NEW YORK REAL ESTATE NEWS

Apthorp tenants' lawyer filing for rent reduction

October 7, 2009

The attorney representing the Apthorp tenants' association is filing an application for a rent reduction today with the Division of Housing and Community Renewal, due to "ongoing degradation of services" for renters, said David Hershey-Webb, a partner with Himmelstein McConnell Gribben Donoghue & Joseph, who represents the association.

The filing comes less than 24 hours after a meeting between the association and Apthorp building manager and part-owner Andrew Ratner, COO of Broadwall Consulting Services, to go over grievances which weren't addressed in a meeting between the parties a month ago, Hershey-Webb said.

Ratner faced opposition at last night's meeting from 15 to 20 people out of approximately 100 attendees, including rent-stabilized tenants as well as renters who have bought or are planning to buy apartments in the Upper West Side condo conversion at 2201 Broadway between 78th and 79th streets.

Tenants feel that the current reconstruction work in the Apthorp is creating an unsafe environment, according to Hershey-Webb, and that Ratner hasn't taken the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of the 101-year-old building's approximately 70 remaining tenants.

The discord doesn't involve Apthorp owners Africa Israel Group and Mann Realty Services, Hershey-Webb said.

Of particular concern to the residents are the risers being installed in the building and the overabundance of dust that the construction is generating, said Gale Brewer, the Upper West Side City Council member whose district includes the Apthorp.

Broadwall's builders "are going into people's apartments and they're taking out walls," Brewer said of the riser installations. Residents at the meeting also argued that the construction team's efforts to cover the construction in protective plastic haven't been adequate, giving way to the dissemination of dirt, debris and dust.

"The first woman [who spoke at the meeting] said that she has asthma and she couldn't breathe because of all the construction dust," Brewer said.

Ratner was not immediately available for comment, but his attorney, Stuart Saft, who wasn't able to attend the meeting, said that he was "so surprised to hear" that the tenants were unhappy. He said that he keeps in close contact with Hershey-Webb's firm, where another attorney, Kevin McConnell, handles issues surrounding the condo conversion.

When informed of Saft's comments, Hershey-Webb said he was "surprised that Stuart is surprised."

The Apthorp's conversion has been fraught with drama, as rival investors claim that project co-owner Africa Israel Group hasn't been adequately transparent on its sales activity and business plan.

Prices were recently slashed and Africa Israel and Mann Realty called in star agent Dolly Lenz, a vice chairman at Prudential Douglas Elliman, to take over sales at the building this summer, in an effort meet its sales deadline included in the conversion's offering plan -- roughly 15 percent of the units sold by Sept. 15.

Although Ratner reportedly sent a letter to tenants early last month informing them that the building met the deadline, several buyers previously told The Real Deal that they had doubts over whether they were sold to legitimate buyers.

Author: Amy Tennery