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Tenant Coalition Files Four Lawsuits Against Landlord for Harassment

By Lisha Arino | April 20, 2015 5:18pm
 Tenants of four SMA Equities-owned buildings in the Lower East Side and Nolita are suing their landlord.
Tenants Announce Lawsuit Against Landlord in Press Conference
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EAST VILLAGE — Rent-stabilized tenants of a Lower East Side building that was found to have lead levels that were nearly 3,000 times the legal limit have taken their landlord to court, along with residents of three other buildings owned by the same company.

The Mahfar Tenants Alliance — a group of rent-regulated residents living in 21 apartments across four buildings — 22 Spring St., 102 Norfolk St., 210 Rivington St. and 113 Stanton St. — have taken their landlord, Samy Mahfar of SMA Equities to court, saying that he has refused to renew their leases and used “hazardous” construction practices to force them out of their apartments.

“This is a disregard for human life,” said Seth Wandersman, a 15-year resident at 210 Rivington St. during a press conference Monday announcing the lawsuits.

The landlord failed to put basic lead mitigation procedures in place or ignored safety plans to deal with the dust kicked up by construction, tenants said at the event, hosted by the Cooper Square Committee and the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence (CAAAV), which have been working with the residents.

Tenants described clouds of dust that filled the hallways and entered their apartments. The landlord, they added, did not properly clean the lead-filled dust and debris.

The workers should have also worn protective equipment to when they were in work areas — similar to the suits, goggles and masks Wandersman and his girlfriend Catija Rehkamp wore to the press conference — tenants and housing advocates said. However, workers only donned the suits once during the first day of construction at 113 Stanton St.

Mahfar did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Dust samples collected by a health inspector at 102 Norfolk St. in April 2014 found lead levels of up to 2,750 times the 40-microgram limit. A security guard refused to let the inspector into the building and only obliged with the inspector returned with a police officer, according to the report.

Inspectors also found lead levels up to 210 times over the legal limit at 113 Stanton St. and at least five times the limit at 210 Rivington St.

The landlord also cut off their heat and hot water several times without notice during construction, even during the winter months, tenants said at the press conference. Tenants also described shoddy repair work, which was illegal in some cases, they said.

The landlord also offered tenants buyouts and in some cases, used “tenant relocators,” they said.

“These are people paid to convince long-term tenants to leave,” Wandersman said, adding that they “constantly called and harangued residents.”

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman forced one of the relocators, Michel Pimienta, to pay a $40,000 fine and give up his relocation efforts last year, according to the New York Daily News. However, he has started calling residents in the past few months, tenants said.

Garret Wright, a senior staff attorney at the Urban Justice Center — which is representing the tenants with the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest — said the lawsuits aim to end Mahfar’s alleged tenant harassment and to make sure that future construction work “is done by the book, to the letter of the law.”

The first lawsuit was filed by 113 Stanton St. in February, Wright said, while the other three were filed last week.

State Sen. Daniel Squadron, Councilwomen Margaret Chin and Rosie Mendez and a representative from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s office also showed up to support the tenants in their fight against Mahfar and SMA Equities. They also called on city agencies to work together in order to prevent tenant harassment.

“We will continue to work with you so that this does not continue to happen in his buildings or other tenants,” Mendez said.