The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Rent-Regulated Tenants Being Driven Out by 'Illegal' Renovation, They Say

By Gustavo Solis | February 24, 2015 12:09pm
 The building was handed a stop work order because the owners started renovating without a permit.
187 Lenox Avenue
View Full Caption

HARLEM — Construction permits are so last season.

The husband of fashion designer Joseph  Altuzarra  — who unveiled a new handbag collection during this month's New York Fashion Week — has been slapped with a stop-work order for renovating a Lenox Avenue brownstone without a permit, records show.

The Department of Buildings hit Altuzarra's partner, Seth Weissman's company Weissman Equities, with a stop-work order for 187 Lenox Ave. on January 9 because the crew failed to provide approved plans for ongoing work on site, records show. The building was also given a violation for working without a permit.

The stop-work order had not been lifted as of Tuesday, records show.

But that didn't stop crews from installing a new intercom at the apartment building Monday morning.

Weissman, who bought the building for $1.6 million in June, said Monday's job does not violate the stop-work order because it is maintenance not construction.

“The reality is construction can be a little messy and we have taken a lot of steps to minimize that,” Weissman added.

But rent-regulated tenants — who have called in repeated complaints about the building, resulting in 49 violations from the Department of Housing Prevention and Development since June, records show — say the owner is trying to drive them out to attract market-rate tenants.

“They never told us what they were going to do to the building,” said resident Maiko Suzuki, 37, who is the lone remaining tenant along with her boyfriend Kelvin de la Cruz, 34, “They just came in and started renovating.”

The duo said they have being pressured to leave their fourth floor apartment since Weissman bought the building — adding that when they turned down his buyout offer in June, asking for more money, the messy, noisy renovation work began.

Suzuki and de la Cruz say they have been fighting for months to get basic services. The building is not cleaned on a regular basis, trash isn't picked up and the intercom doesn’t work, they said. The apartment also haven’t had heat since Friday de la Cruz said.

In November, they took Weissman to housing court for not fixing the intercom, records show. Since then they've added basic maintenance and providing heat to the suit, de la Cruz said.

The duo have to maneuver around debris and construction equipment to enter or leave the building, and are bombarded by dust, Suzuki said.

Weissman confirmed that the building is undergoing a $500,000 renovation, which was first reported by the Daily News, adding that it will create a new commercial space on the ground floor.

"At the end of the process, which is near, we will have a beautiful property that the current tenant and future tenants will benefit from," he said.

He denied that building maintenance is being ignored. 

"I can’t emphasize enough our commitment to ensure the safety and comfort of our tenants and even though HPD found no violations from [a court ordered November] inspection, we are committed to making sure other violations (and others that may come up in the future) are addressed promptly," Weissman said. 

Most of the tenants' complaints have not turned to violations, he added.

Suzuki called 311 to make 27 complaints in February alone. None of her complaints have resulted in violations, records show.

Making those complaints are their only way of fighting back, de la Cruz said.

“The management doesn’t care,” he said. “They act like we don’t live here. Getting anything done is like a mission because there is nobody in charge of running this building.” 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article identified the apartment in question as "rent-controlled," however it is actually rent-stabilized.