Williamsburg loft building’s tenants see hopes to stay fade

September 16, 2019 Claudia Irizarry Aponte, THE CITY
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This story was originally published on Sept. 16 by THE CITY. 

In May, residents of Williamsburg’s 240 Broadway thought they’d won a fighting chance to stay in their homes, with the launch of an audit into their landlord’s long-ago transformation of their once-industrial building into apartments.

Tenants had pinned their hopes on the Department of Buildings revoking the structure’s certificate of occupancy, which they contended had been invalidly issued based on sub-par construction. That would allow the tenants to claim protection against eviction under New York’s Loft Law, which shields residents during and after conversions of the industrial spaces they call home.

But since then, tenants say, they’ve faced intensifying pressure to leave now that the Brooklyn building has been sold.

Soon after buying the building for $16.5 million, the new landlord, 240 Broadway Properties LLC, started issuing notices to tenants in the 24 apartments, demanding they vacate within 30 days.

So far, nine households have departed or are fighting eviction proceedings, while the remaining 15 wait anxiously as expiration dates on their leases approach. Construction has begun, according to holdouts, who say their gas has been shut off.

A representative for the building’s operator, Livingston Management, did not respond to THE CITY’s request for comment.

Tailor Arthur Arbit has worked in his 240 Broadway loft for more than 10 years. Photo by Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Last month, the Department of Buildings informed tenants it could not find sufficient evidence to scrap 240 Broadway’s certificate of occupancy — undermining the residents’ claim on staying put in the increasingly upscale neighborhood.

“We don’t know what’s going on,” Arthur Arbit, a tailor who has lived in the building for 11 years and keeps his studio there, told THE CITY. “We’re just waiting for answers.”

‘I feel cheated’

The Department of Buildings began its audit into the century-old building’s certificate of occupancy in the spring, following inquiries from THE CITY.

In an Aug. 15 email to tenants, department representative Benjamin Colombo noted the examination uncovered “several deficiencies that were inconsistent with the approved plans and subsequent inspection” that led to the department’s 2003 green-light for the certificate of occupancy. Among the problems: non-compliant space heaters and lack of fire-rated construction.

But, he wrote, “There is insufficient proof to demonstrate that the deficiencies existed at the time of the issuance of the certificate of occupancy.”

Colombo added that the department had written up the new owners for code violations, giving them until Sept. 12 to fix the problems.

Tenants argued that the certificate of occupancy had been erroneously secured in 2003 by Henry Radusky, an architect investigated and sanctioned for filing questionable paperwork on past projects.

They sought to follow the success of loft tenants in another Brooklyn Radusky building, whose certificate of occupancy was revoked as “unlawfully issued.” Those residents were able to apply for Loft Law protection, which includes rent stabilization.

Britta Riley is unsure if her family will able to stay in their loft home at 240 Broadway. Photo by Ben Fractenberg THE CITY

“I can’t vocalize my frustration about the hard earned money — I have paid over $300,000 in rent — I spent for a city-certified property that turned out not to merit that certification,” Britta Riley, a resident of 240 Broadway, wrote in a June 24 email to the Department of Buildings.

Riley has lived in the building for the last 11 years and has two infant daughters. “I feel cheated learning that this supposedly city-certified building is so gravely out of code,” she added.

A spokesperson for the Department of Buildings, Andrew Rudansky, told THE CITY that the new owners are playing by the book.

“So far, the owners have been complying with DOB orders,” he said. “However, if they fail to continue this progress bringing the building into code compliance, we will take further enforcement actions, including additional violations and associated civil penalties.”

Facial recognition entry

Many long-term residents describe an increasingly difficult environment in the building.

While a partial Stop Work Order halted roof repairs, construction is still underway in the hallways. On a recent visit by THE CITY, dropped ceilings had been torn down in the hallways on the second and third floor of the six-story building, exposing decrepit tin ceilings, pipes, mold and dust.

A Health Department notice was put up on Thursday, Sept. 12. Photo via 240 Broadway Tenants Association/THE CITY

An inspection by the city Department of Health on Thursday found dust “caused by unsafe work.” A notice posted in the building that same day says the dust samples are being tested for lead.

The management company, meanwhile, is proceeding with a facial recognition security system, and demanding residents turn in their metal keys by Sept. 20, according to notices sent to tenants.

Asa Pingree, who lives in the building with his wife, teenage son and 2-month-old baby, received an eviction notice last month after his lease expired. Now he’s fighting the landlord in housing court. The 38-year-old furniture designer moved to the building in 2015 after losing a similar conversion battle at a nearby loft on Hope Street.

While Pingree hopes 240 Broadway will eventually achieve Loft Law status, he’s most worried about his newborn’s wellbeing.

“My main concern is they’re risking our health without actually improving our living situation,” he said.

This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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