Former SRO exempt from City’s no harassment law

Building had been converted prior to passage of Local Law. Jennifer Walker purchased 151 West 76th Street, a five-story residential building in Manhattan, in 2002. That year, Walker applied to Buildings for permits to renovate three apartments and a terrace. Buildings determined that the building’s legal use was an SRO, requiring a certificate of no harassment from HPD before permits could be granted. Consequently, Buildings denied the permits.

AfterWalker sought a certificate from HPD and received an initial decision that harassment appeared likely, she appealed Buildings’ permit denial, claiming that most of the building was converted to apartments over 50 years ago, which legally changed the building’s designation to apartments. Even if the legal designation remained an SRO, Walker argued that it was exempt, because the actual use of the units was apartments.

At the BSA hearing, Buildings responded that no legal record existed of the conversion and, since there was no certificate of occupancy issued for the building, its legal use on record with HPD controlled. BSA agreed, ruling that, in cases with no certificate of occupancy, an HPD inspection card establishes legal use. Buildings also disputed Walker’s argument of actual use, explaining that if all SRO owners could illegally convert SRO units to apartments and then claim an exemption from the SRO law, there would be no SRO protection at all. BSA agreed.

Losing both arguments, Walker then claimed that since the conversion to apartments pre-dated the 1983 enactment of the SRO anti-harassment law, the building was exempt. In support, Walker submitted affidavits from current and former owners and a property manager. BSA questioned the value of owners’ affidavits and expressed doubt that the manager’s affidavits substantiated Walker’s claim. Walker submitted new affidavits in which the manager claimed that, from 1976 to 1983, he made over 100 visits to the units and viewed kitchens and baths.

BSA found the actual use of ten of the 11 units as apartments predated 1983, making the building exempt from the anti-harassment requirement. To change its legal designation on record with the City, however, BSA required that Walker obtain a final certificate of occupancy from Buildings.

BSA: 151 West 76th Street (397-04-A) (August 9, 2005) (Petraro and Jones, for Walker). CITYADMIN

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