Assemblyman Dinowitz and Public Advocate James Decry Abysmal Conditions during Building Renovation
Bronx, NY – This Thanksgiving some Bronx families will be unable to gather around a home-cooked meal in their own apartments because of highly intrusive renovations on many of the 57 units in the building. The Morgan Group, which owns the building, purchased the property in 2014 and began applying for Department of Building permits in 2015. Tenants, including families with children and senior citizens, have also reported that at least six units are forced to share one communal bathroom while renovation work is performed in their apartment. Additionally, some tenants reported that their kitchens were covered in plastic sheeting and were unusable for weeks or months at a time.
Problems at the building have attracted the attention of almost every agency that handles housing complaints including the Department of Health and the recently formed Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force. The Department of Health discovered four different measurements for lead that exceeded acceptable EPA standards on September 30 and the Department of Buildings has issued multiple stop work orders at the end of October as a result of fire safety concerns. The building was mentioned in a recent New York Post article, which also published a story about a second building owned by The Morgan Group at 60 East 196th Street.
The Morgan Group has indicated in communications with tenants that they intend to apply for a Major Capital Improvement (MCI) increase with the Department of Homes and Community Renewal (DHCR) which, if granted, would permanently raise the rents of rent regulated tenants by hundreds of dollars per year. Multiple tenants have stated that their bathrooms and kitchens were not in need of major renovations prior to the construction. Many tenant advocates have long identified ‘harassment by construction’ as a tactic used by some landlords to coerce longtime tenants out of their apartments in order to raise rent by the larger vacancy increase amount (currently at 20%, compared to 1.25% or 2% for a rent stabilized renewal lease).
Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz said: “What I have been hearing from these residents is astonishing. They have shown me pictures of gutted and unusable kitchens, they have shown me pictures of a bathroom full of shattered porcelain and broken pipes, and they have told me that these conditions persisted for weeks at a time. It is hard enough for a family of four to share one bathroom with each other, let alone with dozens of their neighbors. In my opinion and based on what I have heard and seen, these actions are criminal and should be prosecuted as such. While I am still waiting on conclusions from the various agencies involved, if they conclude that harassment has occurred then I strongly urge the Attorney General to take appropriate action.”
Public Advocate Letitia James said: “The conditions these residents are living in are simply unacceptable. Unscrupulous landlords will not get away with forcing tenants to live in dangerous and indecent conditions, and alleged harassment through hazardous, large-scale construction. I thank the agencies that are already involved with this building, as well as Assemblyman Dinowitz. We will continue to work together to ensure that these tenants get the safe and decent housing they deserve.”
Jane Aoyama-Martin, Project Director of Bronx Legal Services, said: “Our office represents tenants in buildings owned and managed by the Morgan Group. Families in these buildings have had their working kitchens and bathrooms gutted with virtually no notice and left without any way to cook and bathe for weeks or months. Children, senior citizens, and people with disabilities are being forced to use a filthy bathroom shared by dozens of other families. Harassment through large-scale construction is a strategy predatory entities have used to force long-time tenants out in order to increase regulated rents. Too often, we see these unsavory landlords use these shoddy, unnecessary renovations to obtain a permanent rent increase which makes once affordable housing unaffordable and exacerbates the problem of homelessness in New York City. Bronx Legal Services stands with these tenants in fighting harassment and unlawful rent hikes.”