Sheffield57 tenants ask city to take control of building

By David Jones | May 30, 2008 05:00PM

An irate group of tenants at the controversial Sheffield57 luxury condo conversion urged a New York Housing Court judge on Thursday to appoint an administrator to take control of the building, amid charges that developer Kent Swig is trying to harass them into leaving by failing to repair collapsed ceilings, extensive water leaks and asbestos contamination.

Judge Sheldon Halpern was asked to appoint a so-called administrator of rents, who would assume management of the building at 322 West 57th Street. The 845-unit building, which still has rent-regulated tenants, has been the subject of extensive litigation and protest since Swig acquired it in 2005 for $418 million.

About 46 of 120 free-market and regulated tenants signed the so-called 7A petition, and several of the 150 newly signed condominium owners have complained of extensive maintenance problems at the building. 

Tenants’ lawyers allege that numerous complaints to city and state officials have been ignored, despite a November 2007 accord between the tenants, Swig and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s office.

“There is a cause of action under the [city’s] new harassment statute with the landlord,” said attorney Robin LoGuidice, who is representing the tenants with partner Robert Grimble. “One of the issues we’re seeing is there is ongoing construction and there is nothing reflected in the Building Department with regards to the complaints that are being called in.”

The city passed a law in March that prevents landlords from harassing tenants into leaving apartment buildings. The law’s supporters said it was needed because tenants have been harassed to force conversions of rent-regulated units into market-rate apartments or condominium units.

The filing, led by tenant Susanne Jansson, names Swig, building manager Ed Johnson, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and Column Financial (a unit of Credit Suisse), among other lein holders, as defendants, among others.

Swig has previously denied that the building had any asbestos contamination. Attorneys for Swig said that there are no outstanding violations and said that the remaining construction is taking place on the upper floors of the building, while new residents are moving into lower floors. When asked if there were any remaining maintenance problems, attorney Stuart Saft said “not really.”

“This really seems to be the last gasp of a tenants association trying to interfere with something that has already occurred,” Saft said.

Saft said that 275 units have been sold with another 75 under contract.

Credit Suisse declined comment. HPD officials were not immediately available.

The case has been adjourned until June 19, according to Grimble and LoGuidice.