Residents of 113 Stanton Street are suing oft-embattled landlord Samy Mahfar for harassment, arguing that by using unsafe construction tactics, Mahfar is — stop us if you’ve heard this one before — pressuring them to move out of their rent-stabilized apartments and making their lives a nightmare.
How much of a nightmare are we talking? Their apartment complex was said to be filled with more than 200-times the legal amount of lead.
According to a report by the New York City Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, on February 3 an inspector responded to a call about unsafe construction and saw “visible construction dust and debris…in all building common areas due to debris being removed unsafely.” The inspector sent twelve samples of the dust to a lab. All but one, tests showed, included unsafe amounts of lead.
On February 19, the tenants filed a lawsuit in New York City Housing Court, suing Mahfar along with his real estate and management companies SM Stanton LLC and SMA Equities. The lawsuit accuses Mahfar of harassing tenants “primarily through illegal construction work,” according to Urban Justice Center attorney Garrett Wright, who represents the tenants in the case. The lawsuit demands, among other things, that the state fine Mahfar for harassment, and order the landlord to do future construction work in accordance with the law.
This is the third building Mahfar-owned that has been found to be lead-contaminated due to construction work. A previous building, 102 Norfolk, tested positive for 3,000 times the legal lead limits as defined by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
And according to tenants’ rights organizer Brandon Kielbasa, a tenant at another Lower East Side apartment, 210 Rivington, had to “take her son into the emergency room twice because of respiratory issues that they strongly believe were related to dust.” An SMA rep says the company is “not aware of which tenant this is and has never been informed of any of these circumstances.” The dust in 210 Rivington was later verified to have more than 200 micrograms of lead per square foot, five times* the safe lead limit.
“The first time, it was alarming. The second time, it was alarming. This time, it’s outrageous,” says Kielbasa, who works with tenants at 113 Stanton and throughout the Lower East Side with the Cooper Square Committee.
“We want a guarantee that any work going forward is done lawfully and with utmost respect for the tenants’ well-being, which hasn’t been the case so far,” Wright told the Voice in New York City Housing Court after the suit’s first hearing on February 27. “The way they’ve been doing the work has been spreading the dust around the building. Tenants were saying…they were getting dust piles at their doors.”
“They’ve violated the laws left and right,” he adds. “We want all that to stop.”
Samy Mahfar did not immediately respond to a phone call, and his attorney Joshua Kopelowitz declined to comment without Mahfar’s consent. At 5:38 p.m. on Friday, February 27, SMA Equities did offer a statement saying “the lawsuit filed by three tenants at 113 Stanton Street is riddled with inaccuracies and false allegations.”
“SMA Equities currently has no violations on record at 113 Stanton regarding any issues related to lead safety or sufficient heat and hot water. We have used, and continue to use, EPA-certified contractors to insure the safety of all occupants of the Building, and have worked with all City agencies with oversight of the project to insure compliance, which includes remedying any conditions found by DOH or DOB in an extremely expeditious manner,” the statement says. “We have been cleared by those agencies with respect to lead safety.”
Judge Cheryl Gonzales issued a temporary restraining order against Mahfar on February 19 prohibiting any further construction work in the building, but the order was lifted on February 27, according to the statement.
You can read the NYC Department of Health inspector’s lead findings yourself:
*Correction: Originally, the Voice wrote that lead levels at 210 Rivington hit 200 times the legal limit. In fact, the second floor’s lead levels were verified at 210 micrograms per square foot; lead levels over 40 micrograms per square foot are considered hazardous.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 27, 2015