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Oh baby! Red Hook tenants say building unsafe for their new kids

The Brooklyn Paper
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Photo gallery

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Hanger danger: Iris Follett and other children are in danger of falling through the stairwell’s open railing, say residents.
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Leaks peak through: Water damage shows on the ceiling of one of the units.
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Cold winter: Loft resident Kyle Garnett says he has not had heat in his unit since October.
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Permanent fixture?: Residents say this scaffolding is overdue to come down.
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Industrial holdover: Barbed wire on the fence to an adjoining property is at child-level.
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Brrrr: The temperature stays low in the building because it lacks a modern, central boiler, residents say.
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In the fight: Despite moving in later than some of the plaintiffs, Kelsey Knight Mohr and her fiance Bryan Johnson have leapt into the fray.

Talk about a baby boom!

A Red Hook landlord who leased cheap apartments in a less-then perfect building is putting the lives of toddlers in danger as he jacks up rents and disregards necessary repairs, claim some long-time tenants who have procreated since moving in — and now expect a better living environment.

“People who have been living here for a long time have gone through major life changes,” said Kelsey Knight Mohr, who has resided in the former Monarch Luggage factory on Delavan Street between Dwight and Richards Streets with her fiance since 2011. “When you have to lug a stroller up four flights of stairs instead of just your own drunk ass, your priorities change.”

Residents claim many of the 98 units in the three buildings that make up the former factory lack a modern plumbing system, are not accessible to people with disabilities, and contain railings a small child could easily fall through. In 2012, owners Harbor Tech L.L.C. began spiking rents on renewed leases — sometimes as much as 35 percent — with no corresponding increase in living conditions, the group said.

Now, residents from 30 units in the former Monarch Luggage factory — who sued the landlord when rents started rising — are pressing the Department of Buildings to conduct a new inspection of the property in a bid to retroactively designate the building as rent-stabilized.

The former factory was built in 1920 and remained commercial until 2005, when the Department of Buildings approved it for residences, three years after a 2002 inspection. Building plans submitted in that application show a working elevator, accessibility ramps, and other features that residents say never existed. But the building passed inspection, and in 2014 a judge ruled against the tenants’ bid for rent stabilization, arguing that the city’s certificate of occupancy meant the building had been sufficiently modernized.

The tenants say that the buildings should never have been issued a certificate of occupancy in the first place. And what was a-okay when residents just wanted a place off the beaten path where they could live on the cheap and throw parties is no longer acceptable as they’ve grown up.

“When you have a kid you suddenly start paying attention to that unsafe railing,” Mohr said.

Still, Mohr insisted if the buildings were made more livable, the residents wouldn’t mind a increase in rent.

“Everybody is willing to pay predictable reasonable rent increases for a place that is maintained in a safe way,” Mohr said. “We’re not just looking for a sweet deal anymore.”

New York’s rent stabilization law mandates that landlords can only charge market rent on a building constructed before 1974 if it has undergone a complete infrastructure overhaul. The tenants hired their own architect to inspect the building, who reported that 14 out of 17 of the buildings systems — including plumbing, bathrooms, and roofs — have not been “substantia­lly rehabilita­ted.” A lawyer for the group said the discrepancy casts doubt on the legitimacy of the 2002 inspection.

“The owner submitted drawings that show the building qualified, but the drawings don’t reflect what is at the premises,” said attorney Jack Lester. “Either they didn’t look at all or they were paid not to look.”

The inspector who examined the building no longer works at the Department of Buildings, a spokesman said.

In December, after almost two years of litigation — and shortly after the ruling in favor of the landlord — tenants involved in the lawsuit began receiving eviction notices. Since then the notices have come in waves, Mohr said, and now Harbor Tech has begun proceedings against all but three units involved in the suit.

Mohr and her fiance, who do not have children, received a termination notice in February, and in March, she said, her rent check was returned un-cashed.

“It feels like they’re trying to pick us off one by one,” she said.

Following repeated inquiries by The Brooklyn Paper, a Department of Buildings spokesman said the agency is preparing to conduct a new inspection and to audit the certificate of occupancy issued in 2005.

Management at Harbor Tech did not respond to requests for comment.

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at nhurowitz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Charles from Bklyn says:
If these tenants stick together, they have the best chance of winning the relief they are seeking.
March 30, 2015, 8:49 am
truth from Red Hook says:
If you know the real story behind this building, the residents and the owner were all in on an illegal conversion. The residents got their end of the deal, cheap rent for some period of time, and the owner got his, what he called legal artists who started living there and wanted to convert the building.

Take the good with the bad. Both the residents and the owner - they deserve each other and the little piece of hell they created.
March 30, 2015, 10:45 am
Scott from Park Slope says:
Well, that's the thing. When you blaze trails in areas not previously used to residential occupancy, you can expect landlords to not follow Code. It's part of the trade-off. You hope you can get by getting what you want in terms of amenities while retaining the right to sell at a higher price point. God bless Red Hook pioneers for doing that, but, honestly, it's part of the risk.
March 30, 2015, 11:14 am
LS from BK says:
They were fine with this for years. Then they tried some things to get cheap rent, they didn't work, and now "Oh, maybe if we complain about safety issues we can get cheap rent.' If they're trying to game the system, fine, but stop being all sanctimonious about concern for safety. And the fact that your own living arrangements have changed doesn't mean the building has to accommodate you.
March 30, 2015, 11:24 am
TOM from Sunset Park Lower says:
"When you have to lug a stroller up four flights of stairs instead of just your own drunk ass, your priorities change."

I hope you don't mean a stroller, a kid in the stroller and your own drunk ass all at the same time?

Where's the Jacob Riis for Red Hook?
March 30, 2015, 12:22 pm
Me from Bay Ridge says:
What part of Sunset Park is considered "Lower?" Serious question.
March 30, 2015, 3:40 pm
World'sTiniestViolin from Carroll Gardens says:
These cry-babies do not own any portion of the property and I'm sure are free to vacate at end of lease term. The advantage to renting is to be able to relocate, dependent on situational changes, without being burdened by a mortgage or other responsibilities that come with property ownership in NYC. Boo hoo, you knew what you were getting when moving into this disaster and are trying to take advantage after paying well below market rate for years. These people are not pioneers. Looking for cheap rent and being able to deal with questionable living conditions in exchange for that makes you either frugal or just not successful enough, not a pioneer.
March 30, 2015, 7:55 pm
Emily says:
Loft law. Lol.
March 30, 2015, 9:08 pm
TOM from Sunset Park Lower says:
RE ads and local blog break out Sunset Park at 5th Ave. West is toward the waterfront; east is to 8th Ave. I don't like "West" so I use a more haughty "Lower".
I also refer to Park Slope at 4th Ave. and area toward the Gowanus Canal as "The Marais". Look it up.
March 30, 2015, 9:35 pm
Aha from the eye opener says:
What a turn around. No sympathy for the poor benefactors of cheap rent.

How long exactly did you expect the cheap rent to last? What, your run wasn't long enough? And now all the cool features of the building that attracted you to the place in the first place aren't suitable anymore? Or have they just become a tool to use to keep the rents down?

Well get with the program, yupsters are the driving motivations for increasing rents, and you are it.

You took the jobs from working class people by helping to convert this building and now want sympathy. Well you not getting it!!!

If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen.
March 30, 2015, 10:16 pm
Me from Bay Ridge says:
It used to be Lower Bay Ridge.Or Upper Bay Ridge. Not sure. There was only Bay Ridge and South Brooklyn then and South Brooklyn (which was actually north of Bay Ridge) was considered a bad area.
March 30, 2015, 11:15 pm
jjm from c. bill says:
I wonder what is considered "cheap rent" to them. I know darn well its cant be $1000-$1500 because to some of these trust funders it is.
March 31, 2015, 7:05 am
real truth from red hook from red hook says:
The issue is the landlord ignored building codes, and illegally converted it to residential without doing the required renovation work in order for it to be exempt from rent stabilization. Now the owners think they have a luxury loft building, when in reality they never did the work. Landlords like this need to be held accountable and made to follow the law. This is part of the reason there is less and less affordable housing in new york. For those who think the tenants are whiners -i guess you own your own homes or have never struggled to pay rent. Lucky you, but why —— on people who have a different situation?
March 31, 2015, 9:34 am
Richard from Red Hook says:
"real truth" I think there is a sense that you want it both ways, and have a warped sense of entitlement. You moved into the building knowing the situation - and I am very familiar with the building. I know many people who have successfully raised children there - it is not ideal, but it can be safely done. So you knew the situation and signed a lease. Presumably your lease is up and rents have risen, and now you cry foul and bring up the very conditions that you accepted on day one. By creating an unreasonable burden on your landlord you do other renters no favors - you simply increase the cost of providing housing which everyone then needs to cover. the fact is, not every housing situation is ideal for childraising and that should be accepted. You simply need to take responsibility for yourself and your family and move to a suitable home - which might, god forbid, mean leaving Brooklyn.
March 31, 2015, 11:06 am
Charles from Bklyn says:
The "real truth" is telling the truth. The landlord is responsible for this issue, as he or she owns the building. Blaming the tenants or proportioning blame is irrelevant to the courts and city agencies. If the landlord was suppose to do work that wasn't done, then he or she only has themselves to blame if this building is re-converted to rent stabilized apartments. And yes, the tenants are crying foul, so what? They still have a good chance at gaining the relief they are seeking.
March 31, 2015, 2:49 pm
jay from nyc says:
if the landlord broke the law, and improperly converted the building, then take said landlord to court. If there are conditions in the building that violate the law, take the landlord to court. This is pretty simple stuff.
Having said that, the tenants are going to have a large uphill battle given that a judge ruled against them in 2014.
March 31, 2015, 5:31 pm
Long timer from Brooklyn says:
This is akin to steroids in baseball or the Tour de France. The cheaters profit at the expense of those who play fair. The landlord/owner cheated. When developers don't follow the laws and cut corners and even outright lie, and get paid as if they didn't, they cheated every tenant whoever lived there. It's not fair to them and it's not fair to builders and landlords who follow the rules.
March 31, 2015, 6:15 pm
ty from pps says:
jjm -- As soon as you start whining about "trust funders" you sound ridiculous.
April 1, 2015, 8:31 pm
alfonce from sunset park says:
funny how when then tenants were young it was all cool, now that they are parents, suddenly is is unsafe.
freaking move if you dont like it, no one is holding a gun to your head.
April 1, 2015, 8:34 pm
Mom from Missouri says:
My son and his wife live in the building. They are not "trustfunders". They work hard and live simply. When they moved in about 4 years they were promised working elevators, a usable laundry facility, a heated apt and sanitary kitchen and bathroom. In order to just move into the building they had to pay $2200 brokers fee,$2200 security deposit,$2200 1st month rent and $2200 last month rent, a total of $8800. For anyone to say that it is easy to "just move" when you realize things are not as they were promised is ridiculous. Nothing was as the landlord promised. There is a horrible sludge that backs up into their sinks and toilet on a weekly basis I worry every day about the health implications of that. These landlords are criminals. Quit blaming the victims. This is an outrage.
April 4, 2015, 10:27 am

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