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Harlem property joins Rivington House in getting deed restriction lifted.

An Unpleasant Surprise on a Harlem Roof

Written by Tom Soter on April 27, 2016


A co-op board had to overcome the fallout from a shoddy gut renovation.

The General Assembly's Committee on Housing is holding a public hearing on co-ops and affordable housing. Citizens can offer up to 10 minutes of personal testimony at the hearing, which will be held on Fri., Feb. 19 from 4 to 8 p.m. at the State Office Building (8th Floor), 163 W. 125th St. in Harlem.

The hearing will focus on three problem areas: co-op boards that disenfranchise shareholders; reserve funds that are dangerously low; and the high-dollar sale of co-ops that were intended as affordable housing.

If you wish to speak at the hearing, you can register by filling out this PDF.

Last week it was a public library in Brooklyn Heights and a chunk of a seminary’s campus in Morningside Heights. This week it’s a gas station in Harlem that’s being erased to make way for yet another luxury condo development.

Now rising above the statue of the famed abolitionist on Frederick Douglass Circle, at the northwest corner of Central Park, is Circa Central Park, a 12-story, 48-unit condo building. Positioned at the gateway to Harlem, its 1-bedroom apartments will start selling for about $1 million. Residents will have access to remote-controlled model boats for sailing on nearby Harlem Meer, and skateboards and bicycles will be included in the common charges. Ten of the 48 apartments will be set aside as affordable housing, to be sold through a lottery.

“The building is the conclusion of the story of trying to make the circle whole,” Anne Simmons, secretary of the Friends of Frederick Douglass Circle advocacy group, told The New York Times. While this retired public school art teacher is worried that the $1 million starting price will be steep for most residents of nearby Harlem and Manhattan Valley, she added, “For the neighborhood, this is a beginning.”

In July, the Second Friendship Baptist Church sold the horse stable-turned church building to a private buyer for $1.5 million. A couple of weeks later, the city approved the new owner's plan to demolish it. It's hardly a surprise that, in a city where the divide between the haves and the have-nots continues to widen, longtime residents have to pack it in because they can't keep up with skyrocketing rents — never mind the expenses required to maintain an old, charming building. But it is certainly always sad to see a rare old structure like this former horse stable get knocked down so a six-story building can rise in its place. The local block association seems to agree; it is still trying to save at least part of the church. "What we are hoping is to save the façade or incorporate the design of the façade into the new design," Cindy Worley, who has lived on the block more than 30 years, told DNAinfo. "I think it would be a benefit to have a set of condos on the street reminiscent of the carriage house. I mean you could call it the 'Stable House.'" Citing records, DNAinfo reports that "plans for a new building were filed [late last week] and have not yet been approved by the Department of Buildings." As for the new owner, mum's the word for now. In the meantime, the block association has its work cut out for it. Like savvy New Yorkers, however, they seem to have realized that if they cannot appeal to the new owner's sense nostalgia, perhaps they can appeal to the wallet: "By saving what is left of the stable the developers could benefit from tax credits, similar to the ones the developers of the Corn Exchange Building received."

It takes a significant amount of financial mismanagement to land a co-op in foreclosure. Although it's a rare, and very sad, occurrence, it looks like 200 of the 329 co-ops in Community Boards 9, 10, and 11 will need to turn things around to avoid heading toward the dreaded F word. DNAinfo reports that those co-ops owe the city more than $21.2 million in unpaid taxes and water and sewage bills, citing records from the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), and of the 200, 49 of them owe more than $100,000. Most of the mismanaged co-ops in Hamilton Heights, Harlem, and East Harlem started out as "foreclosed properties owned by absentee landlords that the city sold to tenants to give low-income New Yorkers homeownership," according to DNAinfo. One co-op, located at 501 West 143rd Street, has a $3 million debt and at risk of being foreclosed, according to HPD. An HPD spokesperson said in statement that the co-op has been identified both by it and the Department of Finance as a candidate for the Third Party Transfer program. "If placed on the program," writes DNAinfo, "every member of the co-op would lose ownership of their apartment and be forced to become renters. For Ronaldo Kiel, who has spent more than $200,000 to buy and renovate his apartment, [it] would mean a complete loss on his investment."


Photo by Nicholas Strini for Property Shark

Want one for the "Who'd have thunk it?" file? A landlord tried to evict a woman from her apartment in Harlem for secretly keeping a dog and thus being in violation of her lease. And lost. Why? Because secret agent pooch was not so secret, explains It turns out that Gertrude Davis, the dog owner in question, not only produced various photos of Dutchess, the dog in question, taken on various dates in the building's common areas, but also had thrown the dog "a birthday party in the building several months prior to the suit." And guess who was at the party? Two points if you said "the landlord." According to the New York Daily News, which first reported the story, months after attending the pup's lavish birthday soiree, "the landlord moved to give [Davis] the boot," but Judge Sabrina Kraus wasn't buying it. According to court documents, reported both and the Daily News, "…the party pictures showed the dog was kept in an 'open and notorious' manner for more than three months." So there you have it. Thanks to that birthday party, Davis gets to stay in her home of 20 years.

Here was our situation: The developer of Strivers Gardens, our 170-unit condominium at 300 West 135th Street, wrote the bylaws and gave himself an overwhelming voting majority. By law, that majority is supposed to have diminished over the years, but for various reasons, including our own ignorance, it never did. He had about 27 percent voting majority. We don't have one unit per vote — each of the non-developer other units has less than 0.5 percent, so it takes about 64 of our votes to equal his 27 percent, which has rendered it impossible for us to elect our own condo board members. That is, until we learned of a way to solve our problem.

The smell of oven gas. Every apartment-dweller dreads it. Even the faintest odor can trigger panic among residents who fear a leak will lead to sickness, costly repairs, weeks without heat and hot water or, worse, an explosion like the fatal one in East Harlem earlier this year.

As the city changes the way it copes with gas leaks — in June, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the Fire Department will respond to all gas leaks first instead of the utility company — property managers say it's more important than ever to understand what happens when there's a report of a gas leak.

A BUYER ASKS: Our co-op board documented hundreds of instances of a shareholder and his family doing unspeakable things in the hallways and elevators. Urinating? Hah! As if that were the only way they were relieving themselves in public! Security cameras showed them selling drugs, having sex in the stairwells, you name it. We sent notices and finally had the shareholder appear at a meeting to determine whether to evict him under a Pullman action. He really had no defense for his family's behavior, and so the board voted unanimously to terminate the lease. But they won't leave! What happens now?

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