Dust. Constant and unbearable noise. Potentially toxic chemicals. Limited or no use of the building’s amenities. Poor ventilation. No accommodations.
Add three years of it, a global pandemic, and the summer heat.
That is the sum of the tenant’s frustrations at Glenn Gardens, the rental building at 175 West 87th Street on Amsterdam Avenue. The tenants are reportedly fed up and dedicated to the common cause of forcing their landlord to hear them and heed their demands.
But the landlord, A&E Real Estate Holdings LLC, has its own side to the story: a side that has considered the demands of its tenants, believes it is doing all it can to address any ongoing concerns, and whose inspection records, they say, prove their commitment to the health and safety of those it keeps.
Tuck Milligan is the co-chair of the renovation committee with the Tenants Alliance of Glenn Gardens (TAGG). He has lived at Glenn Gardens since the postwar building opened in 1976. He has seen it all since then – the initial Mitchell-Lama Program, the change in ownership, and the ongoing renovation project that began in 2019.
“The noise was unbelievable. Plastic all over the hallways. A&E had to put air purifiers in the hallways,” Milligan said. “The purifiers are helpful, but they’re needed inside the apartments. The amount of dust requires a daily cleanup.”
Glenn Gardens consists of two buildings. One is 32 stories with 248 apartments and the other is a five-story structure with 18 apartments. Both were constructed in 1974.
Like many buildings around the city, Glenn Gardens is in the midst of a renovation. As tenants move out or face lease renewals, property owners are renovating units and listing them for higher prices. Residents who’ve lived in the same buildings for decades, some even in the same apartment, are facing great uncertainty as rental prices soar citywide. Glenn Gardens is no exception.
A&E Real Estate became the landlord in 2018 and interior renovations started in September 2019. The peak of the COVID-19 pandemic offered tenants a brief reprieve from the work, but its resumption soon caused them to be effectively imprisoned. Construction noise all day long, six days a week. More dust. No place to go.
Phase 2 – façade work – began in January 2022. “We lost the use of the picnic arbor, the playground, the fitness rooms, surrounding plazas, and the balconies,” Milligan said. “The picnic arbor is now the construction office.”
He explained that the façade work involved removing the exterior walls, drilling off the mortar and brick, and subsequent waterproofing.
“They used a toxic chemical called Bituthene Mastic. It’s a level three toxin, level three of four. We received a memo regarding a mild odor that would dissipate,” Milligan reported. “But it caused residents to suffer dizziness, their eyes and throats burned, some people’s throats closed up, and some vomited.”
Millgan told ILTUWS that inspectors were sent out after the residents banded together with Goddard Riverside and Take Root Justice to file a barrage of complaints with the city’s 311 system. He said the inspectors were worried about the workers’ safety while using this chemical but that questions still linger for the tenants. “Prolonged exposure can cause organ failure. Was this chemical safe to use while the building is inhabited?”
The current stage is window replacement, a process that reportedly take two weeks per apartment. “Window walls, similar to floor to ceiling windows. [A&E] offered no accommodations to those residents who could not leave the building,” said Milligan. “They’re putting window walls over the existing windows. There is no way to access fresh air.”
“The work began in May 2022 as the weather changed to the hottest months. Air conditioning units started overheating or not working at all. It created a huge chamber of hot air. Sounds and smells from inside apartments run up the sides of the building.”
This was the moment the building’s tenants had finally had enough, Milligan explained. “We did our requesting, now we are demanding. They have no consideration for tenants.” TAGG sent the following demands to the landlord on May 31.
- Access to the Asbestos Assessment Report.
- Reimbursement for dust and noise mitigation related expenses.
- Access to renderings for new walls systems.
- Cost-free and comparable living accommodations during window and wall replacements in individual apartments.
- Assistance to maintain and protect personal property during the window and wall replacements.
- Reimbursement to pet owners for boarding or daycare costs for pets who had to be evacuated because of construction.
- Permission to terminate free-market leases without penalty.
- 30% rent abatement for “loss of warranted habitability.”
- Replacement of kitchen cabinets and appliances and bathroom equipment in all LAP and voucher apartments.
- A permanent community room.
A&E replied on June 13 with a letter of its own. It denied the tenants’ demands and refuted the claim that the warrant of habitability was breached. The letter also denied the “reference to toxic fumes as all materials are approved by the respective agencies” and stated that both the EPA and DEP visited many times and that those readings were clean. A&E also stated that it had not received any “substantive evidence to support the claim that residents have experienced short or long term health effects.”
A spokesperson for A&E confirmed to ILTUWS that it has maintained regular contact with TAGG before and during the project, and vowed to continue to be accessible. A&E denied any asbestos and lead paint concerns and believes it has taken all appropriate measures to mitigate the inconvenience inherent in construction projects.
Addressing the façade work, A&E reported that it anchored the new façade to the old one and did so in a way that would allow tenants to stay in the building. The landlord also believes the project will yield improvements that benefit all Glenn Gardens residents. Upgrades to the hallways, exterior spaces, gym and interior common areas are in the works — as is a larger bike room, which is a source of revenue for TAGG.
A&E also addressed the interior wall and window work that is reportedly cutting off access to fresh air. “Windows will be able to open, even if a resident declines the interior work. Working with the resident, A&E will be able to leave the exterior wall window open, allowing the flow of fresh air when residents open their interior windows. Regarding the AC, A&E has informed residents that they strongly recommend any resident declining interior work enable management to reposition their AC unit to ensure full operation. This is a small project requiring a day of work to move the AC unit several inches to better align with new exterior openings. All this has been communicated to residents.”
The remaining work will be individual unit work going forward, smaller in scale and less noisy. A&E also vowed to look into the ongoing concerns of the use of Bituthene Mastic that was reportedly used.
A&E says it is confident that the project’s public record available through the Department of Buildings will disprove any other allegations.
A&E sent the following email to ILTUWS:
“The multiple entries on the DOB site reflect 4 actual violations in recent history. Because DOB assigned the work at 175 W 87th many different project numbers, the same violation is issued for each project number of the overall project—even though it reflects a single issue. A&E is contesting each of the violations, so no fines have yet been assessed/paid. I think it’s fair to say these violations do not represent the kind of health/safety concerns expressed in your tenant conversation. It says something that roughly a dozen inspections yielded only these.Three of these violations are for paperwork/posting of notices:
- Failure to post the tenant protection plan. A&E posted the tenant protection plan in the lobby and had it available at the front desk. DOB inspector said the 90-page document needed to be posted in its totality on all 32 landings. A&E has since posted it on all landings, but is contesting that it was required to do so, believing posting it in the lobby and having it available at the front desk (which has a 24-hour doorman) is sufficient.
- Failure to post Construction Bill of Rights. This document has been posted on every landing since September 2019, and A&E is not in any violation here. Contesting.
- Regarding additional items for in-unit renovations in the tenant protection plan. This is not related to the facade/common area project. DOB inspector issued fine because they wanted to see more steps reflected in posted tenant protection plans around plumbing work happening inside apartments. The same document–without these additional steps–was previously reviewed and approved by DOB as part of its permitting process, so A&E is contesting.
The fourth violation is for failure to report a workplace accident; this refers to an incident in May, during which a worker’s finger was injured. A&E’s site safety manager did in fact call 311 the same day as the accident to report it. The website record itself originates from the Site Safety Worker’s (SSW) call: “re: SSW states…” indicating that the incident file began based on that call/report.”
A tenants’ rally was planned for August 14. However, TAGG postponed it temporarily after A&E sent two memos to the residents on August 8. One memo announced the end of the façade work and that coffee and donuts would be offered in the lobby with management available to discuss concerns. The second memo was an FAQ of the additional work expected.
TAGG confirmed that A&E granted one demand and will offer alternative accommodations to those living in units where the inner walls are being removed. TAGG was not certain whether this would mean temporary relocation to available and furnished units in the building, but was clear that hotel rooms would be offered if needed.
Milligan and the TAGG vice president are scheduled to meet personally with the landlord next week. “It’s exhausting,” Milligan said. “If you’re not sick from the dust, you’re worn out from cleaning it up. But we agreed to postpone the rally until we hear what he has to say.”
A&E reportedly remains equally committed and accessible.
“We take tremendous pride in maintaining our buildings and in responding to every single one of our residents. The work underway at 175 West 87th will improve every single resident’s apartment with bigger windows with more light and air, along with major improvements to all common areas and amenities,” according to A&E Senior Property Manager Louis Cutri, who is also the main property manager for the building.
“Construction is never an easy process, and we’ve worked hard to minimize noise and disruption. With the demolition and waterproofing now complete as of last week, the rest of the work will be far less noisy. We know residents will be pleased with the end results. We have regular meetings with our residents, both individually and as a group, and have done so since the day we acquired the building. We will continue to work with all residents and would welcome the opportunity to meet with the leaders of the tenant association at any time to discuss any and all concerns they have about the process.”