New Brooklyn Luxury Building Welcomes Tenants Despite Lacking Certificate Of Occupancy
Joseph Brunner, described by The Real Deal along with his partner Abe Mandel as one of the “heavyweights” of Brooklyn’s Hasidic Jewish developers, with more than 100 buildings to his name (well, LLCs), bought the former Colonial Laundry building for $6.175 million in 2012.
The process of demolishing the factory and building the sleek residential building in its place was fraught with problems. Neighbors have complained to the city about construction 22 times since January 2015, and a contractor has paid out $12,400 for 12 serious building violations in that time. Infractions included working in hours outside of those allowed by permits, failing to enclose the construction site, failing to safeguard personnel, and failing to notify the DOB that excavation was beginning.
A neighbor, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, said, “They’ve been such assholes every step of the way. It’s the shoddiest job I’ve ever seen.”
She complained that crews frequently worked late into the night and on weekends, and left debris on the sidewalk. During the final phase of construction, when workers were lining the facade with Styrofoam, her garden filled with balls of the stuff, “And I was picking it out of my five-month-old daughter’s hair.”
The neighbor added that a man from management once confronted her and, intimating that he knew she was calling 311, said, “Why do you care? Your street is already so dirty.” Later, she says he added, “I can deal with a lot of fines.”
The tenants we spoke to all shared stories that, though they diverged in some respects, were consistent on several key points. Specifically, they said that the leasing agents, operating out of an office marked “Bedford Lofts” at 105 Leonard Street in South Williamsburg, refused to give them copies of their leases (“Oh shit, I think we may not have gotten a copy,” one said when told about the others’ stories. His roommates confirmed it.); that management promised the building would be finished by September 1st; and when it wasn’t, that management offered them amounts ranging from $100 to $140 a night to stay in hotels until the inspectors sign off. No one we spoke to has been reimbursed yet.
Several tenants are also awaiting the construction of new walls in their apartments, to partition off an extra bedroom (a text message exchange between an agent and a tenant seems to confirm this arrangement). They say they have been told that the work will be done after inspectors come through and sign off on the building. Such new construction would, of course, only be legal with the applicable permits.
A man named George who answered at a number listed for a brokerage representing the building called Yuri Management told me there is an available “one bedroom-two bedroom flex. It comes as a one-bedroom, but could be flexed as a two-bedroom, meaning they could come in and cut out some of the cabin space.”
Asked why people are saying that there is no certificate of occupancy, George said, “What happened was, during the inspection, they didn’t get one of the signatures.” He said the move-in date has been delayed to September 15th. But three tenants told me that Mittelman, the property manager, informed them this week that the building has passed inspections and is okay to move into.
The tenants whose situations we reviewed—a mix of financiers, social services professionals, and students at nearby Pratt Institute—are stressed. One trio of students is staying with friends and hoping to pocket the money. They are angry about the alleged bait-and-switch, but question how much more they can do to hold Brunner accountable. “We’re all so busy with school already, and it’s so hard just getting ahold of management,” one said. “And besides, we don’t have our lease. Nothing is in writing.”
My guide around the building said the experience for him has been “Actually kind of fun,” given that he works in Downtown Brooklyn and has been sampling the neighborhood’s hotel offerings with his girlfriend. For his roommates, who have more far-flung professional jobs, “It’s definitely more disruptive.”
Another tenant is planning to withhold rent—all incoming tenants we spoke to got September “free”—and consulting lawyers.
The moving in of tenants to an un-permitted luxury development is eerily similar to the case of 120 South Fourth Street, which remains evacuated nearly a year after building inspectors forced residents out when inspectors conducting an audit—the department had previously signed off on the building—discovered 3,000 square feet of structural framing and concrete floor had been built without permits. That building is owned by Abraham Bernat, the brother-in-law of slain Williamsburg landlord Menachem Stark, and a principal of the firm The Bedford Lofts LLC.
It’s not clear that there is a connection, but when the tenant who is considering lawyering up first heard that 10 Lexington lacked a C of O and started to do some research, he encountered a story about Bernat’s foibles and realized his leasing agent was working for a company by a similar name. “I thought to myself, ‘Oh, no, not this guy,'” he said.
The tenant recalled having asked repeatedly for a copy of the lease, but being told by the agents that the owner needed to add a few provisions to the generic lease and would mail him a copy.
“In retrospect, I was probably a little too trusting,” he said. A text exchange seems to verify that he requested a copy of the lease and was told to wait by a leasing agent.
As for the predicament he’s now in, the tenant said, “It’s ridiculous. All of these people have nowhere to stay.”
The Buildings Department spokesman said it audited Brunner’s permits during construction and forced the builders to change certain things to comply with the building code. Now, the spokesman said, the agency is planning to send inspectors once more.
Joel Mittelman, the building manager, did not respond to an email seeking comment or a message left at his Google Voice number. Another number listed for him on a permit application rang to a voicemail that is not set up. The number of a lawyer for Joshua Brunner listed on the purchasing records for 10 Lexington has been disconnected. Abraham Bernat did not respond to a voicemail seeking comment.
Update 4:45 p.m.:
An unnamed representative of the building—it’s not clear if the person works for Bruman Realty, Bedford Lofts, or some other company—sent the following statement from a 10lexington.com email address:
As the leasing office we started signing leases in July with the understanding that our inspections for the certificate of occupancy would be complete in Mid-August. As such, the lease start dates were listed for September. The building did not receive the certificate of occupancy sign off yet as expected even though the building does have all other signoffs needed.
Landlord intends to fully comply with the term of all the leases. No tenant has received permission to occupy space in the building, However, landlord did allow as an accommodation for certain tenants that wanted to store their furniture and personal effects into the building for storage purposes only during the pendency of any ministerial delay.
Further more the Landlord has offered to pay the cost of hotels to every tenant that was not able to move in to his apartment to reduce any inconvenience on the new tenants side.
In terms of accessory spaces, it is correct that the roof deck is not yet built. It will be constructed in the coming months. With regard to the courtyard, since most tenants did not rent parking space it is the intention of the owners to make an application to BSA for a waiver of the parking requirements to include a courtyard area in the existing structure, since there is already enough parking spaces in the basement.