Rent-stabilized tenants at a Lower East Side building have filed a lawsuit against their landlord, Paul Galasso, for illegal construction that has left holes in the walls and ceilings of their apartments, compromised air quality, and, since March 20th, left them with no gas, heat or hot water.
Galasso reportedly bought the building at 43 Essex Street for $6.9 million last December, from longtime owners G&S Sporting Goods.
43 Essex Street has received thirteen violations from the the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) since February 2nd, seven of which were classified as Class C, or "immediately hazardous," according to a lawsuit filed by tenants. Additionally, the Department of Buildings has filed three violations, since February 28th.
The tenants also claim that they have been repeatedly harassed by Michel Pimienta, a notorious "relocation specialist" who, according to the lawsuit, has been knocking on doors and distributing notices "seeking an in-person meeting to discuss... apartments."
Mr. Pimenta used to run Misidor LLC, a company that illegally harassed tenants in three buildings, and was officially shut down by Attorney General Eric Schniederman last October.
Illegal gut renovation underway in Apartment 2 at 43 Essex Street (Manhattan Legal Services)
Pimienta denied claims that he's been lurking around 43 Essex, telling DNAinfo, "I'm no longer in the business." However, an anonymous tenant told Bowery Boogie that “[Pimienta is] telling tenants the building is unsafe, not giving out keys, telling us we can get better deals elsewhere.”
The tenant's lawsuit details abysmal conditions at 43 Essex: "Gaping holes and cracks lining the ceiling walls in apartments 6 and 8 and cracked floor tiles with sharp protruding edges in apartment 3." In the midst of construction, tenants "could feel and hear the machines used and began to suffer from serious coughing and breathing issues." Tenants also reported dust from dump trucks outside of the building entering their apartments. In terms of air quality, this, allegedly, isn't the worst of it:
While construction was being done, Respondents-Owners used the Building’s air- shaft as a make-shift garbage chute, causing heaps of construction waste and black dust to enter Petitioners’ apartments through windows and cracks in the walls. Petitioners are forced to seal off their kitchen windows and vents with cloth, plastic bags, and tape to prevent entrance and inhalation of the waste and dust.
To add insult to injury, tenants have reported that the intercom doesn't work, the windows don't open, and many of the kitchens and bathrooms are moldy.
Arnold Acosta, a tenant at 43 Essex Street, told us this morning that the conditions in the apartment have him and his wife fearing for their lives. In addition to the lack of heat and hot water, he's concerned about the structural integrity of his apartment, since the unit directly below him is currently in the middle of an illegal and shoddy renovation. Acosta recalled an incident that he claims took place some time between January and March:
"One morning we felt jackhammering under the bed. I could feel the room shaking. The floors were shaking, and powder was coming through the floors. One night [soon after] I went down there, and oh my god, I cried. I was just floored. Because they tore out all of the concrete under my floors, so the only thing holding me up is rotting beams. The electrical boxes ripped from the walls still had live wires exposed, right under my bed. It's like someone dropped a bomb in there."
Three Stop Work Orders have been issued for 43 Essex Street since February, for gutting without a permit, plumbing without a permit, and, most pertinently in light of the East Village Explosion, an illegal gas connection to a new boiler.
Donna Chiu, Director of Housing and Community Services at Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE), has been working closely with the tenants since March, since many of them speak only Cantonese and have struggled to discern their legal rights. She told us this morning that many of the tenants fear that their building will meet the same fate as 49 Essex Street, which was vacated two years ago. Chiu added that the loss of gas in late March was the final straw, and prompted AAFE to reach out to Councilwoman Margaret Chin's office for help filing the third Stop Work Order. "Eventually, finally, a Stop Work Order was placed on March 20th," she said.
Chiu noted that the unlawful renovations continued for a short time after the SWO, but have ceased for the time being. However, the residents still don't have heat or hot water. "Come on!" She said. "What is it today, April 30th?"
She added, "It's clear: The owner is doing all of these things to scare [the tenants] to leave, and the only person he will answer to is the judge." AAFE sought help from Manhattan Legal Services in filing the lawsuit, which they hope will force the landlord to make necessary, safe, and legal repairs to the building. The first court date is set for May 21st.
In the meantime, "Every time we go in there we're so fearful for our lives," Acosta said. "This man [Galasso] disregarded human life."
43 Essex LLC didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.