WASHINGTON HEIGHTS, NY — Tenants of a Washington Heights apartment complex rallied in front of their building Tuesday to denounce their landlord for pursuing a construction project they say will leave residents in unsafe conditions.
Residents of 600 W. 161st Street, a 10-story building located on the corner of Broadway, said they suffer continued abuses by their landlord Efstathios Valiotis and the managing agent Alma Realty. The latest abuse is a construction project Valiotis is undertaking that will downsize apartment units in order to bring the building into compliance with the city safety code, residents said.
The project, which will widen corridors to provide passage to a set of exterior fire stairs on the building's second through tenth floors, will result in the reconfiguration of 24 apartments, residents said. Residents instead want the city Department of Buildings to revoke their approval of the plan and force Valiotis to install fire escapes for tenants.
Tenants of 600 W. 161st St. were joined by Congressman Adriano Espaillat, City Councilman Mark Levine and State Senate hopeful Robert Jackson during their rally Tuesday. Espaillat pledged that his office would take up the cause of the tenants.
"This is my neighborhood where I grew up, and so I want to make sure that the tenants remain here, that they pay a legal rent, that they're not abuse, that they're not evicted and that they're not subjected to the predatory tactics that Alma Realty has subjected these tenants and a bunch of other tenants around the city of New York," Espaillat said Tuesday.
The holding company that owns the building, GVS Properties LLC, said in a statement that the construction project is more than halfway complete and is actually a benefit to building residents. The company said its plan is the "safest, quickest method" to bring the building in accordance with the city fire code and won't result in tenants being displaced.
"Both the city and state of New York have approved this plan and are in agreement as the safest, optimal method for bringing the building into compliance," GVS Properties LLC said in a statement. "The state's approval of this plan reduces the rent for all affected apartments and ensures that no residents will be displaced by the work."
Residents disputed the landlord's claim that the project is more than halfway complete and said construction work just began this week. Valiotis has previously been included in the New York City Public Advocate's 100 Worst Landlords list, peaking at No. 3 in 2016.
The Department of Buildings ordered a partial vacate of the building in 2016 after it found that no fire escape or secondary method of exit were accessible to some of the building's apartments. The Department also has a stop work order against the property related to work being done this year without a permit in one of the building's apartments.
Tuesday morning's rally was organized by tenants of 600 W. 161st St. and the tenant advocacy organization . The apartment building currently contains 54 units, according to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.