HIGHBRIDGE — Tenants at 1475 Sheridan Ave. were forced to use a common bathroom that was littered with condoms and cigarette wrappers during unnecessary construction on their apartments that was only done as an excuse to raise their rents, according to a pending lawsuit.
Landlords Steven Finkelstein, Richard Timberger, Audrey Gladden and their company deprived Sheridan Avenue tenants of their kitchens and bathrooms for months while building new ones and of not providing them with gas from roughly January through August of 2014, residents charge in court papers.
During this construction, tenants "had to use a common, dirty kitchen and bathroom in an unsecured apartment on another floor where they regularly found such things as condoms and tobacco wrappers," according to the suit.
Many residents had to go to a different floor just to use the bathroom, which was particularly difficult for tenants who were elderly, disabled or had small children, court papers say.
"There was always people in there I did not know," said tenant Dalila Pineda, according to the suit, "and [I] did not feel safe."
The suit also charged that this work was completely unnecessary, as many tenants already had refurbished kitchens and bathrooms, and merely done as an excuse to raise rents in the building.
Construction started around July 2013 and lasted for about two years, during which time tenants had to move from apartment to apartment within the building and were told that not providing workers with access could result in their evictions, according to court papers.
The defendants powered their equipment with electricity from the tenants' apartments, which left them with costly bills that they were not reimbursed for, and a gas leak occurred during construction that caused service to be shut down for eight months, during which time residents were given shoddy hot plates to use that easily broke, according to the suit.
When construction was over, the landlord attempted to raise tenants' rents by $79.57 per room, which could nearly double the rent for several of them, the suit charges.
Additionally, the apartments were left in worse shape after the renovations than when work started, with problems including loose cabinets, cracked paint, leaking pipes, uneven floors and open holes that let in rats and bugs, according to the suit.
In tenant Vicente Martinez's apartment, for instance, his bathroom cabinets fell off, and a radiator exploded, the suit says.
The tenants suing are rent-stabilized, and many have lived in their apartments for more than 30 years, according to the suit.
The suit charges Finkelstein, Timberger and Gladden with engaging in "deceptive practices" that violate the Rent Stabilization Law and argues that the tenants are entitled to rent abatement and damages for being forced to give up access to their kitchens and bathrooms.
Timberger did not respond to a request for comment, and Gladden could not be reached.
Finkelstein maintained that he was entitled to raise rents in the building based on the work that he did to its kitchens and bathrooms, arguing that the lawsuit was really just about tenants not wanting to pay more for their apartments.
“The tenants are doing everything they can to keep from getting increases, which I understand,” he said, “but it doesn’t change the fact that I did work, and I did nice work. The kitchens and bathrooms are beautiful.”
Although he acknowledged that some kitchens and bathrooms may have been renovated over the years, he said they still had underlying structural problems that necessitated repairs.
“Underneath there was the old rotten plumbing still causing leaks all the time, and the only way you can do it right is what we did: you can change the bathroom,” he said.
Finkelstein said he understood why residents were upset about having to use communal kitchens and bathrooms during construction but maintained that he tried to get all the work done quickly and be as accommodating as possible, including by putting people up in hotels.
He stressed that the fight was ultimately just about the rising rents.
“If there were no increases, I’d be the hero instead of the dog,” he said.