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Avenue A tenants decry landlord after fires, demand cleanup

BY PHYLLIS ECKHAUS | Crying “Shame!” and “Housing is a human right!” tenants affected by an East Village fire condemned their landlord, Citi Urban Management, demonstrating in front of their building May 8.

The fire, the second in six months at 131 Avenue A, off of St. Mark’s Place, impacted 10 of the building’s 30 units, resulting in a partial vacate order by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

Outraged residents described how their attempts to flee the April 24 5 a.m. blaze were hampered by building disrepair. Tenant Anika Blau recounted the thick smoke in the main stairwell, the fire alarms that did not work, and the rusted exterior fire escapes where, she said, “ladders were hard to manipulate and steps broke on us.” Tenants using the fire escape that had a stuck ladder were forced to jump to safety.

Kinsey Donovan decried what she called the “nightmare” tenants endured, exacerbated by apparent landlord indifference.

“After standing outside for two hours, and returning to find our door locks broken and our building walls covered in soot, we didn’t hear from Citi Urban until over 11 hours later,” she said. “It’s been two weeks since the incident and they have only sent two e-mails in total about this.”

(Cooper Square Committee)

Donovan, whose damaged apartment was not subject to a vacate order, said she has asthma and that, “even after cleaning efforts,” the air quality in her apartment and the building has “deteriorated to the point where it’s impacting my health,” making her breathing difficult if she spends more than an hour in her place.

“We demand a commitment to rectify…systemic failures, and a promise to release those like myself who cannot risk their health with inhospitable conditions,” she declared.

The Village Sun spoke to building tenants not impacted by the fire, who said Citi Urban began building clean-up efforts within hours of the fire. The building superintendent attributed the two fires to the legal difficulty of evicting an allegedly drug-dealing, rent-stabilized tenant who apparently was charging multiple lithium batteries in his apartment.

Citi Urban owns and manages 34 buildings in New York City, 14 in the East Village and another six in Greenwich Village and Soho. Staff from the Cooper Square Committee described the real estate behemoth as notorious for its neglect of tenants.

“Something is seriously wrong,” CSC organizer Jodie Leidecker said, noting that before the fire, Citi Urban accumulated more than 100 H.P.D., Department of Buildings and OATH (Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings) violations for 131 Avenue A alone.

Unhappy Citi Urban tenants have sought to form a citywide alliance. One East Village tenant in March penned a detailed and documented account of longstanding misery at 131 Second Ave./36 St. Mark’s Place, the Citi Urban-owned six-story historic building constructed in 1900 that used to house Gem Spa; in addition to extended periods without heat and hot water, he asserted that tenants now contend with extensive stairwell water damage that has caused walls to deteriorate and mold to grow, and created the risk of electrical fire.

(Cooper Square Committee)

Leidecker observed that some of the woes described by tenants at 131 Avenue A could be addressed by legislation currently before the New York City Council, the Back Home Act, a package of bills introduced by Councilmembers Jennifer Gutierrez and Shekar Krishnan, from Brooklyn and Queens respectively. These bills would create an Office of Fire Remediation to assist tenants and landlords, provide displaced tenants with information and help to secure nearby housing, plus allow displaced tenants to advocate for an administrator to take over their building if there are repair delays.

Anna Bettendorf, Gutierrez’s chief of staff, told The Village Sun that the legislation was written to assist all displaced tenants facing emergency vacate orders, meaning the package would apply to tenants displaced by construction accidents, such as those recently forced to vacate 10 Fifth Ave. and 642 E. 14th St.

Five months after next-door construction destabilized their building and made them homeless, the displaced tenants of 642 E. 14th St. remain at loggerheads with their landlord, Jack Lebewohl, the owner of the 2nd Ave Deli. They contend that he has failed to fulfill his agreement to help them get access to their belongings still in the building. They also seek to compel him to start repairs.

The developer who destabilized the E. 14th Street building, Madison Realty Capital, has provided eight of the displaced households with nearby housing and rent-stabilized lease offers.


  1. Maria Ragucci Maria Ragucci May 25, 2024

    Keep this reporting coming. Local news, local news, local news — more important than ever in these overwhelming times.

  2. Luke Luke May 24, 2024

    Hmm..Really thinking now that “Garrett” is in fact the landlord based on his extreme bias and also stating that the tenant leader “owes the landlord over $200K in rent,” which, whether true or not, is very specific!

    Citi Urban has a bad reputation and Mary I’m so sorry to hear about the leaks that you experience! So awful!

  3. Garrett Garrett May 23, 2024

    The dude who created the citywide alliance at 36 St. Mark’s owes the landlord over $200k in rent & put 30 fliers under our door. He’s trying to get everyone not to pay rent so it looks like his rent delinquency is part of a bigger activist movement.

    • Mary Mary May 23, 2024

      They are having terrible leaks in that building when it rains. There is water in the stairwells, it’s coming thru the walls from the exterior. HPD came to look, said nothing is wrong.

    • John John May 23, 2024

      I’m the person being referenced here, and I want to clarify a few things. First, nobody has slid fliers under anyone’s door, and at no point has anyone been told not to pay rent. Our goal with the Citi Residents Alliance is to protect tenants against the persistent negligence of Citi-Urban Management…the kind of negligence that leads to articles like this being written.

      And to be clear, the landlords are not owed anything due to these circumstances, and this comment almost certainly did not come from a tenant.

      • TimesUp TimesUp May 24, 2024

        Glad to see you are doing something more constructive than going to jail for assaulting girls in your apartment

        • John John May 24, 2024

          The fact that you and your office would come up with some nonsensical thing to say like that rather than fix your violation-ridden buildings is a testament to how you conduct your business, and exactly why we are all here in the first place.

    • Jerry Jerry May 23, 2024

      I live at one of citi urbans buildings and have been in contact with John and he has actually been trying to get tenants the right to PAY their rent. Citi urban is trying not to renew any of their tenants after a law passed saying they have to!! Citi urban has made everyone’s lives a living hell.

      • Garrett Garrett May 24, 2024

        Luckily I live in a rent-regulated unit and am luckily not impacted by this. Fortunately we get renewals indefinitely, regardless of who owns the building.

    • TTP TTP May 23, 2024

      So what if he withholds rent? The landlord has withheld their obligation to maintain the building. I’d say they’re even. I live in one of these buildings and can confirm the landlords are clowns. I believe every word of this story.

      • Garrett Garrett May 24, 2024

        I’ve lived in a rent-regulated unit here for over 15 years and have raised concerns when needed. A dissatisfied millennial college student in a fair-market unit would likely move out if unhappy with conditions. Withholding rent over minor issues in common areas of a 120-year-old building punishes those of us who pay rent, since it reduces resources to address real problems in our units that need to be fixed.

        • TTP TTP May 24, 2024

          Yes, I’m sure all these problems would be fixed if we just gave them more money.

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