After Uproar, Landlord Abandons Plan to Drop 24/7 Doorman and Change Address

Two tenants of 95 W 95th Street with medical emergencies experienced ambulance delays because medical professionals could not locate the building after a sudden change of address. Residents, enlisting the aid of local elected officials, protested outside the building on Wednesday evening evening while the leader of the tenants’ association met with the landlord the following morning and persuaded him to reverse course.

| 22 Dec 2023 | 05:49

When Gina Robinson’s 24-old daughter Maya needed immediate medical attention for a sickle-cell anemia crisis on December 6, the ambulance sped around the block for 15 minutes looking fruitlessly for the entrance to 95 W 95th Street. The problem: just a few days earlier, the 32-story building’s owner, BlueSky Management, changed the address to 721 Columbus Avenue without notifying the tenants association or obtaining government approval. Luckily, one of the medical officers deduced the correct place to stop at in time for her to reach the hospital.

“He had come to get my daughter before, so he figured that this was the same person trying to get help,” said Gina. “If none of the officers have been before, things could have gotten a lot worse.”

A few days later, Sheila Butler had to shout from her apartment window so that an ambulance could pick up her granddaughter, who was suffering from an asthma attack.

The next time something like this happens, said longtime resident and organizer Jose Felipe Gonzalez, a tenant may not be so lucky. “BlueSky just does not care,” he said. “For the ambulance people to have to drive around and call the person back while that person or a family member might be dying is completely ridiculous. And all of this is on the landlord.”

Any change of street address by a landlord must receive approval from the Manhattan Borough President’s office and an affirmative vote by the tenant board. In addition, 721 Columbus Avenue represents a so-called “vanity address” due to the entrance not actually fronting Columbus Avenue, necessitating a separate application. BlueSky did not observe either of these protocols before replacing the entrance awning to reflect the new address.

At the same time, rumors flew around that BlueSky was planning to get rid of doorman services after midnight and replace them with keyfob technology. The rumors, which caused widespread alarm over building security, were later verified by cleaning and maintenance staff. When Columbus House Tenants Association chair Jerry Rosario confronted management over the doorman policy, the latter maintained that no final decision had been made.

For many tenants, this was enough. Gonzalez, assisted by other organizers, put up fliers announcing a rally outside the building on December 20. That evening, thirty tenants, including Robinson and Butler, gathered in front of the entrance, blowing whistles and chanting that they would “not let BlueSky win.” Some people entering and exiting the building joined the rally, while others expressed support or passed by without comment.

Gonzalez organized and led the protesters, denouncing the new policies as dangerous for the building’s residents. “Changing all of this without making it official, without letting anyone know, it’s not right,” he declared. “People are at risk here... if someone gets stuck in an elevator past midnight from now on, they’re doomed, no one is coming for them. When this building has no security, I know that we will see some broken windows soon.”

Sherri Oustalet, a resident of the building, called the new proposed keyfob policy an inadequate replacement for a doorman. “Women who come home after midnight don’t want to press a code for thirty seconds when they can be attacked,” she said. “This is not okay. Right ladies?” The audience responded affirmatively.

Gonzalez enlisted the aid of State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Council Member Gale Brewer, both of whom sent letters urging management to retain 24/7 security for its residents and go through proper channels before changing the building’s address. Hoylman-Sigal’s letter pointed out that 24-hour concierge service constituted a required service under the Rent Stabilization Code, and that failure to maintain required services could result in a mandated reduction of rent by the Department of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR).

While Brewer was held up by a City Council meeting, Hoylman-Sigal joined the protesters in their calls for landlord accountability on Dec. 20. “What we’re seeing with this apartment building is an absolute outrage, unacceptable, wrong, and also illegal,” he said. “Frankly, this building is now unsafe, and there is no reason why you should endure these kinds of conditions. We demand to bring back the security that’s part of the tenant lease and you deserve it.” His comments were greeted by more chants and whistles.

Hoylman-Sigal called the change in street address an act of “cowardice and disregard on the part of this anonymous landlord that I have not seen since my time as a State Senator for ten years.” Regarding the potential change in building security, his letter explained that “a key fob cannot monitor the entrances and exits of the building, offer immediate assistance to tenants in need, or call 911... indeed, DHCR has found that a key fob, even in combination with a ‘virtual security system’ that is monitored remotely, is not an adequate substitute for a concierge service.”

At the time of the protest, the tenants association was already preparing for potential litigation. They might have reason to be confident in success against BlueSky, if precedent matters at all—in December 2022, New York State Attorney General Letitia James successfully sued BlueSky for threatening to lock tenants out of their homes in one of their Queens properties, in violation of New York’s housing laws.

The morning after the rally, Rosario met BlueSky Principal Steve Kashanian and the property manager to discuss building policies. They walked away with an agreement to keep the building’s 24/7 security, revert to the old address, and establish clear lines of communication between management and tenants in the future. “We agreed that maintaining the old security policy address would not only be in the interests of the tenants’ safety but also in [BlueSky’s] overall interests down the line,” Rosario said. “It’s very important to them how the building is perceived moving forward—24-hour security is a big selling point for many buildings across New York City.” BlueSky did not respond to requests for comment.

Gonzalez also had a takeaway. “I think [landlords] take a risk to see how strong tenants are in a building,” he said. “That’s what [BlueSky] did in Queens. They wanted to see what kind of challenge we would bring, how strongly we would stand up for ourselves. So far, we are coming back at full force, and I think that’s made a difference.”