Monday, December 18, 2023

Displaced 14th Street tenants seek support after city orders them to vacate their building

Photos courtesy of the Cooper Square Committee unless marked

On Thursday afternoon, displaced residents of 642 E. 14th St. came together to seek support after neighboring construction work left them without homes. 

On Nov. 28, the residents — most of them in rent-stabilized units — were abruptly vacated after ongoing excavation on a Madison Reality Capital-owned 24-story development next door on the SW corner of Avenue C destabilized the five-story building. (We were the first media outlet to report on the situation.) 

The city gave tenants a short time on Nov. 28 to leave the premises. The Red Cross put up the residents in a Chinatown hotel through Dec. 3. We've heard from tenants staying with friends... and others are now said to be in shelters. Parents with children discussed how their routines are upended as they have been shuttled from the building to hotels to shelters and have missed days of schooling.

On Thursday, with the support of elected officials and the Cooper Square Committee, several tenants spoke out, detailing how they are struggling to reestablish their lives this holiday season without much help from anyone. Residents said they have heard little to nothing from the landlord, Jeremy Lebewohl, or the building's property manager, Ranger Management.

Before the rally, Madison Realty Capital reportedly told District 2 City Councilmember Carlina Rivera that they are open to discussing housing accommodations with the displaced residents from the firm's LES portfolio, though no other specifics were offered. 
The residents 

"Over two weeks ago and without any notice, myself and fellow residents of 642 were abruptly displaced from our homes. Amid this crisis, our landlord and management company's silence has been astonishing. They have left us tenants to fend for ourselves and forced us to find other accommodations, whether it be crashing with friends or utilizing shelter services in an already inaccessible city. This deeply traumatic experience has underscored the urgent need for stronger tenant rights." — Sky Yeatts 

"I was so astounded and frightened to learn that MRC seemingly did not take proper precautions to protect the 120-year-old building where I have lived for over 30 years BEFORE they started digging the foundations for their 24-story building next door. I am approaching retirement with modest means to support myself. Because of MRC’s carelessness, I am effectively homeless and afraid for my future." — Michael Hawley

"I have lived in this building since 1986. My kids were raised there ... The city knew about the damage in 2019 from the construction, but they still allowed them to build the 24-story building. Because of that, me and my family have no choice but to live in a shelter, and my kids have missed too many days of school. They all miss their neighbors and friends dearly, and the company’s responsibility right now is to figure out a way for us to move back so we can come back to our neighborhood. Me and my brother [Sayed] have never been separated, and now he's at another shelter, and my kids miss him so much, and he can't even visit us because our shelter doesn't allow visitors." — Mohamed Dawod
[Above photo by Camila Soliz]

The elected officials 

 "What occurred at 642 East 14th Street is a tragedy, which has displaced many of my constituents. My team has been working hard to help those impacted find shelter. The city and the landlord should make all diligent efforts to get these folks back into their homes as quickly as possible. We must ensure that when developments are green-lighted, they do not cause damage to neighboring buildings." — Assembly Member Harvey Epstein 

"Construction next door should never lead to residents not knowing where they will sleep at night. Yet, after months of reporting concerns to the Department of Buildings, that is exactly what happened to the residents of 642 E. 14th St., whose building was issued a full vacate order due to structural damage caused by construction in the adjacent lot. Property owners, developers, and the Department of Buildings have an obligation to put residents first and ensure full protection during construction. The residents of 642 E 14th Street need answers, and they need housing. Madison Realty Capital and Ranger Management must provide impacted residents with month-to-month leases at the same rate on apartments in the neighborhood, ensure their belongings are secured and stored for free, and provide the right to return to their apartments or the long-term housing option of their choosing." — City Councilmember Carlina Rivera

The landlord 

Jeremy Lebewohl, who also owns the famed Second Avenue Deli, was not present during the rally. Lebewohl told the Post that he "warned the city that construction next door could compromise his building — and even hired an engineer to access the property who 'warned them that what they were doing was excessive.'"

He also said that reps from the Department of Buildings told him that his structure was fine. Now 642's future is potentially in doubt. 

Lebewohl's attorney, Adam Leitman Bailey, told the Post that three independent engineers hired to assess the damage each concluded the building would have to be demolished. There is nothing on file with the Department of Buildings to collaborate on that evaluation.

The developer 

Madison Square Realty is the third owner of the long-empty lot (since 2009) in the past seven-plus years. Madison Realty Capital paid Opal Holdings $31.3 million for the property in May 2020. Opal Holdings bought the parcel in June 2016 from Brooklyn's Rabsky Group for $23 million. 

A rep for Madison Square Reality told the Post that the developer had "provided structural safety solutions" for 642 E. 14th St. at the outset of the project, a building going as 14+C. The foundation work in this phase started in July.
"This issue was avoidable," the rep said in a statement, claiming the owners of 642 “have long neglected the property and have stonewalled our efforts to provide assistance to tenants by refusing to engage with us or local officials."
A Partial Stop Work Order on the site allows crews to perform dewatering operations to prevent further destabilization.

An addendum 

Following the press conference, residents described "an extremely strange thing" that took place. While the tenants and speakers were gathering for a group photo, "a mysterious woman," mostly hidden under winter clothes and a hat, made her way through the crowd to get to the padlocked entrance, where there's now a makeshift plywood wall and door.
The woman had keys to the lock and entered the building. Some of the residents peppered her with questions, which she refused to answer, and threatened to call the police on anyone who entered behind her. 

It's not known who she was — a rep from the city, or possibly the landlord or management company. 

"No one knows really what was going on there or why she chose that moment to open the building — temporarily and for a brief period of time," one resident told us.


stephen b said...

excellent journalism, informative pictures, thank you

Anonymous said...

Amazing coverage... seems like bad biz not to put them up, who would ever trust MRC again..., crazy.

M said...

DOB and predatory capitalist real estate developers strike again. Unless you have vigilant neighbors or a great nonprofit like Cooper Square Committee developers working with tenants, developers obviously do what they like. Seems it is easy to build without the proper permits or inspections. Look how the landlord of the building next to the Gemini Rosemont development, next to Proto Pizza on Second Avenue, fought against bad permitting for years and the city stopped that development.

An EVer said...

I have seen the go fundme link for one family with children who go to school in the neighborhood. Beyond that, what can we do to help our neighbors? Harvey Epstein & Carlina Rivera appear to be working on this. They also have support from local housing groups like Goles or Copper Square. I could not attend the rally. Should we as neighbors be contacting anyone else about this matter? The development realty company? The current landlord? Any others in local government? How can we best help them into new affordable (as these were all likely stabilized rent) housing??

Neighbor said...

It's amazing there isn't a regulation in effect to deal with this situation. Should be shared liability between the developer and the existing landlord, probably. The facts here sure sound like the existing landlord is trying to use this to get the building condemned...

------------m said...

sadly this is yet another preventable situation caused by predatory real estate developers.

another tragic and preventable situation occurred not long ago on fifth avenue near 8th st. this was in a historic district where once again the LPC and the DOB refused to listen to the facts which would have saved these buildings.
seems city agencies turn their backs on city residents. agencies consisting of mayoral appointees.
— city of yes???!! for whom??!!!

madison square realty should NOT be granted any more building permits until they can prove their company can follow a strict set of rules and regulations. and also listen to, and abide by, concerns of the community.

Mark said...

I commented on this earlier last week. Thanks to EV Grieve for providing pivotal information about this distressing situation.

It is reprehensible displaced tenants are struggling to secure adequate housing without much support, transparency, or financial resources. This upheaval is especially unimaginable during the holidays and during the winter. Our city is failing its citizens. Our clown of a mayor is failing his duties. The new budget cuts severely affect every agency in every borough with an overall lack of manpower to resolve crises such as this. NYC needs to do better.

crazed gardener said...

It's important to remember that MRC's 24 story building is being made possible by NYCHA's sale of air rights from Campos Plaza, as approved by CB3 and the City Planning Commission. Perhaps NYCHA could help house the displaced tenants at Campos; this would let the tenants stay in the neighborhood at affordable rents.
BTW I wonder if NYCHA got its money upfront or if that payment is now at risk?


Madison Realty Capital are disgusting. Josh Zegan, Brian Shatz, and Adam Tantelff have the ability and resources to immediately move these tenants into any of their properties and are handling this situation so poorly. The lack of leadership and accountability is infuriating.

Exterminator said...

It is disgraceful what goes on. It’s all
about greed and our local politicians
are in on it. We used to have zoning
laws but zoning laws be damned when
there is ill-gotten money to be had.
These greedy developers should be
jailed and their properties should be


Some useful email addresses....

Josh Zegan:
Brian Shatz:
Adam Tantelff:

Anonymous said...

This whole thing is enraging. 1) They could have killed someone. 2) Madison Realty Capital has a LES real estate portfolio and they have not yet thought to put the tenants they displaced right before Christmas with their own stupidity and negligence into those apartments yet?? WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR, MADISON REALTY CAPITAL? If a big portfolio developer put me out of my apt into the cold in December and then left me there, I would sue them so hard. I hope all of the residents get placed in apts immediately and then get awarded compensation for MRC's unnecessary and dangerous mistake.

Anonymous said...

As a tenant of 640, I’m concerned that cracks are appearing in the facade. Where did they come from? Vibrations from a building that seems TOO BIG for the site. I
just can’t believe the greed of MRC to put so many families at risk. They must have known what they were doing. Shame on the city too for not providing oversight on this mess.

Dan said...

Thank you EV Grieve for this ESSENTIAL coverage. Where is the rest of the NYC media landscape? These people deserve help.

kadelorenzo said...

Thank you for your coverage! This development was possible because the city approved it and had oversight. I believe we need to vote out Rivera and Epstein. They have done absolutely nothing to safeguard the communities they represent. This was a preventable catastrophe and their offices knew the development put neighboring buildings at risk. Speechifying will not secure housing or food for our neighbors.