Tenants Sue Owner of 43 Essex St., Claiming Dangerous Construction, Harassment

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Tenants at 43 Essex St. are taking their new landlords to court, claiming that they have created hazardous conditions in the 155 year-old building, and that they’ve used numerous harassment tactics against rent stabilized residents. A news conference was held at the building yesterday, in front the the former G&S Sporting Goods, a business that closed last year after nearly 80 years on the Lower East Side.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the newly formed 43 Essex Tenant Association by Legal Services NYC. Asian Americans for Equality, a local advocacy group, and Council member Margaret Chin are supporting their efforts.

The lawsuit names 43 Essex LLC, as well as owner Paul Galasso, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the Department of Buildings. Three of out four tenants suing the property owner have lived in the building for decades, in one case since 1975. According to the suit, HPD has recorded 13 open violations in the building. On March 23, the Buildings Department issued a “stop work order” for “gutting and construction work… without a permit or notice to the tenants as well as live gas and electrical lines found.” Another complaint noted an “illegal gas connection” to a new boiler and “defective plumbing.”

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Attorneys representing the rent stabilized tenants alleged that the owners have “compromised the building’s structural integrity” and “allowed the building to fall into a state of extreme disrepair and neglect.” They said there are “gaping holes and cracks lining the ceiling walls” in at least two apartments. The tenants reported that the building’s air shaft is being used as a “make-shift garbage chute,” and that trash and black dust has entered their apartments through windows. They also said electricity, hot water and heat service have all been cut off for extended periods.

During yesterday’s news conference, resident Arnold Acosta said, “It breaks my heart to see a landlord come in here with a plan to cause destruction. He’s terrorizing our lives.”  Acosta, who’s lived at 43 Essex St., since 2009, said there’s jackhammering under his bed at night. To make matters worse, he said, a “tenant “relocator named Michel Pimienta has been lurking in the building, pressuring residents to take low buyout offers and falsely claiming that tenants did not have leases. Last fall, the state attorney general reached an agreement with Pimienta, which required him to shut down his “tenant relocation” business. Acosta said the visits from Pimienta stopped around the first of April.

The owners of G&S Sporting Goods, the Zerling family, previously owned the building. They sold it to Dean and Paul Galasso last year for $6.9 million. The tenement dates to 1860 and sits on a stretch of Essex Street that has long been a point of concern for neighborhood preservationists. The block is not landmark designated.

According to the tenants’ attorneys, city inspectors have visited the building but could not gain access. The lawsuit asks for civil penalties up to $10,000, but is also intended to compel city agencies to step up their enforcement efforts.

We have contacted the owners for a response. We’ll let you know if they reply.