House Full of Trouble

The Building at 56 West 11th Street: Tenants Wonder When Will Things Improve. Photo/Cherno B. Jallow/NY City Lens

The building at 56 West 11th Street: Residents wonder when things will improve (Photo: Cherno B. Jallow/NY City Lens).

The tenants have gone for four months without gas, a functioning elevator, or access to the building’s laundry facilities. The tenants have also been exposed to lead due to continuing construction in the building.

Is this some building in one of New York’s poorest sections? Actually, no. It is at 56 West 11th Street in Greenwich Village. Built in 1912, the brownstone building sold for $18.5 million in 2013. It is nestled within the plush, picturesque 11th Street neighborhood, which also houses The New School. Further down the street, at 155 West 11th, several townhouses are being built. The building is located in the 10011 zip code, with a median household income of $87,372.

“It is a weird situation,” said Cole Ragsdale, 24, a student who lives with his aunt in the nine-story building. “We can’t cook. We have to get microwavable food.”

“We don’t have gas, we don’t have an elevator, we don’t have a laundry facility,” said another tenant, who spoke extensively but asked not to be identified. “It is horrible,” she said, as she came outside of the building, which is owned by Icon Management. She said the tenants had been involving elected officials to help solve their problems. But so far, she said, nothing has come of it.

In a September 18, 2014 letter to the property owner’s attorneys, Kossoff, PLLC Attorneys at Law, Councilman Corey Johnson, who represents the area, said he was concerned with the troubles in the building. “The ongoing construction, which has caused the air to have high lead content, broken elevators, lack of gas service and an inaccessible super continue to be cause for significant concern,” the letter reads.

The letter states that the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene conducted an inspection on the building on September 5 and found that “there are high levels of lead in the air within the apartments tested and common spaces, too.” The councilman, in the letter, urged Icon to work towards improving the air quality and eradicate lead in the building, restore gas, and swiftly fix the elevator. “Four months of repairs is simply too long for people to rely on stairs alone,” the councilman wrote in the letter.

Mitchell H. Kossoff, one of the Icon attorneys, who said he was authorized to speak for the building owner, told NY City Lens that various agencies had tested the building for lead and his client had not been cited for any violation in regards to lead exposure. “There is a protocol that has been followed,” he said. “We are in compliance.”

In a September 29 reply to the Councilman Johnson’s letter, Icon attorneys said their client had taken concrete steps to comply with the protocol for lead monitoring. “The building has been inspected by several agencies, each of which has found no basis on which to issue a violation for elevated levels of lead in the air,” the letter reads.

As for why the building still doesn’t have an elevator, Kossoff said his client was still working on putting in a new one in the building. “The present elevator was in a dilapidated condition,” he said. “And they have to replace it.” He said replacement work is ongoing. “You have to order the parts, the elevator needs to be completely done. It has a time line,” he said.

“The elevator was so old you couldn’t have eight or 10 people in it at the same, it would go down,” said an Icon building superintendent, who asked for anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak. The superintendent said the building has 24 tenants and said as far as he knew no tenant had moved out as a result of the building issues.

But according to tenants, it is construction workers who are putting up new apartments in the building who broke the elevator. And in August of this year, DNAinfo New York reported that two construction workers doing work inside the building sustained injuries when the elevator suddenly dropped. “The workers had opened up the elevator car’s ceiling hatch and had pushed pipes through it as they rode up 56 West 11th Street about 11:30 a.m., when the pipes got tangled in the cables and snapped,” the website reported, quoting fire officials.

And as for why there was no gas in the building, Kossoff said his client had not been responsible for the shut-off. He said ConEd, during an inspection in a tenant’s room had “punctured” the gas line in the building. “The fire department came and shut down the entire building,” he said, adding that his client had been pushing ConEd to do the inspections promptly and rectify the situation. “The plumbing lines need to be replaced,” he said. “It is an old building. It is a massive job.” Several voicemails left at ConEd were never answered.

Icon, the councilman’s letter attests, has tried to accommodate some of the needs of the tenants by delivering groceries to the elderly and the disabled in the building. “We have taken one family and put them in a hotel,” said Kossoff. “To the extent that the company can accommodate the tenants, we have been,” he added.

At the entrance of the building, tenants could be seen loading up laundry in their cars, to be taken to laundromats in the area. Since the laundry machine in the building’s basement can only be accessed through the elevator, the tenants say they have been forced to look elsewhere for their laundry needs. They also say they have been pinched hard financially, since they have to regularly eat out because they can’t cook at home.

“It has been the worst summer I have experienced,” said the tenant who asked for anonymity. “Everybody is kind of beaten down.”

Records from the New York City Dept. of Buildings show the building has 28 open violations, some dating as far back as 2005. The most recent violation citation was issued in August of this year for the building’s elevator.

“Tenants,” said Nicholas M. Moccia, a Staten Island landlord and tenant rights attorney, “may have a remedy under various anti-harassment laws if the conduct of the building owner or management is found to be willful.” He said under such circumstances, tenants would be able to withhold rent payment and seek a rent reduction under the State of New York Warranty of Habitability. “Three months is a surprisingly long time for a building to be without gas in New York City,” he said.

In fact, the building has been without gas for four months.