Down in the Old Hotel

Landlords Trade Tenants for Tourists at SROs

So far, Ruiz said, his landlord treats him "fine. But I'm afraid that sooner or later, he will put pressure on me if all the other rooms are nice and I'm the only one left."

The building was bought earlier this year by Jack Avid and managed by Ron Oved. Oved is involved with SROs throughout Manhattan and is charged in one lawsuit with harassing tenants out of a 14th Street SRO. Neither Avid nor Oved responded to calls for this story.

Ironically, the city not only seems uninterested in enforcing its own laws; in some cases, it goes out of its way to reward the very landlords who break them. On its list of low-rate Manhattan hotels, the Convention and Visitors Bureau names 20 SROs, including at least seven that have undergone illegal conversions. Amazingly, some have even been the targets of city lawsuits alleging illegal conversions.

Perhaps the most tragic consequence of the city's lack of enforcement came on April 6, when 55-year-old James Downey was fatally burned in a fire that broke out in his room in the St. Louis Hotel on West 94th Street. (See Voice, April 21.) Workers had turned off the sprinkler system--without required permission--to accommodate what DOB later called "completely illegal" construction. Tenants say the landlord, Rubin Margules, is turning the SRO into a tourist hotel.

Prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney's office are investigating Downey's death. SRO tenants and advocates dubbed Eldridge's bill the James Downey Bill.

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