Tenants of Luxury Building Sue Management Over Sandy

16 Feb 2015 | 10:43

The residents of 2 Gold Street accuse building management of being grossly unprepared for flooding By Sophia Rosenbaum After Hurricane Sandy devastated downtown, many buildings were left uninhabitable for days and weeks at a time due to severe flood damage. Many of those displaced residents have since been able to return, but residents of the luxury building 2 Gold Street are still without a home, and many of them are taking legal action against the building's management. A team of 13 attorneys from two law firms is representing a group of residents who vacated their apartments before Sandy hit and have since been told that their earliest re-occupancy date is March 1. Many residents of 2 Gold and 201 Pearl Street, both properties managed by TF Cornerstone, left their apartments when the city ordered a mandatory evacuation of flood Zone A on Oct. 28. Some residents stayed in their homes until their building was deemed uninhabitable, according to Vincent Imbesi, a partner at the firm Imbesi Christensen and a legal representative of the residents. While flooding occurred throughout Zone A, which includes Battery Park City, parts of the West Side waterfront, the Lower East Side and the East Village, Imbesi said the damage at his clients' residences was "preventable" by using sandbags to protect open spaces like the entrances to parking garages. "Any building that suffered any type of sustainable damage failed to properly secure the perimeter of their property," Imbesi said. Floodwater entered the building through a garage, which led to a room housing an operation system that controls heat, hot water, electricity, ventilation and water filtration, Imbesi said. But, in a letter addressed to the tenants of 2 Gold Street on Nov. 13, TF Cornerstone said New York City building code requires the building to "withstand tidal surges caused by 'the 100-year storm.'" They said some reports labeled Superstorm Sandy as 'the 1,000-year storm,' citing it as an exception that they couldn't possibly have anticipated. "Due to the height of the surge, like many other buildings in our area, the water exceeded our flood gates and resulted in over 31 feet of water within our buildings' structure," the letter said. The letter also detailed progress that's been made, including an air quality test that "indicated that there is no recognizable health threat posed by the air quality" at either location, use of generators to power emergency response equipment and the hopes that an operational elevator would be working later that week for tenants to collect their belongings. Representatives of TF Cornerstone, who declined to answer questions but referred a reporter to existing documents, held a Q&A session at their office for residents on Nov. 13. Throughout the two-hour meeting, 30 tenants asked questions about the timeline for fixing the damages, insurance claims, rules about breaking their lease and monetary funding for moving expenses. TF Cornerstone emailed the minutes to this meeting to residents on Nov. 16, but Imbesi said "a lot of information was omitted that was detrimental to the management." "When do we begin paying rent again?" one resident asked, according to the minutes. Sofia Estevez, an executive vice president at TF Cornerstone, said that tenants will only be required to pay rent once the building is deemed safe. Another resident wanted to know if the company would cover the cost of moving expenses for tenants who chose to leave 2 Gold and move elsewhere, but they only committed to pay for moving expenses for those moving back to 2 Gold. "Will we have a grace period if we decide to break our lease?" another tenant asked. "Yes," Estevez said, "you will be given at least 30 days notice prior to the re-occupancy of the building to make your decision." After the meeting, Imbesi said some of his clients were asked by the landlord to sign waivers that would eliminate their rights to the class-action lawsuit and their "rights to any damages." He and the crew of attorneys on the case filed an emergency motion to prevent this, which was added to the original lawsuit as an amendment on Dec. 10. As the case makes it way through the courts, tenants who do wish to return home to 2 Gold have little choice but to wait until March and hope for a quick resolution.