Tenants Union leader takes Manhattan Square owners to court


ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — At Manhattan Square, residents say they’ve been experiencing health problems for over a year, due to asbestos removal and chemical smells associated with it.

“The way I’ve been living for the past couple of years just isn’t right,” says resident Pamela Owens, also a member of the City Tenant’s Union. She’s taking the owners of Manhattan Square, Conifer Realty, to small claims court for $5,000. That’s roughly the amount of rent collected since the asbestos abatement began. She says Conifer’s legal team did offer her that amount.

“(But) there are a lot of other stipulations on that money when you accept it. So, I’m not going to accept the money,” says Owens.

MORE | Manhattan Square residents fed up with ‘endless’ asbestos work, other issues

Owens says those conditions from Conifer include no more talking to media on Manhattan Square. Something she, and other residents say they won’t do.

“Everybody is entitled to a hazardous-free, safe environment,” says Billy Booker, who lives at Manhattan Square.

Booker says residents need to be moved out while this 30-month project is done. “And you can’t really say that’s a safe environment if you’re still inhaling chemical fumes and the abatement process is taking place,” he says.

“This is like the first time we’ve had housing court happen,” says Barbara Rivera with the City Wide Tenants Union.

Rivera says Owens taking Conifer to court is significant. “And this is like, a big opportunity for tenants to get what they need … Goliath falls, and we are David.”

When News 8 broke this story last month, Conifer said in a statement when they purchased the property in 2017, it had suffered years of serious neglect. They say the asbestos is not exposed asbestos, and the upgrades are needed and legal. But Owens and other want out until the upgrades are finished.

The judge adjourned the case, and Owens will be back in court with Conifer on March 4.

Full Statement from Conifer Realty last month:

“Conifer Realty, in partnership with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, the State of New York, and the City of Rochester, purchased the community at the end of 2017 and began to develop a comprehensive financing package and construction scope to completely transform the community.  The final financing was closed in the summer of 2019 and construction began in the fall.  The community will also be fully maintained as Affordable Housing for decades to come under applicable federal and state affordable housing programs.  Built in 1974, the community had suffered years of serious neglect and deferred maintenance prior to our acquisition.
The transformation will take approximately 30 months to complete and will include upgrade or replacement of all major building systems, complete interior apartment renovations including all new windows, flooring, kitchens, and bathrooms, a brand new and expansive ground floor community center with new resident amenities, and exterior façade repairs and upgrades.
During the construction planning and investigation, it was discovered there are some asbestos containing materials present in the community.  It is important to note this is not exposed asbestos. As units are renovated any asbestos containing materials will be properly abated under the guidance of a licensed 3rd-party environmental consultant in compliance with all federal, state, and city laws and ordinances.  Inspectors from the City of Rochester and the Department of Labor recently conducted site visits and deemed us to be fully compliant with all asbestos guidelines and procedures.
There has been no discovery of any toxic mold at the community since our acquisition.
Regarding extermination, our property management team has an established preventative maintenance program in place.  This includes monthly inspections of apartments, and treatment of any areas necessary.    This work is performed by a fully licensed and reputable extermination company, and reporting is in strict compliance with all state and local requirements.  Regarding the heating, we were recently informed of some heating concerns in a small number of apartments.  Our maintenance team properly responded and made necessary repairs.
We have also encouraged our residents to stay connected to the renovation project and provide us their feedback.  A private resident meeting is held every month and all residents are invited to attend to hear updates on the construction progress, get their questions answered, and provide us feedback.  This has already resulted in us making a few minor modifications to our planned construction sequencing where possible to accommodate some resident requests.
Conifer has been a leader in the delivery of high-quality affordable housing for 45 years and is deeply committed to our residents and their quality of life.  While it will take a couple years to complete the entire community transformation, we continue to professionally maintain the property.  We are always happy to address any concerns our residents may have and our professional on-site management and maintenance teams are always available. ” -Conifer Realty

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