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Elevator Shutdown a 'Death Sentence' for Chelsea Seniors, Tenants Say

By Maya Rajamani | September 21, 2017 3:07pm
 The owners of Chelsea Hall plan to start modernizing the elevator on Sept. 25. 
Chelsea Hall
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CHELSEA — An elevator repair project at a building on West 16th Street will put elderly residents in grave danger by forcing them to walk up to six flights of stairs — with management suggesting they get deliveries if they’re unable to leave their apartments.

On Sept. 25, the owners of the Chelsea Hall building at 253 W. 16th Street, near Eighth Avenue, will start to “modernize” the building’s elevator — a process that will shut off the lift and close the building’s basement laundry room for at least eight weeks, notices posted around the building say.

The news came as a shock to the building’s older residents, many of whom are dealing with health-related issues.

“My concern is that there’s too many seniors in this building — a lot of them aren’t going to make it up and down the stairs,” lifelong Chelsea Hall resident William Neilson, 73, said Wednesday. “What if one of them falls and dies?”

A notice hanging in the elevator suggests residents “make any alternative arrangements [they] deem appropriate.”


“As you have been previously advised, the Corporation will not provide residents with housing or other accommodations while the elevator is out of service,” the notice reads. “Fortunately, residents should be able to obtain deliveries to their door since the building is only six stories tall, and laundromats are located nearby."

A footnote adds that “[t]he Corporation is not liable for any costs incurred by owners or residents relating to elevator modernization."

When residents met with the building’s superintendent to voice their concerns Tuesday, the super also suggested they have food and groceries delivered to their apartments to avoid the stairs, said one resident who declined to give his name out of fear of retribution.

“It’s a death sentence for everybody,” said the tenant, adding that the delivery suggestion was “demeaning and demoralizing.”

Vanderbilt Property Management, which manages Chelsea Hall, has been unresponsive to residents’ concerns, several residents said.

“If this thing goes on for the period that they’re talking about, it’s life-threatening,” said longtime resident Chris Parkas, 77, who will have to walk up and down six flights of stairs from his top-floor apartment while the elevator is out of service. “This is reverting back to the caveman era — survival of the fittest.”

Using a laundromat instead of the laundry room, meanwhile, is an added cost for residents, Neilson noted.

Many of the seniors who live in the building are on fixed incomes and live in either rent-controlled or rent-stabilized units, several residents said.

A few said they suspected the elevator repairs were part of a plan to push older residents out of the building.

“Their whole aim is to eliminate the seniors,” Parkas claimed. “The Chelsea Hall board and Vanderbilt… [don’t] care if the senior rent-controlled and -stabilized people should drop dead, because that’s a vacant apartment for them to sell.”

The building would be liable if a tenant were to get injured on the stairs, he added.

“If something happens to these people, it will amount to murder — it will be a homicide,” he maintained. “This is a case where there’s no sense of humanity — it’s a loss of humanity.”

Plans to repair the elevator appear to have been in the works for several months. The city’s Department of Buildings issued a permit for elevator modernization on April 23, a spokesman said Wednesday.

Between April 2016 and June 2017, the department issued four violations for issues including “a failure of the car floor to stop at level with the landing floors, misaligned elevator doors, lack of sufficient access to the elevator pit, a non-code compliant elevator machine disconnect switch, and a machine oil leak,” the spokesman added.

Vanderbilt president Steven Birbach and building property manager Christine Checca didn’t respond to requests for comment. 

For residents like Mary Carter, 86, who has lived at Chelsea Hall since 1961, travels with a walker and is usually accompanied by an aide, the “modernization” efforts will make it difficult to leave the building.

“There are times that you have to go somewhere and nobody is there to help you,” said the second-floor resident, adding that she will have to traverse the stairs alone in those cases.

Despite her worries, however, she seemed more concerned about her neighbors.

“It will be horrific for the guys on the sixth floor,” she said. “I’ll do the best I can.”