A group of Lower Manhattan tenants have sued their landlord demanding that repairs be completed for their apartment building on 111 Mott St. The tenants were displaced for nearly two months after being evacuated when the building’s façade had visibly split apart in early March.
The residents filed the suit in late April against landlord CC MSP Mott Street LLC and property management company Camelot Realty Group. The lawsuit also lists the New York City Housing Preservation & Development, as well as the Department of Buildings as defendants.
Rachel Bryant, an esthetician and jewelry designer who followed her career from Texas to New York City, never anticipated she would need to organize a group of strangers in her building. But the first sign of trouble appeared months before, she told amNewYork Metro.
“I started having problems with mice,” Bryant said. “I caught a mouse in my trash can three times. The dead rats came after.”
Bryant moved into 111 Mott St., which sits in Little Italy close to the border of Chinatown, in 2021 after craving more natural lighting in her living environment and seeing that the rent at the time was within her budget — $2,100 for a one bedroom-one bathroom apartment.
On March 1, Bryant phoned in an alarming discovery she documented on social media. Her building facade was detaching and seemingly at the risk of collapsing onto the public sidewalk below.
Arya Management, a boutique property management firm, previously managed 111 Mott St. before Camelot Realty Group, currently presided over by founder David Goldoff who comes from a New York real estate business family, stepped in in January.
“Then all the issues really started coming: the dead rats in the apartment, the front door not locking at all, the back door always broken,” Bryant said. “But when the front door was broken, we were like, ‘This is bad.'”
Because the door was often ajar, tenants started experiencing strangers in their building: someone sleeping on the stairs, fecal matter on mailboxes, and stolen belongings and packages.
Bryant and another tenant, Kate Dennett, formed a group chat in late January to keep as many of the tenants in the building communicating and sharing their experiences. Soon, it became clear that their strength as a group allowed them to pressure Camelot Realty to actually make repairs to the building. Starting in January, tenants began a rent strike.
“A lot of us were withholding rent,” Bryant said. “Then they were sending out eviction notices.”
Then the March 1 incident happened, and Bryant’s TikTok video of the building façade went viral.
“The façade started to detach, and they still had the audacity to send eviction notices,” Bryant said.
’10 minutes to pack my stuff’
Bryant and Dennett decided to call the Fire Department, which prompted the Red Cross and the Department of Buildings to arrive and evacuate the tenants. While a few went to stay with friends and family members, the Red Cross placed 20 tenants at the Wyndham Garden Chinatown hotel down the street. The tenants were told it was only going to be a two to three days stay.
But they received an email from the property managers and the DOB the next day, saying it’s gonna be a minimum of two weeks and if they enter the premises, they would be arrested.
“I had 10 minutes to pack my stuff, so I grabbed my dirty clothes bag and my important documents,” Bryant said. “That’s all I’ve had for the last month.”
She’s since moved around seven times in the last two months.
In February, Bryant sent a letter addressed to Camelot’s Cynthia Ramirez and Danielle Milia, explaining that she would be withholding rent because of Camelot’s “negligence in providing a safe and sanitary living environment.”
Bryant listed her many grievances: rat and mice infestation, security violation with faulty front and back doors, tenant harassment, package theft, delayed repairs and maintenance, and trespassers.
She also penned a similar letter to the previous management last October, pointing to the lack of personal security, package theft, delayed heat during the winter season, and the rodent infestation.
Building violations now cover the front entrance of 111 Mott St., which its tenants were forced to vacate nearly two months ago. The summons notice demands that CC MFP Mott St LLC answer to a violation for failure to maintain the building’s fire escapes — which were rusted, corroded, and some stairs only partially attached. The firm also failed to provide a buildings inspector access to the boiler room.
A section of the brick facade became detached about six inches from the six-storied, 22-unit building and at risk of falling onto the sidewalk below. The notice also pointed out that there were no ties installed on the masonry, which compromised the building’s structural integrity.
Camelot Realty Group’s management team responded to amNewYork Metro’s request for comment with an email sent by Cynthia Ramirez on March 13, which provided tenants with an update: “Our Management team was made aware of the burglary the day after it occurred, and we immediately relayed this to Ownership who was able to speak with NYPD themselves. Following this, the team at Camelot was instructed to continue our work on the Vacate Order, as we have been doing, while the Legal team and Owners work on all else, including the burglary.”
Ramirez wrote at the time that scaffolding was 80% complete and that once the structure was fully erected, Camelot Realty Group would be “asking the Department of Buildings to lift the order, if even partially.”
The ‘recurring problems’
Matthew Latterner, a housing attorney with Manhattan Legal Services, was appointed to represent nine tenants from 111 Mott St. He told amNewYork Metro that he filed a court proceeding in housing court on April 24 “seeking a court order forcing the landlord to do the repairs necessary to get the vacate order lifted.”
Latterner has also asked that the tenants be granted temporary access to retrieve the remainder of their belongings and to properly secure the building to prevent further break-ins and looting.
“We understand part of the reason this burglary took place was because the landlord inadequately secured the back door,” Latterner said. “It’s been a recurring problem.”
Gabriel Ang moved in with his roommate, Brandon Pellegrini, last year from San Francisco. After the evacuation, both have found new living situations in different boroughs. They spent the last two months mostly couch surfing and moving around and living out of their suitcases.
Ang, who moved in a month before Pellegrini, told amNewYork Metro he discovered the building had a rat problem the week he moved in.
“The first time I threw away garbage there were like 18 rats that came out of the garbage,” Ang said. “It literally did not end.”
“When I first moved there, the rat problem was bad,” Pellegrini said. “The back door wouldn’t shut all the way so they would get in. You’d open the door and like 10 rats would just scurry out of there.”
Then there were the cockroaches.
“There was a big cockroach that was dead, but it laid eggs so there’s a bunch of little ones on the shower carpet,” Ang said.
While he said Arya Management “wasn’t terrible” for the first several months of his lease, he noted the decline in his living environment when Camelot took over.
“That’s when services weren’t really getting answered anymore. Things weren’t getting fixed,” Ang said. “That’s when it started going all downhill.”
The rats made it into Ang and Pellegrini’s apartment at the end of the last week of February. At least one rat chewed its way in through a wall underneath the roommate’s sink and went into the garbage. Ang’s service request for rodent extermination went unanswered for three days.
“I was hearing rustling one night underneath the sink and I opened it and there’s a rat in the trash can,” Ang said. “I said I’m gonna refuse rent until this was fixed, and then the facade started falling apart.”
Pellegrini told amNewYork Metro that roughly 10 packages had been stolen from the building since he moved in last September.
Ang withheld rent shortly after the rat appeared in February, and after the building facade detached, Pellegrini joined in March.
Chaos after collapse
After everyone moved out, the woes were far from over.
The apartments were soon burglarized and ransacked around a week after the tenants vacated the building. The NYPD’s investigation resulted in the arrest of a 34-year-old man, who was allegedly one of the three individuals who burglarized the building.
Many of the tenants still don’t know what was taken, since the stolen belongings are under possession of the police.
“Multiple people in our group tried to talk to the police — the bureaucracy of it, pointed fingers everywhere — we kind of just gave up,” Ang said.
Pellegrini spent two weeks at a homeless shelter down the street, which was provided by the city’s Housing Preservation & Development, while Ang himself headed north, just past the city’s borders, to Yonkers.
“It wasn’t terrible,” Pellegrini said, of the shelter. “We shared bathrooms in a little room with a fridge.”
Both Ang and Pellegrini hope to not be held liable for the rent during the remainder of their leases and have their $3,600 security deposit returned, as well as a set date to retrieve the rest of their belongings from 111 Mott St.
“I just got like a little suitcase and they said it’ll be two days,” Pellegrini said. “Then the next day they said two weeks and it’s been almost two months now.”
Ang said the financial strain of needing to eat out and spending hundreds of dollars on Uber rides everywhere from work to his girlfriend’s apartment in Yonkers and back again left him dealing with mental issues throughout March and asking himself how he ended up in the situation.
“I think I honestly forgot how much of an impact it has on your mental health,” Ang said. “As bad as the living situation was and getting kicked out of the apartment, it was actually a blessing in disguise.”
Now resettling in Bushwick, Ang has realized that life could be far better if he put the time into finding the right environment.
“It’s astronomical just seeing how well this nicer apartment building is maintained,” Ang said. “You don’t have to deal with rats and cockroaches on a daily basis just to throw away the trash.”
Meanwhile, Pellegrini is now in Queens. Like Ang, he’s also in a much better place than 111 Mott St, where he’s hopefully left the living nightmares behind.
“I don’t know how it could get much worse than that,” Pellegrini said.
A housing website started by Brooklyn residents called “Who owns what in nyc?” lists pests, door/window, and heat/hot water as the most common issues at 111 Mott St. reported to 311, the city’s service request platform.
Multiple tenants credited Councilmember Christopher Marte (D) for being actively present during much of the ordeal.
Marte told amNewYork Metro that his office has been working with the 111 Mott St. tenants since the vacate order was placed on their building. Marte has twice met with the tenants, and kept regular contact. He also sent a letter to Conway Capital on March 30 on their behalf, which pointed to nefarious and insidious management practices.
“There is a dangerous pattern emerging in Chinatown of landlords using construction or emergency situations as a means to evict tenants that they do not like,” stated Marte in the letter, which referenced the 78 Mulberry St. building fire that has left tenants still displaced a year later.
Marte pointed to property management company Raber Enterprises LLC as using “endless excuses to delay repairs” and how this shows “landlords weaponize safety regulations to ensure the long-term displacement of our neighbors.”
“We warned the 111 Mott St. tenants that they might be facing a similar situation and worked to equip them with the tools they need to fight back. We connected them with legal assistance, walked them through what kinds of intimidation tactics to expect, what their rights are, and the City’s assessment of their building and repair status.”
Marte’s letter accused Conway Capital, which lists 111 Mott St. in its portfolio and whom Marte named as the landlord of 111 Mott St., of being “more concerned about protecting themselves from liability than helping their own tenants who are now facing homelessness.”
His letter acknowledged the looting that occurred in many Chinatown buildings after fires and evacuations, and pinned the responsibility to the New York Police Department, telling them that “this is already a clear pattern that should be recognized and addressed by the NYPD.”
Calm after the storm?
DOB spokesperson Ryan Degan told amNewYork Metro that repairs at 111 Mott Street are ongoing and progress is being made.
The Department of Buildings partially rescinded the Vacate Order on May 22 for a majority of the units in the building after an inspection found that some of the repair work had been completed, Degan added.
For the remaining units, facade repairs on the front of the building have not yet been completed.
Latterner said that Legal Services NYC withdrew the case for the tenants who got their vacate orders lifted.
“We move forward with the remaining two,” Latterner said. “For the remaining two tenants, we reached an agreement with the landlord that they would have 21 days to get the vacate orders lifted.”
The deadline for the landlord, CC MSP Mott Street LLC, is Friday, June 16.
If the landlord doesn’t meet their obligations to get the vacate orders lifted, one of the things the legal team is considering is bringing a motion to the landlord for contempt for failing to comply, said Latterner.
Bryant and another tenant went to court on May 26 to see whether the city would lift their vacate orders. As for those who were able to return to their apartments, most packed up and hightailed it out of 111 Mott.
“Everyone fled and moved out,” Bryant said. “There’s two units that stayed out of 22 units — that says everything about it.”