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Illegal Hotel Operator Leaves Tenants Without Gas for 6 Months, They Say

By Gwynne Hogan | August 27, 2015 10:31am
 Highpoint Associates operates illegal hotels, the city says, while its actual tenants haven't gone without gas since February, they say.
Frustrated Tenants
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HELLS KITCHEN — The city’s worst illegal hotel operator has left tenants living without gas or a roof for more than six months, residents said.

And they suspect it's a tactic employed by Highpoint Associates to force them to abandon their rent-stabilized homes. 

The lack of gas followed a fire on Feb. 4 at 412 W. 46th St., which the FDNY concluded was sparked accidentally by electrical wires and tore through the building's roof.

Nearly seven months later, the landlord still has not completed repairs.

A web of tarps still covers the holes in the roof. Water that filters in is trapped in more tarps on the fifth and fourth floors then fed into hoses, according to photos provided by building residents.

Gas supply has been halted since the blaze.

"We sent them a letter after the fire outlining the steps they had to take," a spokesman for Con Edison said. "We haven't heard back, nothing's happened."

Residents said they've been using hot plates for cooking and eating mostly cold food or take out since the gas was cut.

John Reeds, 57, who has lived in his rent-stabilized apartment for 22 years, said each time it rained it was “like a river gushing down in front of my door."

Shân Willis, who has also lived in the building for more than 20 years, said, “It’s been horrible.”

She said she spent three months without a lock on her front door after firemen had to smash it in. When she called management to ask about repairs to the bathroom ceiling that were also damaged in the fire, she was yelled at, she said.

"I'm not going to clean that up, you have to clean it up," Willis said a woman at the management company Keystone Properties told her.

Five apartments on the top two floors were deemed uninhabitable by Department of Buildings following the fire, according to records.

Meanwhile, repairmen have been patching up several apartments on the lower floors that are rented to tourists, tenants said.

“I don't understand why they’re putting in new cabinets... when there are people who don’t have gas and there’s no roof on the building,” Reeds said.

The building is owned by Highpoint Associates LLC and managed by Keystone Properties, according to property records and a sign in front of the building.

Highpoint — which was called the city's worst illegal hotel operator by Public Advocate Letitia James in February — also owns the building next door where another fire started on Dec. 4 in the basement and extended up to the roof through an air shaft, according to fire officals.

The two buildings have racked up building code violations and the landlords owe the city $122,900 in outstanding fines dating back to 2009, according to records.

Between the two buildings there are 40 open building code violations, including one from 2009 for not having a fire alarm system, Department of Buildings records show.

The outstanding fines led the city to order that tenants pay rent to the city instead of the landlord, according to a notice posted at the building Wednesday.

Residents in 412 have complained 165 times since the fire to multiple city agencies to report the continued lack of gas and leaking, among other complaints.

At least seven different apartments in the two buildings were issued Department of Buildings violations multiple times for acting like a hotel since 2012, records show. Residents say they continue to see tourists with suitcases, according to 311 complaint records.

Highpoint Associates LLC VII bought both buildings in 2000, according to property records.

David Ohebshalom’s name is on the deed. He’s a member of an infamous real estate family that has been accused of trying to muscle out rent stabilized tenants by breaking into apartments, clipping phone and cable wires and shutting off water and heat without warning, according to reports.

A spokeswoman for Keystone Management declined to comment.

DNAinfo could not find a number for Highpoint Associates LLC XII, though Keystone and Highpoint share the same address in Sherman Oaks, California, according to state business records.

Big Apple Properties, the company that David Ohebshalom claims to have founded on his LinkedIn profile, did not return a request for comment.

Just a handful of rent-stabilized tenants are left in the two buildings, residents said.

Another few apartments are dedicated to tourists, some apartments have been sitting empty for years and other apartments have been rented out to younger people who stay for a few months before they move out, tenants said. 

Russell Stevens, 66, who's lived in the building for more than two decades, summed up the situation.

“[They] get tired of this stuff and they move out,” he said.