City takes Tahl to court in Harlem heat dispute

By David Jones | January 19, 2011 06:34PM

Tahl Propp Equities is scheduled to face off tomorrow against the Department of Housing Preservation and Development in City Housing Court amid allegations that tenants were denied heat and hot water at one of the landlord’s newest condominium conversions in Harlem.

Tahl Propp, which owns more than 3,000 apartments across the city and is one of the biggest landlords in Harlem, has faced dozens of complaints from tenants at 1890 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. in recent months. They claim they are being harassed through repeated loss of heat and hot water, among other problems.

HPD sent inspectors to the building after complaints were filed for the latest incident Dec. 22, which occurred just months after the company filed with the state attorney general to convert the building into condo units.

“There were two violations issued recently for a failure to provide heat and a lack of hot water,” HPD spokesperson Eric Bederman confirmed in an e-mailed statement. “When we re-inspected, both violations were found to be in compliance so we closed the violations. However, the owner failed to certify the correction of both violations within the specified time period.”

HPD rules require that a lack of heat and hot water, both considered “class C” violations, be corrected within 24 hours of being reported. The landlord must then certify that the violation has been repaired within five days. Certification involves the landlord essentially “vouching” for the fact that the work is completed and noting details about the work involved, officials said.

Joseph Tahl, president of Tahl Propp, said the building has undergone a multi-million dollar renovation, and that the overall rise in the costs of maintaining a building in New York have been “catastrophic.” He said the repairs were made immediately and he conceded the only issue related to the December outages was whether they were promptly certified.

“We fully support and fully respect tenant rights,” Tahl said. “We never have and never will harass our tenants.”

The incident comes amid increased tension between Tahl Propp and tenant advocates across Harlem, who accuse the company of engaging in “predatory” behavior towards residents, including buying up huge building portfolios and pushing out tenants to either raise rents to market-rate or convert buildings into condos.

“There have been problems both at this property and throughout the Tahl Propp portfolio,” said Emily Goldstein, subsidized housing coordinator at Tenants and Neighbors, a housing advocacy organization that has worked with the tenants at 1890.

Tahl Propp in July settled a $3 million lawsuit at the Normandie, a building at 100 West 119th Street, which the company converted from rentals to condos in 2005. Unit owners claim the building had exposed pipes, cracked hardwood floors, exposed structural beams and other problems.

“We had intense negotiations with unit owners over claims of construction defects,” Tahl said, adding that his company repaired some of the defects and paid an undisclosed sum to let other contractors fix the remaining problems. “All legal issues at the Normandie were fully resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.”

The condo conversion plan was submitted to former Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s office in August 2010. Sources familiar with the case said that no tenant complaints have been filed with the AG.

“There is a four to six month review period for conversion offering plans so that tenants have an opportunity to comment, and we encourage them to contact our office and bring any matters to the attorney general’s attention,” said Lauren Passalacqua, spokesperson for new AG Eric Schneiderman.