City sues to tear down languishing Harlem building

Former owner was arrested over dangerous renovations

A photo illustration of 21 East 115th Street (Google Maps, Getty Images)
A photo illustration of 21 East 115th Street (Google Maps, Getty Images)

The city has had enough with a dilapidated East Harlem building, suing to have it repaired or torn down.

The Department of Buildings’ Unsafe Building Unit filed its lawsuit against 115 SNV Associates LLC on Monday, Crain’s reported. The LLC is operated by Alexander Scharf, who bought the building at 21 East 115th Street in March 2018 for $2.9 million.

The building’s windows and doors are boarded up, the inside of the building is exposed and the roof sheathing is deteriorating, according to the lawsuit. The department said there are cracks in the walls, heavy damage to the wood foundation and loose bricks, which could fall from the building.

The building has been a problematic site for years. In 2016, property owner Ephraim Vashovsky was arrested and accused of reckless endangerment, child endangerment and coercion after prosecutors said he began taking apart the building while a family still lived there.

Vashovsky was accused of gut renovating the building to force tenants out of the rent-stabilized property, in addition to removing fire escapes and turning off heat, hot water and electricity.

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In 2017, the landlord pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment and endangerment of a child. He was sentenced to 20 days of community service and forfeited $350,000.

Vashovsky also obtained a permit to make necessary repairs in 2017, but it expired in February 2019 without any of the work completed, DOB spokesperson Andrew Rudansky told Crain’s.

Scharf’s record in terms of building safety is far from spotless. His company, Esplanade Venture Partnership, was responsible for a 2015 facade collapse in the Upper West Side that killed a two-year-old girl and injured her grandmother.

The developer pleaded guilty to a pair of misdemeanor charges and paid the city $50,000 over the incident. Scharf, the managing agent of the company, agreed to pay the city $5,000 in restitution. Nobody served jail time for the incident.

— Holden Walter-Warner