Tenants forced to forfeit rent-regulated apartments
Back in March 2020, a fire at 1560 Grand Concourse in the Bronx killed four apartment dwellers and displaced nine families. Some eighteen months later, the tenants still haven’t been able to return to their homes.
When the blaze occurred (right at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and all the attendant shutdowns), some 140 firefighters converged at the scene. All the water they used caused ceilings to cave in, and the New York Department of Buildings (DOB) was compelled to issue a vacate order for the damaged units. The landlord, 1560 GC LLC, did not complete temporary roof repairs until October 2020—over six months later. And it wasn’t until December 2020 that the owners filed an application with DOB to fully repair the roof and the fire-damaged apartments. Those repairs reportedly remain unfinished, as of today.
Frustrated by the tardiness, the impacted tenants recently filed suit against the landlord, the property management group, Chestnut Holdings, and its executives, Jonathan Wiener and Ben Rieder. “I just want to get back into my place as soon as I can so I can give my kids somewhere that’s stable and not be bounced from place to place,” said Oneka Dunbar, one of the displaced tenants at 1560 Grand Concourse. “But Chestnut Holdings has been stalling.”
Tenants allege that the owners have been intentionally slow to repair the damaged residences. Some 111 units in the building are rent regulated, including the nine damaged apartments. New York’s Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019 (HSTPA) permits landlords to raise rents upon completing individual apartment improvements (IAIs), but landlords usually need the tenants’ consent. An exception to that consent rule applies, however, when a unit is unoccupied -- as is the case here. Due to the DOB’s vacate order—the landlord may be able to perform improvements and increase the rent, without first procuring the tenants’ approval.
If and when the building repairs are completed, tenants will likely face a tough choice—either pay a higher rent or forfeit their apartments. For now, displaced renters, like Dunbar, just have one thought in mind -- “I’ve just been waiting to get back into my place,” she said.