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Elected Officials Accuse NY Observer Owner of Tenant Harassment

By Lisha Arino | September 4, 2014 5:49pm
 Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilwoman Rosie Mendez stood with tenants during a press conference at 170-174 E. Second St. on Sept. 4, 2014.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilwoman Rosie Mendez stood with tenants during a press conference at 170-174 E. Second St. on Sept. 4, 2014.
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DNAinfo/Lisha Arino

EAST VILLAGE — Elected officials had a message for real estate scion Jared Kushner at a Thursday afternoon press conference: respect tenants’ rights.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilwoman Rosie Mendez demanded the developer, who is also Donald Trump’s son-in-law and owner of the New York Observer, address the living conditions at his building at 170-174 E. Second St., where rent-stabilized residents have complained of ceiling collapses and disruptive construction work.

“The owners of this building need to realize they’re not just accountable to the tenants in this building — they’re accountable to all of us because we care and we’re a community, and they’re accountable to me as the councilwoman of this district,” Mendez said at the press conference, which took place in front of the buildings.

Rent-stabilized tenants in both buildings have complained of poor living conditions and harassment since Kushner took over 170-174 E. Second St. last December.

Kushner's management company, Westminster City Living, has tried to force out rent-stabilized residents by sending eviction notices, offering buyouts and taking them to court, tenants said.

Westminister has also ignored their requests to fix problems in their apartments, including cracked floors and disrupted mail service caused by newly installed mailboxes, residents said. The buildings have have more than 35 Department of Housing Preservation and Development violations, including exposed electrical wire, a water leak in a public hallway and non-functioning intercoms, records show.

Meanwhile, construction crews have gutted empty apartments and installed high-end fixtures like stone countertops, in-unit washing machines and video intercoms, renting renovated one-bedrooms for more than $3,000 per month, according to residents and listings on Westminster’s website.

The work has also caused hot and cold water disruptions and unbearable noise and has raised safety concerns, tenants said.

Patrick Crosetto, the chief operating officer of Kushner Companies, denied the allegations in a statement.

The buiding was in "severe disrepair" prior to its purchase, he said, and the company is in the middle of a $3 million improvement plan, which includes electric system upgrades, new heating and hot water systems plumbing repair and placement and new intercoms.

"As always, we will continue our ongoing communication with all our residents to address any of their concerns, despite of the actions of a handful of illegal tenants who continue to sabotage our efforts for their own personal gain," he said.

The building's owner has claimed the tenants it has taken to court, including some of the ones at the press conference, were not actually rent-stabilized and needed to move out, according to court records.

During the press conference, Mendez described the renovations as "overzealous construction that feels like, smells like and acts like harassment."

Brewer called the actions “abhorrent” and said there was no excuse for Kushner and Westminster’s behavior.

“This is not an owner that can cry poverty. This is an owner that knows, after years and years, either as a new part of this company or people who have been working for a long time in the company...what needs to be done and do it correctly,” she said.

Tenants also described their living conditions for the past nine months. Mary Ann Siwek, 64, said her apartment at 170 E. Second St. is a “war zone,” with constant pounding and drilling from construction work.

“My ceiling shook so hard I thought they were going to collapse and they did, [in] the kitchen and in the bathroom, two times,” said Siwek, who has lived in the building for 34 years.

Tenants have also tried reached out to management repeatedly, said Fredy Kaplan, who has lived in 174 E. Second St. with his husband since 2005, but Westminster only responds “when it suits their interest," he said.

Mendez said her office has worked with the tenants and has also reached out to the Community Board 3 and the Department of Buildings. The tenants, who formed the 170-174 East Second Street Tenants Association earlier this year, are also working with the Cooper Square Committee, a tenant advocacy group.