Volume 75, Number 36 | January 25 - 31, 200

At ‘owner-occupancy tenement,’ construction dust is latest worry

By Chad Smith

There’s a new complication at 47 E. Third St.

But this time, it’s not an injunction or a loophole in the Rent Stabilization Code. It’s dust. Lots and lots of it.

Tenants of the tenement apartments owned by Catherine and Alistair Economakis say that ever since the Economakises began renovation on their new home, tearing down walls and ripping up plaster, copious amounts of dust have flurried into adjacent apartments.

This dust is the source of many woes, according to David Pultz, who lives in the building and three of whose neighbors are directly affected. Pultz says that the dust collects on plates, covers camera lenses and works its way into computer vents.

“The dust is everywhere; you can taste it on your lips,” said Pultz. Residents have complained to the Economakises, who have responded with letters explaining the situation and asserting that they’ve been “on top of the construction workers, and they are doing all they can to make sure that the amount of dust is kept to a minimum.”

But that answer’s not good enough, according to Pultz, who, like many of the residents, believes that the Economakises are trying to “harass them into moving out.”

The controversy began last year during the summer when the Economakises decided that, under the owner-occupancy provision, they would gut the 105-year-old building to create a five-bedroom, six-bathroom private home for themselves, their infant child and a live-in nanny. In order to do this, the 24 remaining residents in 11 apartments, with rents ranging from $500 to $1,000 a month, would have to move out.

Claiming they want the building for themselves, the Economakises don’t want to renew the leases. But some residents believe the Economakises want to build condos or re-rent at market rates — or just sell the emptied building for huge profits.

In June of last year, Paul G. Feinman, a Manhattan State Supreme Court judge, granted a preliminary injunction barring the Economakises from terminating the leases of five tenants who sued to preempt their evictions until the court determines whether the law allows owners the right to take over the entire building.

So, for now, instead of renovating the whole tenement, the Economakises have begun work on the apartments that are empty.

Hence, the dust.

“The renovations will last several more months, and if they [the residents] have dust, we will have someone come and clean it,” said Alistair Economakis. He also said he and his wife are willing to post a bond to prove that they truly intend to take over the building for themselves and not for other reasons.

“If I did not turn the building into my home and live there, the residents would get the proceeds from the bond,” Economakis said this summer during an interview with The Villager.

However, it’s just not that simple, according to Pultz.

“We don’t know if there are any hazardous elements in the dust, like lead or mercury,” he said. “If there are, we don’t want to stir them up.” As for the condos, that’s anyone’s guess. But Judge Feinman wrote this summer that the whole situation “would appear to be incompatible” with the intent of the Rent Stabilization Code and its regulations, which, he noted, “are designed to address the chronic housing shortage in New York City, and to provide residents with stable and affordable housing.”

The case is still pending. And until the court decides who has the stronger claim, Pultz and his neighbors will keep fighting, trying to make sure that their standard of living doesn’t turn into dust.

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