There are new details to report this morning concerning the renovation saga at at a building East 12th Street, one of controversial landlord Ben Shaoul’s many Manhattan rental buildings. As we have recounted in past stories, he has tried to replace the staircases in the six-story tenement on two separate occasions in the past four months. But after at least one longtime tenant, Kym Gomes (pictured), called Community Board 3, complaining that she had become trapped in her apartment, the Buildings Department (DOB) slapped partial “stop work” orders on the project.
Now the DOB has issued what’s known as a “Commissioner Order,” spelling out specific procedures Shaoul must follow before resuming the job. According to Buildings Department spokesperson Ryan FitzGibbon, Shaoul’s, contractor must submit a timeline for the staircase replacement project to the city; only one flight of stairs can be replaced per day. After the plan for each day has been approved, residents must be notified by certified mail when the work will be done, so that they can make arrangements to be away from their apartments. In many cases, landlords are allowed to “self certify” their projects without getting approval from the Buildings Department. That’s not going to be allowed in this case.
Last month, tenants were advised of the staircase replacement project but they were told it could take the better part of a week and were counseled to stay away from the building all day for four consecutive days. Yesterday Gomes told us she’s relieved the city appears to be paying more attention to the situation in her building but she’s still wondering where she’ll go when the work resumes (Gomes works a night job, so she’s often in her apartment during the day).
Gomes contacted Susan Stetzer, CB3’s district manager, after learning about the protracted construction schedule. Stetzer was advised by the DOB that the project was on hold. But when we arrived on the morning of July 30, workers were hacking away at the old staircase. Gomes, who was lifted out of a fourth story window back in April by a fire department cherry picker, spoke with us from the landing just above the demolished staircase. Stetzer once again called te Buildings Department, which sent inspectors to East 12th Street to investigate and, eventually, halt the project for a second time.
Stetzer told us unauthorized construction projects happen across the neighborhood all the time. The difference in this case, she said, is that Gomes picked up the phone, first calling tenant advocacy organization, the Cooper Square Committee, and then the community board. Gomes said residents in the building (both market rate and rent regulated tenants) are talking about forming a tenant association to fight for their rights.
Shaoul’s office has not responded to our inquiries concerning this story.