Village Voice 04.19.2017 : Page 8

8 April 19 April 25, 2017 RAT LORD from p7 administration but has been very vague about how or which ones. A spokesper-son for Kushner’s Westminster Manage-ment declined to comment on the ownership and divestment issues. Kushner acquired the 156 Sullivan Street building in 2012. There were prob-lems with rodents before then, the tenant says, but “the rats have gotten a lot worse since they bought the building.” At 199-203 East 4th Street, a group of three East Village buildings Westminster Management acquired in 2013, rats have become common in the backyard over the past few months, according to a ten-ant who likewise requested anonymity. She showed the Voice video footage taken in early April of six rats nosing around for crumbs on the ground between the yard’s rows of garbage cans, with one ducking into the holes they’d chewed in the plastic cans. In another video, a fat rat drags a chunk of white bread wider than its body across the yard. “I lifted the lid to a garbage can and a rat jumped out,” this tenant said. Now, when she takes the garbage out, she whacks one of the cans before she goes into the enclosure, to scare away the vermin. The two properties have two common denominators: piled-up garbage and a history of tenant harassment. At Sullivan Street, photos taken on different days show plastic bags stuffed with garbage stacked atop the cans, with empty deter-gent bottles and more garbage bags strewn on the pavement by the overflow-ing recycling bins. Westminster periodi-cally buys new cans, the tenant says, but they’re plastic, and the rats “just chew through them.” On East 4th Street, bags and loose gar-bage are piled on the ground in front of the enclosure where the cans are kept. That problem “has existed since Kushner took over,” says the tenant. “I think this is a long time coming because they failed to address the overflow problem and the sanitation problem from the start.” This isn’t the irst time Kushner’s buildings have had problems with gar-bage. A tenant at 118 East 4th Street told this reporter last year that the ive-steps-high pile of refuse in the backyard was “Dickensian” and included “decompos-ing rat carcasses.” “We continue to actively address pest-control issues across our portfolio,” a Westminster spokesperson told the Voice . “While rodent issues are, of course, a well-known aspect of New York City liv-ing, Westminster actively works to eradi-cate any issues when they arise. At 156 Sullivan Street, where the last registered tenant complaint regarding rodents oc-curred in June 2016, we recently up-graded our cleaning staff, sealed concrete around the building, and increased exter-minator visits. At 199-203 East 4th Street, we are similarly taking action by rede-signing the trash area and purchasing more secure trash cans.” The chewed-open plastic garbage cans on East 4th Street were replaced with metal cans in early April. Both addresses, like most of the forty-odd buildings Kushner has amassed in Lower Manhattan over the past ive years, were purchased from owners who had driven out most of the rent-stabilized tenants and then flipped the properties for a substantial pro it. At least twenty-four of them came from Ben Shaoul, the East Village landlord perhaps second only to Steven Croman in terms of notori-ety for “construction as harassment” — renovating vacant apartments in a way designed to make life miserable for the remaining residents. Kushner acquired 156 Sullivan Street in August 2012 from Benchmark Real Es-tate as part of an eight-building package. Benchmark had purchased the buildings between October 2009 and October 2011. While the company was renovating va-cant apartments at 156 Sullivan Street, the tenant says, “twice our ceiling fell in.” By the time Kushner bought the 22-apartment building, only eight rent-regulated tenants remained, and the renovated units were going for $4,000 a month. Benchmark had acquired the eight buildings for a total of $33.25 million. It sold them to Kushner for $58 million. He bought 199-203 East 4th Street from Shaoul in January 2013 as part of a pack-age of seven buildings, all on East 4th Street between Second Avenue and Ave-nue B. Tenants told us last year that liv-ing through Shaoul’s renovations was “two years of hell,” with phone service and cooking gas cut off for months. Shaoul had acquired the seven prop-erties in 2010 and 2011 for a combined total of $25.1 million, according to city property records cited by the Real Deal . Kushner paid him $49 million. By the time the deal happened, only 28 of the 115 apartments were still rent-stabilized. Westminster recently advertised a three-bedroom apartment at 199-203 East 4th Street for $5,200 and an eight-room duplex for $7,000. The 4th Street tenant says that in building up his empire, Kushner failed to set up an of ice to manage the buildings “that functions in an ef icient and effec-tive way” and that the management of-ice’s “attention to individual apartment and building-wide issues has mostly been derelict.” “Every time you call, you get some-body new,” says the Sullivan Street man. He describes the staff as “bright and ea-ger, but nobody knows what’s going on.” He says he “got tired of calling” the city’s 311 complaint hotline about the rats. Inspectors told him he’d have to take the landlord to court if he wanted the prob-lem resolved, he adds. The Department of Housing Preservation and Develop-ment’s list of open violations for 156 Sulli-van Street and 199-203 East 4th Street does not include any for rats. Westminster “shouldn’t be let off the hook yet for the rats,” says the tenant who ilmed the rat videos. “It remains to be seen how they carry through,” she says. “Will the rats be eradicated and the area kept clean?” She adds, “Anything good that has happened was long-fought-for and hard-come-by.” VILLAGE

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