Tenants of two buildings owned by New York Observer honcho Jared Kushner are accusing the real estate tycoon of trying to strong-arm them out of their apartments.
Backed by Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and tenants’ rights group Cooper Square Committee, residents of 170-174 E. 2nd Street held an event outside of the buildings yesterday, to raise awareness for what they say are poor and dangerous living conditions.
According to Mendez’s office, tenants, many of whom had rent-stabilized leases, received eviction notices shortly after Kushner purchased the buildings for $17 million in December 2013. More than 70 percent of the residents moved out or accepted buyouts, leaving behind a determined group that refused to be kicked out of their homes.
Yesterday, speakers struggled to be heard over the buzz and echo of ongoing construction originating from the new high-end apartments being installed at the Kushner properties while tenants continue occupy the buildings. Mary Ann Siwek, a tenant who has lived at 170 E. 2nd Street for over 34 years, said her home looked like a war zone, adding that construction workers were present “day and night,” often outside of the legally allotted time frame of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays.
“Another tenant was forced to call the fire department when her bathroom ceiling caved in and her apartment flooded with dirty water,” she said.
Cypress Dubin, one of the tenants at 174 E. 2nd St. said that the excessive disruption, dust, dirt, obstacles and what she called “violent levels of noise” also resulted in the loss of business and clients for herself and other tenants who work from home.
“The front door has often been left hanging off its hinges, unable to close,” Dubin added. “For months no locks were provided for the basement doors or the cellar doors from the street.”
The CSC has been working alongside the tenants of various other properties in the area in an effort to combat unlivable conditions. Steve Croman of 9300 Realty felt the wrath of some of his tenants, led in part by the CSC and other advocacy groups, when he recently faced some of them in court.
“In the last month and a half we’ve seen tenants increasingly push back against big real estate here in the Lower East Side,” said Cooper Square Committee Lead Organizer Brandon Kielbasa. “Steven Croman and Marolda Properties are under investigation by the Attorney General’s Office and the Tenant Protection Unit. Those investigations would not be possible without tenants organizing and pushing back.”
Westminster City Living, Kushner’s management company, did not respond to requests for comment, but Patrick Crosetto, Chief Operating Officer of Kushner Companies, said in a statement:
The building was in severe disrepair prior to its purchase in December, but we are in the midst of a $3 million plan for extensive, ongoing improvements including electric system upgrades, new heating and hot water systems, plumbing repair and replacement, roof work, pointing, sidewalk repairs, refurbishing hallways and lighting systems and new intercoms and mailboxes. As always, we will continue our ongoing communication with all of our residents to address any of their concerns, despite the actions of a handful of illegal tenants who continue to sabotage our efforts for their own personal gain.
An external PR rep said, “Inevitably with construction there will be water main breaks and there will be gas leaks and that sort of thing. But given the amount of work that needed to go into the property they’re actually investing in the East Village and investing in these properties.”
However, Mendez struck a different tone yesterday. “The owners of these buildings have to realize they are not just accountable for the tenants of this building,” she said. “They are accountable to all of us, because we care and we are community.”
“Clearly they want us out of our apartments and it is hard to believe this process of renovation we’ve endured could be anything but harassment,” said Dubin. “It’s not acceptable to undermine and disrupt the lives of citizens who really built community and home here.”
By Kasia Pilat, Clàudia Prat, and Travis Mannon
Correction: The original version of this post was revised to correct a quote. Brandon Kielbasa named Steven Croman and Marolda Properties as the subjects of an investigation.