A&E used playground as construction site, must refund rent

Multifamily landlord fighting state order to pay UWS tenants

Photo illustration of A&E’s Douglas Eisenberg
Photo illustration of A&E’s Douglas Eisenberg (Getty; Illustration by The Real Deal)

All work and no play makes A&E liable for a rent reduction.

The state housing agency cracked down on Douglas Eisenberg’s firm for storing construction equipment in the playground and courtyard of an Upper West Side apartment complex.

The state Division of Housing and Community Renewal found last summer that it amounted to a reduction of services for the rent-regulated tenants of 135 West 96th Street and 160 West 97th Street. Under rent stabilization law, that warrants a reduction of rent.

In A&E Real Estate’s case, that rollback extended to over 60 tenants.

Now, the firm is fighting back against the order. In a lawsuit filed Monday, it claims the equipment storage was temporary and necessary to comply with city mandates, rendering HCR’s decision “unfounded.”

The suit marks A&E’s second attempt to contest the state agency’s findings.

The agency initially made the call to cut rents at 135 West 96th Street in September 2021 and issued a separate order for 160 West 97th Street some 10 months later after tenants of both buildings submitted a complaint.

“Starting from about February 2019 on, our courtyard had been closed off and converted into a vast outdoor construction zone with separate staging areas,” the tenants’ attorney wrote, describing a “cacophony” of near-constant work on the building’s facade that disturbed residents’ sleep, work and children.

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“Management has been callous, irresponsible and unresponsive to tenants’ inquiries and pleas over the apparently quixotic construction project plans,” the attorney added, citing A&E’s inability to tell tenants when the work would be finished.

HCR ordered A&E to cut the rents in both buildings to the amount paid before the last increase and to refund the difference. A&E filed objections, but HCR did not budge.

At 160 West 97th, the agency said A&E’s “continual claim that the lack of access to the courtyard is temporary” was contradicted by the fact that tenants were denied access “for several years.”

The firm’s latest suit appears to rest on those same claims, arguing that “given the nature and extent of the necessary repairs, it is unreasonable to conclude that the loss of the said spaces is anything but temporary.”

We’re seeking some recognition that the delays in construction were beyond our control, due to factors like the pandemic and supply chain,” an A&E spokesperson said.

“We’ve been concerned that moving construction materials and equipment in and out of the courtyard space would constitute a bigger disruption and inconvenience to our residents, and potentially pose safety risks,” the spokesperson added, noting the firm hopes to finish an upgrade of the courtyard soon.

An HCR spokesperson said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

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