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Owners of Chelsea Hotel Harassed Tenants During Renovations, NYC Alleges

The Chelsea Hotel, seen on March 8, has been undergoing years of renovations.
The Chelsea Hotel, seen on March 8, has been undergoing years of renovations. Photo: Gabriel Sandoval/THE CITY

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Unsafe conditions inside the historic Chelsea Hotel, caused by years of renovations, amounted to tenant harassment, city attorneys argued in a Manhattan courtroom Monday.

During a city administrative hearing in a case against hotel owner Ira Drukier, Department of Housing Preservation and Development lawyers cited evidence of hazards wrought by the effort to turn the grimy landmark to an upscale hotel with a rooftop lounge.

On Friday, city attorneys rattled off a slew of building and health violations — including a leaky ceiling, exposed electrical wires and an analysis of dust revealing high lead levels.

“The list was extensive,” Joseph Ventour, a city Department of Buildings assistant commissioner, testified Friday.

He said he visited the hotel twice in 2019 and identified numerous building code violations.

HPD argued that the hotel’s owners should not be granted a “Certificate of No Harassment” required during conversions of residential hotels into apartments. The owners would need the document to resume work on the building.

Renovations have halted several times due to DOB stop work orders. Public records indicate there’s currently a partial stop work order on the hotel, meaning that only safety improvement efforts could proceed.

One of the owners’ attorneys, Jennifer Recine, said they want the tenants, however unhappy, to stay.

“There was no intent to harass,” she said in her opening remarks on Friday before Judge Noel Garcia.

Years of Construction

Some tenants tell a different story.

Susan Berg, who’s lived at the hotel for 33 years, said the place used to be beautiful.

But then renovations began in about 2011 under a previous owner. Seven or eight years ago, leaks in the ceiling caused flooding in the building, including inside her 10th floor apartment. Hallways were blanketed by water, she said.

“We have to walk through in order to get to our apartments or elevator,” she told THE CITY.

But that was only one of many problems — including mold, lack of heat, no water, no hot water, dust, vermin and gas shut-offs — that she and her husband, Jonathan Berg, himself a resident since 1975, said they’ve endured.

Matthew Creegan, an HPD spokesperson, said that after the owners applied for the no-harassment certificate in 2019, the agency followed protocol and began investigating.

Parts of the interior of the Chelsea Hotel still look like a construction zone, March 8, 2020.
Parts of the interior of the Chelsea Hotel still look like a construction zone, March 8, 2020. Photo: Gabriel Sandoval /THE CITY

The probe included checking with current and former tenants, local groups, the area community board and elected officials.

HPD found “reasonable cause” that tenant harassment had occurred, and referred the findings to the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, Creegan said.

He added that HPD will make its final determination after the trial.

“We are working on multiple fronts to protect New York City tenants from harassment, and when we find evidence that tenants are at risk, we will continue to do everything within our power to protect them,” Creegan said.

Berg said that after the HPD’s investigation began, conditions improved slightly.

“They started to at least focus on not having leaks in people’s apartments all the time,” she said.

Glory Days

The iconic Chelsea Hotel is long-past its glory days when it served as a crash pad for a string of legends, from Leonard Cohen to Janis Joplin. The Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious allegedly killed his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, in a room at the Chelsea in 1978.

Other former residents run the gamut from Jack Kerouac to Madonna to Arthur C. Clarke, who reportedly wrote “2001: A Space Odyssey” there. The West 23rd Street building made the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

Chelsea Hotel owner Ira Drukier and his wife Gale donated to Bill de Blasio's presidential campaign.
Chelsea Hotel owner Ira Drukier and his wife Gale donated to Bill de Blasio’s presidential campaign. Photo: John Abbott/Weill Cornell Medical College

Last year, THE CITY reported that the owners had sought the no-harassment certificate from HPD to continue construction as they directed political contributions to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was then considering a presidential run.

Drukier and hotel co-owner Richard Born steered tens of thousands to de Blasio’s political action committees, and hosted a fundraiser that raised $90,000. At the time, a spokesperson for de Blasio said the mayor takes no money from anyone listed on a city database of entities doing business with the city.

But that database, listing only execs at firms involved in city contracts and certain other transactions, is far from complete. The Chelsea Hotel owners, for example, aren’t on it, even with their request for a certification of no-harassment pending.

An Owner’s View

On Friday, Drukier said that HPD has taken an unreasonable approach by holding up construction.

“Look, our only objective is to try to finish the building and get the tenants living in a nice environment, safe environment, and this just prevents that,” he told THE CITY. “I don’t know how this helps the tenants and I don’t know how this helps anybody. I don’t know how this helps the city.”

Drukier denied that he harassed anybody, and noted that tenants were suing the owners.

“I’ve never harassed a tenant in my life,” Drukier said. “Do I get angry sometimes? Sure, but I’ve never harassed anybody. I’ve tried every which way to accommodate those tenants.”

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