Left in Limbo: Choosing Between Safety and Keeping Our Homes at 159 Stanton [OP-ED]
The following piece was written by a vacated tenant on behalf of the 159 Stanton Street Tenants Association.
On Saturday, February 25, 2017, two apartments at 159 Stanton Street, were vacated due to “imminent danger” to people and property in the building. Several residents, including a 12-year-old child, were displaced. We have been left in limbo, feeling as though we have to choose between safety and keeping our homes.
Our landlord, Steve Croman, and his company, 9300 Realty, have repeatedly demonstrated disregard for people’s safety in their buildings. During the summer of 2015, 9300 Realty demolished six vacant apartments at 159 Stanton Street. They conducted this work dangerously, creating hazardous dust and causing overhead light fixtures to shatter and ceilings to collapse in multiple apartments.
But their disregard for our safety did not end there, leading us to file an HP action. We have discovered that, for 18 months, we lived with serious structural problems in the building. We have also learned of multiple fire safety violations on the part of 9300 Realty and Steve Croman. During the demolition, workers illegally removed all fireproofing material from gutted apartments, rendering the building a tinderbox. When we received glossily printed fire safety plans from 9300 Realty this winter, it felt like a sick joke.
And yet they have created additional fire safety hazards!
In September, a tenant was taken to the hospital and the fire escape window and security gate were broken. During the two days it took Croman’s 9300 Realty to board up the window, an intruder broke into her apartment. After the tenant returned later that month, 9300 Realty left the fire escape window boarded over for four months, despite repeated complaints. In January, the Housing Preservation Department’s Emergency Response Team removed the board and measured the window to be installed. They put in a plywood door to enable access to the fire escape. If a fire had broken out before this was done, it could have been a death sentence for the tenant.
While the fire escape access was being restored, management removed stairs to the roof, obstructing another fire exit. By this time, we wondered whether Steve Croman and 9300 Realty were actively planning to kill us. We have also learned that someone chained the doors of vacant apartments on one floor just before a recent inspection by the Department of Buildings.
The City has ordered fireguards for our building. Fireguards are specifically trained to survey for fires and help people evacuate. They patrol the halls and check vacant apartments hourly. The fireguards at 159 Stanton Street are professional and we welcome their presence. At the same time, we long for a safe building, with fireproofing installed in a legal and workmanlike manner. We wish this not only for our building, but for all of Steve Croman’s holdings, as we have reason to believe this is a common modus operandi of 9300 Realty, engaging in construction as harassment and destabilizing buildings in order to force rent-stabilized tenants from their homes. For these reasons, we strongly hope that the City Council will enact the twelve Stand for Tenant Safety bills soon, before it is too late for tenants in other tinderboxes.