Volume 78 / Number 20 - October 15 - 21, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower
East Side, Since 1933

Mendez, Silver say added floors must be severed

By Albert Amateau

Tenants of two East Village tenements and elected officials asked the Board of Standards and Appeals last week to order the landlord to remove sixth floors that were recently added to both buildings, and also a penthouse that was added to one of the buildings.

Tenants of the two buildings — 515 E. Fifth St. and 514-516 E. Sixth St. — asked the B.S.A. on Tues., Oct. 7, to reverse the city Department of Buildings permit that allowed the landlord, Benjamin Shaoul, to add a sixth floor to the E. Sixth St. building and a sixth floor and a penthouse to the E. Fifth St. building.

The tenants and their nonprofit advocate, the Urban Justice Center, said the additional floors violated the state’s 1929 Multiple Dwelling Law because neither building included an elevator or adequate fire escapes required by the law.

“The Multiple Dwelling Law was created to protect people living in New York City,” said Harvey Epstein, director of the U.J.C. Community Development Project. “Allowing a development which is in direct violation of the law would allow countless irresponsible construction projects and could put many New Yorkers in danger.”

Epstein said the B.S.A. should order the recently completed floors to be removed. In a telephone interview later, he acknowledged that, to his knowledge, the agency has not ordered the removal of floors in any construction project.

“But this is the place where it would happen because the violation is so clear,” he said.

“This is another example of the Department of Buildings ignoring the law and putting developers before residents,” he added. Epstein said Shaoul also violated the law by altering 515 E. Fifth St. while tenants were living in it without a valid certificate of occupancy. The alteration plans showed a community center on the first floor, but the space was developed as an apartment, he said.

Tenants at the two buildings and the Urban Justice Center previously filed a lawsuit charging that D.O.B. had issued Shaoul the permit for the extra-floor alterations in violation of the so-called “Sliver Law,” which limits the height of buildings on lots narrower that 45 feet. The State Supreme Court agreed, but the landlord took the case on to the Appellate Division, where a decision on the appeal is still pending.

The B.S.A. is expected to rule on the multiple dwelling issue next month.

City Councilmember Rosie Mendez, who represents the district, testified for the tenants, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, whose district includes the two buildings, submitted a statement calling on the B.S.A. to reverse Buildings’ permit decision.

“It is very disappointing that the Department of Buildings is making the safety and well-being of local residents a secondary concern in its haste to approve the two-story addition requested to this [E. Fifth St.] building by its owners,” Silver said in his statement. “It is not within the purview of the New York City D.O.B or any other agency to ignore or amend our laws and codes,” Silver said.

Mendez said, “We have seen far too many tragic deaths in work-site accidents caused by faulty construction and lack of government oversight. We cannot allow D.O.B.’s lax enforcement of the Multiple Dwelling Law to endanger more lives.”

Monte Schapiro, a tenant leader at 515 E. Fifth St., referring to the “Sliver Law” case, currently under appeal, was optimistic.

“We fought and won a previous case against the Department of Buildings regarding this building,” Schapiro said, “and we’re confident we’ll win this one and force the removal of the illegal construction.”

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