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Long-Empty 57th St. Building Included on Tish James' 'Worst Landlord' List

By Gwynne Hogan | November 27, 2015 9:47am | Updated on November 29, 2015 8:01pm
 Mark Tress's building, the historic Windermere, at 400 W. 57th St. has been empty since 2009.
Mark Tress's building, the historic Windermere, at 400 W. 57th St. has been empty since 2009.
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DNAinfo/Mathew Katz

HELL'S KITCHEN — A landlord named to the public advocate's worst landlords list has not had tenants since 2009, according to the landlord and the community board.

Mark Tress, owner of the landmarked Windermere at 400 W. 57th St., near Ninth Avenue, is the city's 25th worst landlord, according to Public Advocate Letitia James' "worst landlords" list released on Monday, citing the 649 open violations at his historic property.

However, the building has long been vacant and is being restored, according to Tress and tenant advocates.

"There's been no one living there for years," Tress said. "They compiled a list without doing proper research."

The building was on last year's list as well.

The most recent violation was issued in 2008, according to Housing Preservation and Development records, a year before property records show Tress bought the building for $13 million.

The building also has dozens of open Department of Building violations, but just one of them was issued since Tress has owned the building, records show. That violation dealt with the building's elevators.

"[If you've] seen the building and the challenges it's been through, even [how it was] 17 months ago and where it's come today, [you] would be astonished and very proud," he said.

While the building has a long and well-documented history of tenant harassment prior to Tress's ownership, the New York Times reported, the last five legal tenants reached a settlement with the prior owner and moved out soon after, according to a 2011 letter the community board sent to HPD.

Still, open violations, even in a building with no tenants, could be dangerous.

"Even if there might not be tenants living there it still could be putting people at risk," said Anna Brower, a spokeswoman for the public advocate. 

For example, Brower said, pieces of the building could fall or someone could sneak in and be injured.  Tress, however, said he has 24-hour security at the Windermere and even though there were two 311 complaints about falling bricks there, he said none of the violations dealt with the facade.

"The truth is there are a lot of landlords that should be on this list," Brower added. "We can't go personally examine every single building. That's what HPD and DOB are for."

Tress declined to comment on why he hadn't yet cleared pre-existing HPD and DOB violations.

The Windermere was built 1881 as an apartment building for women artists and writers. In the 1970's some of the larger apartments were subdivided into single room units.

The former landlord let the building sink into disrepair in the 1980's and had a record of tenant harassment, according to a letter the community board sent to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

A former building manager Jerome Garland eventually spent time in prison threatening to kill tenants who didn't vacate their apartments, the Times reported.

Tress said he hopes to overcome that history by turning most of the building into a boutique hotel.

"Any landmark building is challenging but ultimately once you meet that challenge, there's a certain satisfaction to be able to restore a building to its original glory," Tress said, adding that he hoped the hotel would be open for business within two years.

Roughly 20 units will be set aside for affordable housing, a stipulation required by the city to compensate or years of harassment under previous landlords.