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'Pet-Friendly' High-Rise Forcing Dog Owners to Use Trash-Strewn Side Door

By Maya Rajamani | May 19, 2016 6:28pm | Updated on May 20, 2016 5:49pm
 The Helena building at 601 W. 57th St. no longer allows residents to walk their dogs through the lobby.
The Helena's Doggie Door
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HELL’S KITCHEN — Dog owners living in a West Side high-rise say they’ve been banned from walking pets through their doorman-staffed lobby — and are instead forced to use a dark, trash-strewn service entrance.

The Durst Organization-owned Helena building at 601 W. 57th St. currently advertises itself as a “pet-friendly” apartment building on its website, with a studio apartment currently listed for $3,190 per month and a two-bedroom going for $5,990.

The building lived up to its description until last month, when the management team informed residents of a new pet policy, resident Rose Powers said.  

Since April 25, tenants have been required to bring their pets through a service entrance door on 11th Avenue, an email sent by management to residents said.  

“At no time may pets be ushered through the main lobby entrance [on West 57th Street] or allowed to relieve themselves in front of the building,” the email stated.

Powers, who has lived in the Helena for the past four years, said she wouldn’t have renewed the lease on her one-bedroom apartment if she’d known about the new rules.

“I just want to be able to walk through the lobby that I pay money for, in a safe environment where there are people around, and be in a pet-friendly building like the one that I signed the lease for four years ago,” she said. “Pushing us out back feels very unsafe and dirty."

The service entrance has no doorman, and the sidewalk it leads to is frequently lined with trash, she explained.

On Wednesday evening, bags of trash, cardboard boxes and a mattress frame took up much of the sidewalk outside the service entrance. A rat scurried in and out of tunnels in a garden bed across from the door.

Some Helena residents have simply decided to move out as a result of the new policy.

“I pay too much for this,” said resident Jimmy, 32, as he pointed to the garbage bags he’d just walked past with his two dogs. “[My wife and I] are breaking our lease and moving out.”

Jimmy declined to give his last name to avoid conflicts with management as they show his apartment over the next few months.

While a few Helena dog owners  said the new pet policy hadn’t affected them, tenants like Jessica Levin, 31, maintained it poses a whole set of problems for her situation.

She and her husband are expecting a baby soon, she said.

“Had we known about this policy, we wouldn’t have moved in. There’s no way I’m going to be able to take the baby and the dog through the service entrance,” Levin said.

"Even with a bag, I can’t take [my dog] through the lobby, so it’s really frustrating," she added.

Dog walker Mirjana Rajkovic, who handles 10 of the building’s dogs, said the Helena used to be “very dog-friendly.”

At one point, its doormen set out water bowls and treats for dogs who passed through, she recalled.

“Maybe they thought it didn’t look good,” she said. “For me, I totally understand, because I do walk so many dogs… but for someone that pays so much money in rent, to not be able to walk through their front door with their dogs, I totally understand why they’re upset.”

A spokesman for the Helena on Thursday noted that half of the building’s residents use the service entrance as a shortcut to 11th Avenue.

“We love dogs at the Helena and strive to strike a balance between the needs of our four-legged and two-legged residents,” the spokesman wrote in an email.

He reiterated that statement when asked to explain why management implemented the policy.

Powers, Levin and other residents have since signed a Change.org petition asking the Durst Organization to revise the policy.

As of Thursday, the petition had collected 287 signatures.

Jimmy, who has lived in the building for two years, said he and his wife will be decamping "to an actual pet-friendly building" on the Upper West Side.

“Not a fake one,” he clarified.