot water, causing the roof to leak and creating mold conditions, court documents show.
The Chetrits have been criticized for similar issues in other buildings. During their time renovating the Hotel Chelsea, tenants were plagued with ceiling collapses, burst pipes and many other problems.
An attorney for Windsor Tov did not respond to a request for comment. But in legal documents, the company argued that Schottenstein destroyed evidence of mold by removing it from her apartment.
On a recent visit to Schottenstein's apartment, a smell of mold was thick in the air and bags of garbage sat on scaffolding right outside of Schottenstein's window.
Microecologies Inc., an environmental health firm, found "very heavy levels" of the infectious mold Aspergillus Chaetomium under the floor of Schottenstein's apartment, which the firm said could harm Schottenstein because of her lupus, according to a report commissioned by Schottenstein.
Despite the condo board's own internal report that found problems in the building, Larry Pittinsky, an attorney for the board, disputed Schottenstein's claims.
Pittinsky said the case was "about a woman trying to escape her obligation to pay money," but declined to comment further.
The board convinced a judge to order Schottenstein to pay more than $38,000 in overdue common charges, which she stopped paying in 2007 when she moved out, court records show. But legal proceedings are still ongoing and the case is due back in court April 9.
Schottenstein said she wants the case to go to trial, so she can recoup her losses and finally sell the apartment.
"What was represented to me was that I was going to get something new," she said. "I'm hopeful for my day in court. I want to be made whole."