Tenants Be Gone

Amid West Side development fever, a pit bull landlord on West 45th street confronts his loft dwellers

The cops warned residents to steer clear of the big guy. But that was hard to do. A couple of days later, Cayler and his 10-year-old son, Cai, encountered Rosado in the stairwell. Rosado addressed Cai. "Tell your father I'm coming after him," he said.

A disturbed Cayler took that story to the Midtown North precinct, where Detective Joe Cornetta agreed to have a talk with Rosado. That evening, Cornetta and three officers went to see him on the fourth floor. There, according to a criminal complaint, they spotted illegal steroids and 20 hypodermic needles. When cops tried to cuff Rosado, he broke away and had to be subdued. As he was led downstairs, past Cayler's door, he screamed, "I'm going to kill you!"

Rosado was hit with four misdemeanors, including drug possession, resisting arrest, and harassment. Cayler got an order of protection. But Rosado made bail and was back in the building the next day.

Embattled: Tenants of 517-25 West 45th Street (left to right), Osage Lewis-Ashley; organizer Bob Kalin; Elissa Patterson, son Mercer, Ross Patterson; Tom Cayler, son Cai (seated)
photo: Dennis Kleiman
Embattled: Tenants of 517-25 West 45th Street (left to right), Osage Lewis-Ashley; organizer Bob Kalin; Elissa Patterson, son Mercer, Ross Patterson; Tom Cayler, son Cai (seated)

He'd been bailed out by Tommy Papaioannou, Rosado told Solotoff. He tried to go back to work, but inspectors kept the pressure up, and after a few weeks, Rosado packed his bags and left. He skipped town to Boston, where, reached last week by cell phone, he acknowledged that there are warrants for his arrest from the incident. "I'm going to take care of them when I get my life back together," he said.

As to his involvement with the Papaioannous, Rosado said he too was a victim. "That's right, Tommy paid my bail. I called him from jail and said, 'You got me into a lot of trouble.' " Not only did the younger Papaioannou spring for the $2,000 bail, Rosado said, he also repaid him nearly $40,000 to cover expenses from the failed construction project. It had been Tommy's plan, Rosado said, that the "bed-and-breakfast" would somehow help the owners win eviction of the loft tenants.

"He said I would be a tool for him to get them out. Not a physical tool, but like political," said Rosado. "But he was supposed to get the permits. He got nothing. Tommy is a con artist."

Hartofelis, the owners' lawyer, said he knew nothing about those details, including why Tommy Papaioannou would've paid Rosado's bail. "That Kaine was a very bad guy," said Hartofelis. "He called me a few times. Very nasty."

Stop-work order posted by Mayor's Office of Midtown Enforcement
Although they never quite bargained to have a tough guy and his dog prowling the property, the loft dwellers knew when they moved in that life could get rough. Cayler, an actor, and Marshall, a dancer, rented the third-floor loft at the rear of the courtyard in 1979. They joined painters, sculptors, and musicians who had been there for years. Back then the buildings were owned by a smelter operator who brewed metals there. He was happy to rent raw space to anyone willing to pay the rent in cash and put up with no heat or hot water after 5 p.m. and on weekends. Any improvements were up to them.

Cayler and Marshall installed a kitchen, bathroom, and wiring, a kind of sweat equity without ownership. They also contended with local hazards. On the street, the couple often encountered hookers servicing commuters catching a quickie on the way to the Lincoln Tunnel. Drug dealers dueled for control of the block. On Christmas Day, 1981, one dealer torched another's Cadillac right out front. Cayler snapped a photo of the flaming auto and made it into a greeting card. "Merry Christmas from Hell's Kitchen," he wrote.

But the price was right. Their 1,600 square feet of bare floor and walls back then went for $300 a month; today it's $480, a fraction of what the market would bring. "We're what John Tierney of the Times calls the 'rentocracy,' " said Cayler. "We pay very little for a lot of space. But we've paid a lot of dues, and we're part of the reason this area's attractive now to developers."

Whatever the rent, lofts like those on West 45th Street are protected under a 1982 Koch-era law that declared existing lofts "Interim Multiple Dwellings"—IMDs in housing jargon. The deal brought relative peace to years of bitter landlord-artist battles. To get out from under the law's constraints, owners must obtain a proper certificate of occupancy. The lofts are then shifted into the rent stabilization system; owners can also legally try to take one unit every two years for their own use.

Many have done just that. "There were 950 buildings originally in the system, and almost half of those owners have done what they were supposed to do and are no longer covered," said Chuck DeLaney, a loft tenant and longtime member of the city's loft board. "The rest collect the rent. And there are always a couple of wild men."

Papaioannou didn't appear interested in the slow, bureaucratic route. Instead, tenants say, he immediately began trying to get the IMDs out, while shortchanging everyone, market-rate residents included, on services.

When Elissa Patterson, her husband, and their baby moved in a year ago, paying $2,800 for about 1,000 square feet, Tommy Papaioannou promised in writing that the elevator would work. Instead, Patterson said, the manager made a series of excuses and then confessed that he didn't really want it to operate. "He admitted to me he had IMDs in the building and he had to get them out and that was why the elevator wasn't working," she said.

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