City to inspect 83rd Avenue apartments

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A team of Housing officials, including Vito Mustaciuolo, an associate commissioner, visited the site with Mayersohn last month, when inspectors looked at the roofs, boiler rooms, hallways and other public areas of two adjoining buildings at 135-09 and 135-15 83rd Ave. They also saw photographs provided by the tenants of conditions in several apartments, Mayersohn said in a phone interview last week.

The officials wanted to enter apartments on the top floors of both buildings, but failed to do so because none of the tenants was home at the time, the lawmaker said. She promised that she and Housing inspectors would visit the complex again to check those units and look into other complaints.

The 22-building complex, owned by the Argo Corp., lies behind the Queens County Criminal Courts Building, several blocks north of Queens Boulevard.

The late April visit grew out of a struggle between the landlord and the Argo Tenants Association over rent hikes for major improvements that tenant leaders claim were never made - allegations denied by the landlord. The state's Department of Housing and Community Renewal approved the hikes, known as major capital improvement increases, several years ago.

Carol Abrams, a spokeswoman for the city agency, said the site visit showed the roofs of the two buildings were in "safe and decent condition."

The roofs have been at the center of the landlord-tenant battle, with the landlord saying it replaced the roofs of all 22 buildings and the tenants questioning if the work was up to par.

Of the molds, leaks and other problems, Lynn Whiting, Argo Corporation's management director, said that as far as she knows none of the residents had called or written to the landlord about those issues. "They may have written to the property manager," she said, but not to the landlord's main office in Manhattan.

Mayersohn, a tenant advocate before running for elective office, said she has yet to contact the landlord but plans to in the future. As a matter of course in tenant-landlord disputes, she added, she contacts the landlord at some point to try to resolve the problem.

"We don't want to create problems [for the landlord]," Mayersohn said. "We just want to make sure the work is done. ... We're not on the attack."

Whiting, however, dismissed Mayersohn's involvement.

"She's welcome to call us, but she's using this situation for her own political gain and to increase her popularity," Whiting said. "Everyone knows what being a politician is like."

Earlier this year, tenant leaders, aided by City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) and the Pomonok Neighborhood Center in Flushing, urged HPD to conduct a roof-to-cellar inspection of the complex. But the agency turned down that request in a letter to Gennaro, saying an inspection of that kind would be irrelevant to the issue of rent hikes.

Kevin Squires, Pomonok's housing director, indicated he and tenant leaders have changed their focus for the moment.

The association, he said, is now advising residents with problems on how to make legally proper complaints: by calling the landlord and sending a letter to the company on the same day, asking Argo to respond within 14 days, and by repeating the same process every two weeks. The residents are instructed to mention in each letter the date and time of the call and the name of the Argo representative who answered the call. Each letter should be sent out as certified mail.

"We're asking them to keep their records together" in case the Tenants Association hires a lawyer and the documents are needed, Squires said. He added that Pomonok also planned to collect the complaints in the future to see if any patterns exist.

Squires said he believes the tenants have a valid issue against the Argo Corp.

"It seems to us that if you put in a brand new roof and get leaks on the sixth floor, there's a problem," he said. "If you put a roof on your house and there's a leak in the attic, you have a problem."

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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