On Monday afternoon, Kym Gomes left her apartment at 435 East 12th Street, on her way to work (she has a night job). She walked down the stairs of the five-story tenement that’s been home for the past 18 years but was stymied upon reaching the second floor landing. The problem? The staircase leading to the ground level was gone.
Renovations have been ongoing for the past couple of months. A notice posted in the lobby warned tenants that “repairs to the stairways” would begin Monday morning and continue through the week. “We strongly suggest that you stay out of the building during this time frame,” the notice read. But Gomes was more than a little surprised to learn the stairs had been completely ripped out. She immediately made a call to the Cooper Square Committee, a well-known tenant advocacy organization, who in turn contacted Community Board 3. It wasn’t long before the Buildings Department, as well as the police and fire departments were on the scene.
At first firefighters thought Gomes could use the fire escape, but they determined it was corroded, and therefore, unsafe. So they raised a fire truck’s cherry picker to the fourth story and helped Gomes crawl out a window. The Buildings Department discovered there were no permits on file for the renovation job, so they slapped a “stop work order” on the building and the Environmental Control Board issued a violation to the owner. The owner was ordered to install a new staircase immediately.
So who is the owner of 435 East 12th Street? There’s no mystery about that; previous work permits list ubiquitous East Village landlord Ben Shaoul as the contact. In the past, Shaoul (of Magnum Management) and his colleagues at Westbrook Partners have shielded their ownership of this building as well as 16 other properties in their “East Village Portfolio.” Four years ago the Villager explored Shaoul’s connection to these investments. EV Grieve has also covered Shaoul’s many East Village dealings in great detail.
We placed a call to Shaoul’s offices this morning about the situation, but have not heard back. Buildings Department spokesperson Ryan Fitzgibbon said the work will not be allowed to resume until proper permits are approved. She also indicated the city could take more steps against the owners if the problems are not dealt with in a timely manner.
Brandon Kielbasa of the Cooper Square Committee monitors the Magnum/Westbrook partnership specifically and, more generally, tracks investment firms that have bought into the neighborhood’s rent regulated buildings. This afternoon he told us the episode is unsurprising and perfectly in keeping with Magnum/Westbrook’s practice of “doing work as quickly and cheaply as possible… while harassing rent stabilized tenants, disregarding them completely.”
Gomes said she’s seen a number of her neighbors leave the building in recent years, in at least one case accepting a buyout. One rent-regulated tenant she mentioned paid about $400/month. Today on Streeteasy, there’s a 1-bedroom listed for $2200/month. Another apartment, with 4-bedrooms and 2-baths, is going for $5000.