LOWER EAST SIDE — Rent-stabilized tenants of a Stanton Street building are taking their landlord to court after a February inspection found that dust kicked up by demolition contained lead levels that were more than 200 times the safe limit — months after reports in two of the landlord’s other buildings also found lead levels above the EPA guidelines.
In the most recent incident at a building owned by SMA Equities, dust samples collected from the stairs and hallways inside 113 Stanton St. had lead levels far above the legal limit, according to a report by the Health Department included in the tenants' lawsuit.
The Feb. 3 inspection found dust on the stairs between the third and fourth floors that had 8,400 microgram per square foot — 210 times the 40 microgram limit, according to the report.
Dust covering the fifth-floor hallway had 3,300 micrograms per square foot, or more than 82 times the legal limit, the report found. The fourth-floor hallway and the stairs between the second and third floors had 1,800 micrograms per square foot, or 45 times the legal limit, the report found.
Tenants said the dust was kicked into the air while the crews demolished a vacant apartment on the top floor.
Concerned tenants have taken their landlord, SMA Equities, to court, alleging that the construction that has kicked up the dust is not only disruptive, but also amounts to harassment, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in housing court on Feb. 19.
“Every day that Respondents’ crew has been working inside the Building, the halls have been a hazy mixture of dust and demolition debris (wood pieces, paint chips, ceiling particles, etc) that blanketed the common areas and seeped inside some apartment units,” the lawsuit states.
In addition to the elevated lead levels, the tenants have dealt with noise and heat and electricity disruptions since construction began in January, court records state.
“Life has been barely livable since he took over [in September 2014], frankly. It’s been one assault to another,” said Garrett Alarcon, a 56-year-old tenant who has lived in the building with his twin brother for 12 years.
“I don’t mind that the apartment upstairs need to be done. But you have to do things right and not disrupt our lives.”
The landlord, tenants claim in the lawsuit, is trying to push them out.
“[SMA Equities’] actions amount to a campaign of harassment in order to make the Building so uncomfortable and unsafe that tenants will vacate their rent-stabilized apartments,” the lawsuit said.
Despite promises that it would conduct construction safely, the workers did not follow through on a set of safeguards outlined in a “lead paint mitigation plan,” according to the lawsuit.
Workers, who were required by the plan to don protective Tyvek suits when entering a work area, only wore them the first day, the lawsuit claims, and debris that should have been bagged and covered was “loosely collected” after the first day of construction, according to court documents.
According to the lead report, the Health Department inspector told the construction crew to stop working, clean up the debris with a wet mop and special vacuum, and to follow federal Environmental Protection Agency guidelines.
The Health Department issued a commissioner's order to clean up the area and the building passed a reinspection on Feb. 14, a spokesman for the agency said.
“We did not see dust in the common area and the work has been completed,” the spokesman said. “We required the owner to provide dust clearance wipes, which they did, and they were at acceptable levels.”
SMA Equities denied the tenants’ claims, saying that it has used EPA-certified contractors and worked with city agencies to ensure workers followed the rules.
“The lawsuit filed by three tenants at 113 Stanton Street is riddled with inaccuracies and false allegations,” SMA Equities said in a statement.
"It is unfortunate that the Petitioners have repeatedly refused to cooperate directly with management through our multiple communication channels. We have been and remain ready to act to make any necessary repairs, while the Petitioners have denied access to their apartments for that purpose.”
Other SMA Equities properties have also had elevated lead levels, according to the lawsuit and reports conducted by the Health Department.
An April 2014 inspection found lead levels of up to 2,750 times the legal limit at 102 Norfolk St. while an October 2014 inspection discovered found levels of more than five times EPA guidelines at 210 Rivington St.
SMA Equities' statement noted that 113 Stanton St. did not have any violations related to lead safety, sufficient heat or hot water. The building has only two open violations since SMA Equities took over in September 2014, according to city records.
The Department of Housing Preservation and Development issued a violation last week for “bars or unlawful gates” on the windows to the building’s fire escapes, records show. The Department of Buildings issued a violation on Jan. 21 for conducting electrical work without a permit, according to online records.
A housing court judge granted a temporary restraining order that halted construction before the case’s first hearing on Feb. 27, said Garrett Wright, an attorney with the Urban Justice Center, which is representing the tenants.
The restraining order was lifted last week, he said, but the judge also ordered the SMA Equities to perform construction work in accordance with all applicable laws as well as the tenant protection plan it filed with DOB.
The next hearing will take place on March 6, Wright said.