Tenants of the brownstone apartment building at 315 W. 103rd St. have been through the wringer in recent years. They’ve endured ongoing construction, dangerous conditions and the ever-present, ugly scaffolding swathing their homes and blocking their windows—but perhaps the worst thing they’ve put up with is the contention that they don’t even exist.
Back in 2009, when the building’s owner, Jacob Avid, applied for permits and began construction to expand several of the units in the building, he listed the property as vacant—a designation that took the tenants months to disprove in order to get the Department of Buildings to issue stop work orders. Since then, the construction has hung in limbo, leaving the tenants with the remnants of a half-finished project that wasn’t legal to begin with.
Now, however, the city has given the go-ahead for the construction to continue, approving the permits with a tenant protection plan supposedly in place that the tenants themselves have not seen.
Avid could not be reached for comment.
“This whole renovation was predicated on a lie: that nobody lived here,” said Nadine Herman, a singer who lives in one of the front apartments that used to overlook a tree, now strangled by the scaffolding. She said that when the work started, there was nothing in place to protect them from fumes and dangerous conditions, and that the building was open for anyone to come in and out of all day long. “Our lives were compromised, we were very unsafe,” she said. They also dealt with constant noise.
While the stop work order gave some relief to some of the tenants in the eight-apartment building, it didn’t solve the problems of Mark Danna, who lives in the back on the top floor. The construction went on above and below his apartment, where the apartments were expanded into the back property by a full room’s length. Now Danna’s only three windows open into an area with a room protruding directly below and one directly above, like a giant terrace with a roof, or a cube with only one wall cut out. He has pulled back the black safety netting to let a little bit of light come in, but it still leaves his apartment dark.
“I once compared it to a cage, but I realize it’s a cave,” said Danna, referring to the structure outside his walls. “Am I going to be looking at this for another five years?”
Tenants have also shivered through the past several winters—the basement of the building gapes open to the backyard, letting cold air and water as well as vermin into the apartments. Neighbors have complained about the construction encroaching on their adjoining properties, and every home that claims a piece of the backyard “donut” of the block gets an eyeful of the half-finished, black-clad backside of the building.
This type of problem stems partly from the DOB allowing permit applicants to self-certify that the information they provide is accurate. Once the damage is done, there is little that the city can do barring an order to tear down the construction that has already been completed, a step that is rarely ever taken.
Now Danna, who is 63 years old and works from his rent-stabilized apartment, said he doesn’t know how he’ll be able to stay if the construction picks up again, which is what he says Avid is telling tenants. He is expecting to receive a buy-out offer (he turned one down years ago) to leave but at this point is unsure of what he’ll do.
“I don’t want to be in limbo forever,” Danna said. “I like the neighborhood. I don’t like the building at this point.”
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