BY THE VILLAGE SUN | East Village tenants of landlord Sonny Tran are calling on him to ensure that construction in their buildings is safe, repairs and maintenance are not ignored, and tenants’ health and safety are prioritized.
During the height of the construction at 219 E. Fifth St., a Tran-owned building, the city’s Department of Health found elevated lead levels — reportedly three times the legal level — in the construction dust. Dozens of violations for unsafe work and repairs and maintenance in his buildings currently exist. Tenants are concerned about future plans and say they requested multiple meetings with both Tran and Dime Bank, but could not secure even a simple meeting.
Some of the construction that occurred is known as “Frankensteining,” in which individual apartment units are combined together, which allows a landlord to set a new, higher, first-time rent. Frankensteining is one of the last ways to significantly raise rents of rent-regulated apartments after New York State passed the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act in 2019.
Meanwhile, a bill to close the Frankensteining “loophole” sits languishing unsigned on Governor Hochul’s desk, according to tenant activists.
“Our former landlord was far from perfect, but long-term tenants never faced the displacement pressure we do now with our current landlord,” said Merideth Genin, a tenant leader and native Lower East Sider. “The former landlord did not fill our homes with noxious fumes, or have us breathing dust with potential lead from improperly sealed dust barriers. I observed through an open doorway the two apartments on the floor below us being turned into what looked like a rooming house. Who knows what kind of neighbors he plans on moving there. Hearing the stories of others who live in Sonny Tran’s apartment buildings makes me fear for our future.”
“After 32 years living here, Tran Group buys our building, and seven weeks later I have a vacate order on my apartment,” said Dina Dillon, another tenant leader and longtime Lower East Sider. “[His] son Dinh Tran refuses to cash our checks while we’re living with lead dust contamination issues and combustible materials storage issues above our apartment.”
“All tenants deserve responsive management and safe living conditions because secure housing is the foundation for our wellbeing,” Councilmember Carlina Rivera said. “My office has supported constituents from 219 E. Fifth St. to address various issues, like housing repairs, bad construction practices, rodents and pests, leaks and more. With nearly 100 violations on this 14-unit building and the other 28 properties associated by ownership with this property, it is deeply concerning that the Tran Group continues to violate tenants’ rights. I remain committed to holding this landlord accountable.”
Also standing with the tenants are state Senator Brian Kavanagh, Assemblymembers Harvey Epstein and Deborah Glick and Comptroller Brad Lander.
“We stand in solidarity with tenants in Son Dinh Tran’s buildings,” said Yonatan Tadele, an organizer with the Cooper Square Committee. “They, like all tenants, are entitled to secure homes, responsive repairs and construction which follows all applicable city laws regarding safety. Sadly, a number of Mr. Tran’s tenants have had to deal with a bevy of issues at their buildings, most notably an accumulation of [Department of Housing Preservation and Development] code violations and elevated levels of lead — as a result of unsafe construction practices. We call on Mr. Tran to rectify these issues and be a responsible steward of his buildings going forward. We also demand that Dime Bank step up and take an active role in ensuring the safety of residents at 219 E. Fifth St.”