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UES Buildings Spew Toxic Lead Putting Tenants at Risk, Health Dept. Says

By Shaye Weaver | February 7, 2017 9:44am
 The health department stopped construction work at the properties due to lead.
Upper East Side Residents Call for City to Help Stop Landlord Negligence
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UPPER EAST SIDE — A landlord failed to protect tenants from hazardous, lead-contaminated dust kicked up from renovation work inside two First Avenue buildings and was ordered by the city's health department to stop all construction, according to officials.

Slate Property Group — the same landlord behind the controversial purchase of the Lower East Side's Rivington House nursing center — is under fire again for exposing tenants at two other buildings it owns to hazardous amounts of dust containing lead, according to the city DOH spokeswoman Carolina Rodriguez.

The health department ordered for all work to stop at 1288 and 1290 First Ave. on Jan. 31 for the dangerous conditions stemming from ongoing renovations inside the buildings where residents, including seniors, continue to live, according to the agency.

"We recently identified lead dust hazards in these buildings and ordered the owner to cease work and address these conditions," Rodriguez said.

"The agency will perform follow up inspections to confirm that construction dust has been appropriately cleaned up at the properties."

A spokesman for Slate, who asked not to be named, said Tuesday that Slate was unaware of any lead in the building but stopped work immediately in compliance with the health department's order.

Slate has submitted new dust samples from 1288 First Avenue to the health department, which is required to lift the stop work order, but Rodriguez said not all areas were sampled.

The landlord must do additional sampling at the site before it's cleared and submit samples from 403 E. 69th St., which the agency hasn't received yet. Rodriguez said she expects to get them by the end of the week.

Slate purchased the two properties in April 2016, and at the time bought out some tenants in the building and started doing renovation work in the units, which involved removing paint containing lead from walls in the hallways, according to tenants.

In the process the landlord failed to contain the toxic dust from spreading in the air, and are forcing residents to live with paint-stripped walls and unfettered wires dangling from the ceilings, the tenants said.

"They're breaking holes all over the hallways, releasing lead, asbestos and other substances in and outside of the building," said resident Julio Castro, a 58-year-old licensed Environmental Protection Agency risk assessor and asbestos investigator.

Castro, who's lived at 1290 First Ave. since he was three years old, was among a dozen other residents who joined Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright at a press conference last week to denounce Slate's negligence.

In addition to the dust, the renovation work has caused electricity and water to go out frequently with no notice, according to Castro, who lives in a third-floor apartment with his wife and his 10-year-old daughter.

Since Slate took over their buildings last spring, families have had to live without heat every night from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., he said.

"There's a lack of heat, interruptions in our water, electricity, and janitorial services," Castro said. "We've had a great decrease in essential services and space."

Resident Thomas Leonard said he's complained to the landlord about water chronically leaking into his apartment due to a plumbing issue upstairs, but has so far been ignored.

"I'm living in unlivable circumstances, what I would call squalor, and they don't give a darn," he said. 

The two buildings at 1288 and 1290 First Ave. share a lot with 403 E. 69th St. and are all owned by Slate. The Department of Buildings separately issued the third address with a stop work order for doing renovation work without proper permits and for "failing to safeguard the site," according to Andrew Rudansky, a spokesman for the Department of Buildings.

Slate did not have permits for the removal of a staircase in a public corridor at 1288 First Ave., Rudansky said, but didn't say what kind of safeguard had been neglected.

The spokesman for Slate said that the staircase is being removed for architectural and safety reasons and that when Slate filed the plans with the DOB to remove it, it left out some information, which resulted in the violation. He didn't specify what information was left out of the submitted plans.

He also denied the allegations that the company has been negligent toward its tenants.

"These accusations could not be further from the truth," he said. "We acquired the building less than a year ago and discovered serious issues that endangered tenants and badly needed immediate repair. Now we are committing serious resources to making the necessary improvements in order to provide safer, better living conditions for rent stabilized tenants and all of our residents."

The Slate spokesman said that the serious issues included a crumbling staircase and old wiring and plumbing that needed to be replaced, adding that there were roughly 79 preexisting DOB violations at the properties when Slate took over the sites.

There are currently nine active violations across the three slate properties, according to the DOB's website.

Tenants fed up with the conditions in their buildings finally contacted Seawright in January for help, sparking a press conference outside the buildings on Feb. 2, where she demanded that the city and state do a full investigation into Slate's properties.

"Workers, elders, and children have become victims to hazardous amounts of lead," Seawright said.

"I've worked with the residents to file numerous complaints with the State Department of Health. I'm here today to send a clear message that we will not allow this kind of behavior."

The State Department of Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment.