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Manhattan Landlord Sued Over ‘Flagrantly Illegal’ Safety Violations At 8 Buildings

The 12-story 515 Cathedral Parkway apartment building in Morningside Heights, where elevator outages are allegedly a common occurrence.

The New York City Department of Buildings and Fire Department are suing landlord Fred Ohebshalom for failing to rectify hundreds of violations at multiple buildings in the Morningside Heights neighborhood in Upper Manhattan.

The city claims Ohebshalom’s company, Empire Management, which owns some 2,000 apartments and 1M SF of commercial real estate in New York, now has more than 300 violations from the two agencies, according to a lawsuit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court last week. 

Those violations related to broken elevators, cracked facades, work completed without a permit and failing to erect a sidewalk shed to protect passersby from falling debris. The city claims entities controlled by Ohebshalom have violations going back to 2010, some of which come with $1K-a-day fines, at a total of eight buildings, Crain’s New York Business reports.

“Defendants have refused to make necessary repairs for an extended period of time, showing complete disregard for the law and the orders of the agencies tasked with enforcing those laws,” the city claims in the suit. “Defendants’ flagrantly illegal conduct already has resulted in partial vacate orders at two of the buildings. Should the above conditions continue unabated, possible harm to occupants, passersby, and the general public is inevitable.”

The city is seeking an injunction to stop the "unlawful behavior," abate the hazardous conditions at the premises and impose civil penalties.

The suit details the violations at the eight properties, including 56 violations at 515 Cathedral Parkway, a 12-story building that has two elevators that are constantly out of order, unsafe electrical work and gas dryers that aren't approved, according to the complaint. At the nearby 509 Cathedral Parkway, there are 59 DOB violations and seven open FDNY violations, most of which are related to elevator safety hazards like failed brakes and no lighting.

The situation is so bad, the city has ordered Ohebshalom to stop letting residents use the elevator altogether, per the suit. Further, he has allegedly failed to erect a sidewalk shed, netting or fence underneath a documented unsafe facade.

Lawmakers have taken action on several residential safety issues in recent years. After 17 people died in a Bronx fire caused by a space heater last January, Rep. Ritchie Torres and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand began working on a bill that would require buildings that receive federal government funding to install heat sensors.

In September, a Flatbush landlord was sentenced to six months' jail time and five years of probation after he was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide because of a deadly fire caused by a space heater at his property.