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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Hotel Tenants Head Back to Court

On January 19, the Chelsea Hotel tenants association returned to Housing Court for the next round of their case against Chelsea Dynasty LLC, the Chetrit Group, Chelsea Management LLC, Joseph and Meyer Chetrit, Michael Butler and Lilly Sirkin.

Representing the tenants association were Janet Ray Kalson and Ron Languedoc of Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph. Of the 35 tenants named in the Order to Show Cause, eight attended the proceedings.

Fred Daniels of Daniels, Norelli, Scully and Cecere PC — a firm that specializes in debt collection — represented the respondents-owners. Butler, an executive with the Chetrit Group and named in the lawsuit, sat on the opposite side of the courtroom from the tenants. Valentine Moretti was the legal counsel for the Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD), the city agency also named as respondent. HPD appears at each housing court case to represent tenants in general, explained Mary Anne Rose, one of the tenants. “It’s less critical if tenants already have representation, but since there are so many violations at the hotel, it behooves him to deal with these,” Rose said.

At the December 16 hearing, Judge Peter Wendt stipulated that the owners adhere to a tenant safety plan and follow applicable laws and regulations regarding construction and demolition — and provide heat and hot water to residents of the renowned West 23rd Street hotel. At the January 19 hearing, Judge Wendt asked a series of questions following up on these issues. Both sides concurred that at present there was adequate heat and hot water, with Daniels noting that the landlord is going to inspect and confirm repair issues along the way. Moretti said he doubted HPD had trained people for mold inspection; Daniels stated that the owners want to participate in obtaining a cost estimate for mold remediation as a means of comparison and within the next two weeks they will pick a contractor.

The judge adjourned the case until February 14, at which time Kalson told Chelsea Now, “We are going to have an agreement or very close to it, or we are going to set up for a trial.” Any ruling (whether from an agreement or from the outcome of a trial) is only enforceable among petitioners. “Someone who is not named in the lawsuit doesn’t have the right to come in and say we didn’t notify you,” Languedoc explained.

“The judge reminded all sides that a trial is an expensive enterprise — and time consuming,” said Zoe Pappas, a spokesperson for the tenants association. “It’s not beneficial for the landlord to keep this lawsuit forever. It will work against him.” Rose added that it isn’t to his advantage “to have a hotel filled with mold.” The hotel has been closed to the public since demolition and construction began in September — but 100 or so tenants still reside there.

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