The Real Deal New York

City orders dozens out of “illegal” Chinatown SRO

Rents reported to be as low as $600 per month for a room
By Adam Pincus | January 21, 2014 10:56AM

The city ordered more than 30 people to vacate two floors in a Chinatown mixed-use building after an inspection alleged the space had been cut up into 18 illegal single-room-occupancy units.

The New York City Fire Department requested the vacate order for the third and fourth floors of the four-story 47 Bayard Street, Between Bowery And Mott Street, on Jan. 15, city Department of Buildings records show.

The vacate order was served the next day for the two floors, “due to the creation of 18 SROs and inadequate light, ventilation and no second egress,” the DOB website says.

The American Red Cross found temporary housing for 30 adults and four children, a spokesperson said yesterday.

The Queens-based Chinese-language newspaper the World Journal first reported the vacate order. It said in one of several stories that one tenant was paying $600 per month and another $730 per month for a unit in the building.

If the occupants of each of the 18 rooms paid $600 per month, that would bring in $10,800 per month, which would yield about $65 per square foot for each of the two, 2,000 square foot floors.

The landlord, Donald Nathin, told The Real Deal in a telephone interview from Florida that he was not fully informed of the situation in the building, and that as of yesterday the city had not reached out to him. He said he leased the residential floors to an individual he identified as David Lo, who then subleased the space to the residential occupants.

David Lo could not be reached for comment.

This was the second public complaint alleging illegal SROs in the building. In late 2009, a caller complained of illegal apartment units in the building, but in January 2010 a DOB inspector reported that no violation was justified because there was, “no illegal conversion in progress at time of inspection,” DOB records say.

The most recent certificate of occupancy, from 1949, lists offices on the third floor and two apartments on the fourth.

Despite the skepticism over the quality of $500 apartments in Chinatown, there are several listings on Chinese-language websites in the $600 per month price range, for example at www.xy217.com or www.51nyc.com.

The fundamental problem for the neighborhood is that it has old housing stock and little new development, said Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Partnership, a local development corporation.

“How do you pull more rabbits out the same hat?” he said. “This is the fundamental struggle for Chinatown. We want preservation and we should, but at the same time we have not been building any housing stock.”

The strong demand encourages landlords and tenants to subdivide their space like 47 Bayard.

“You can go into multiple buildings and you will find conditions like this,” Chen said. “It is not unusual.”