Business Activity Makes My Building Unsafe. What Can I Do?
Q: I live in a small rental building in Brooklyn. Another tenant has leases for several of the units. He lives in one, and uses the others for a gallery and office space. There’s a stream of interns or employees who blast music and leave front doors propped open and unattended for parties or the loading or unloading of goods. This has led to package theft and people coming in to do drugs. The landlord must know about this, but has denied that it’s happening. As a neighbor, I’m frustrated and at times feel unsafe in my own building. Is there anything to do?
A: Your neighbor might be allowed to use some of the apartments as commercial space, but not at the expense of your safety and well being.
From what you describe, your neighbor is creating a nuisance for you and other tenants, and that nuisance could violate your warranty of habitability, a state law, according to Jennifer Rozen, a lawyer who represents tenants. You shouldn’t be subjected to excessively loud noise or music. And people should not be trespassing, which puts your safety at risk. By allowing this situation to fester, your landlord is not meeting his basic obligations to you.
Create a paper trail, and ask other frustrated neighbors to do the same. Take pictures, videos and notes whenever you see problems. Notify the landlord, in writing, whenever an incident occurs, including copies of whatever evidence you’ve gathered. If you see trespassers, or any other truly dangerous conditions, call the police. “That will help bolster the paper trail,” Ms. Rozen said.
The neighbor may be using the spaces illegally, but it depends on how the building is classified and the location of the units in the building. Check the building’s certificate of occupancy on the New York City Department of Buildings website to see if commercial use is permitted. Even if it is allowed, it is prohibited above residential floors, according to Kenneth K. Lowenstein, a land use attorney and a partner at the Manhattan law firm Holland & Knight.
If you think the use violates the certificate of occupancy, call 311 to report the problem to the Buildings Department, which could send out an inspector and potentially issue a violation. A ticket from the city might not end the problem, but it would be another way to get the landlord’s attention.
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