Among the brownstones and high rises on West 103rd Street between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive, there is one building that appears to be abandoned.
Scaffolding hugs the façade, permits from the Department of Buildings plaster the glass front door and windows are covered in plastic.
Two years ago, Jacob Avid of Dan-Bran Realty LLC bought the building and applied for permits to build a two-story rooftop and rear-yard addition. The permits stated that the eight-unit building was vacant, but it was actually occupied.
Unlike work on an empty building, construction on an occupied structure comes with a bevy of regulations. In fact, Avid’s permit application, approved by the city on Jan. 5, 2009, acknowledges that the building’s structural stability will be affected by the proposed work.
One resident took a buyout from Avid, but others—a mix of rent-stabilized and controlled tenants—rebuffed offers. Mark Danna, a crossword puzzle writer who works from home, rejected a “low-ball” offer as nowhere near the six-figures he wanted.
Danna is one of two tenants left in the building whose apartment faces the rear yard. The addition looks like a steel patio with a roof, and it is only accessible through his living room window. Danna believes the idea was to create a bigger apartment that would likely be unaffordable for a renter like him. Now, this addition envelops his windows that used to look out onto the yard.
“You’re not living in your castle, you’re in the dungeon,” said Danna, a 30-year resident. “My light and air was taken away from me.”
The Department of Buildings revoked the permits July 8, when an audit stemming from numerous tenant complaints determined that the building was not vacant. Previous complaints had been dismissed by inspectors who felt there were no violations, according to the department’s Buildings Information System.
A receptionist at Avid’s office at Kore Properties Group said that Avid did not want to comment. Avid, through Kore Properties Group, is known to rent out units in his buildings to tourists. His apartments are listed on numerous hotel websites, as reported in West Side Spirit.
Since the city pulled Avid’s permits, the construction has stalled. This is a relief for tenants, but the damage has been done. Hot water is spotty in Danna’s apartment and there are signs of water leakage in other units. Tenants can call 311 to lodge a complaint and get the Department of Buildings to investigate, but redress appears to be up to Avid.
Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell, whose office pressed the city to pull the permits, said that more and more landlords are lying on applications. O’Donnell wants a policy change that will create penalties for such actions.
“If they file a fraudulent application, there has to be some cost to the building owner,” O’Donnell said. “Filing a false instrument is a crime, okay? The truth is this isn’t a little bit fraud. This is a huge fraud.”
As for Danna, he’d like the landlord to take down the additions that have disrupted tenants’ homes. But the only way Avid can get his permits back and continue construction—or take down what has been built—is if he reapplies for them and acknowledges that there are tenants living in the building. He would then have to submit a tenant protection plan, which was waived the first time. How long this will all take is difficult to estimate. Anything from mistakes on the application to the volume of applications the department receives can delay permits.
“Why should he be rewarded,” Danna said, “when he did it illegally and upset our lives?”
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