Last Tuesday night a small elderly woman, cane in each hand, slowly descended the stairs from her fourth-floor rent-stabilized apartment at 274 West 19th Street. Wearing a white nightgown with red hearts, gray hair peeking out from under her matching nightcap, she hobbled toward a mattress on the lobby floor. A sign around her neck explained why Jane Wood, 94, founder of the Chelsea Coalition on Housing, wasn’t sleeping in her bed that night: “Elevator Under Modernization. Out of Order. Sorry for Any Inconvenience.”
The six-story building’s elevator has been off-line for over a month, causing major problems for several aged and infirm tenants who cannot navigate the stairs. One elderly woman on the fifth floor is recovering from spinal surgery and has been unable to make her therapy sessions. “They are virtually shut in their apartments,” said Kathy Kinsella, president of the West 200 Block Association.
The tenants say they are glad their elevator, known for breaking down periodically, will finally get repaired. The residents just never expected the work would take so long. The solutions, they say, are simple: Hire more laborers or put the current crew on overtime. So far, however, the landlord, Mark Scharfman, who would not comment for this story, has cancelled several meetings with Wood and her neighbors and does not return phone calls. When the repair company finally posted a memo last week stating the elevator will remain inoperative through the end of July, the residents filed a complaint with the Department of Buildings.
Meanwhile, Scharfman, president of Beach Lane Management and owner of thousands of residential units in Manhattan, has other problems to deal with. During recent renovation of the building, one apartment collapsed into another, resulting in a $5,000 fine from the Department of Buildings. And for a building he owns at 22 E. 105th St., the city department of Housing Preservation and Development issued numerous violations and took him to court for, among other things, abandoning construction in an apartment that left a mentally ill, low-income tenant without gas and electricity for months.
“What landlords count on is them throwing up their hands and moving out,” said City Councilmember Christine Quinn, who has written letters to the landlord and the city about the problems at West 19th Street. “The difference is this group knows how to organize and fight for themselves.”