Residents voice concerns about WVH construction protocols and emergency procedures not followed by Management in Bank Street incidents

After repeated incidents during a 4-month demolition/construction project by the “investor” in vacant apt #1A, 162 Bank Street that affected the health and well-being of residents in the building, and zero advance notice from the Management office or follow-up when issues were reported, we brought our complaint to the House Committee in March.  Thanks to Patti Rogoff for putting the issue on the HC agenda. Here is what we presented to the HC:

1st incident: Thursday, December 24th 2009 (Christmas eve)

 On Thursday, December 24th 2009 (Christmas eve), without any notice to residents of 162 Bank St, WVH Management contractors applied polyurethane throughout floors in vacant apt #1A. No effort was made to ventilate the apartment afterwards (all of the apartment windows were shut). The resulting toxic fumes permeated the lobby and all floors of the building. Several residents suffered severe headaches and nausea. Some residents considered calling the fire department, worried that the heavy fumes might be flammable. Residents called the WVH Management office. When the situation did not improve, some residents called again later that afternoon, but everyone in the office had left for the holidays. Residents tried to seal off their apartment doors, taped up #1A’s door with newspaper and duct tape to try to confine the fumes, and threw open their apartment windows and opened the lobby door to try to disperse the fumes despite freezing temperatures. (The mean temperature on 12/24/09 was 24˚F.) It took hours for the toxic fumes to dissipate.

2nd incident: Monday, February 8th 2010

On Monday, February 8th 2010, polyurethane was again applied throughout floors in the vacant #1A by WVH Management contractors, again with no notice to residents. One resident in #1B arrived home from work at 5:30pm to see the workers just leave the building. A mop still wet with polyurethane was left in the vestibule on the first floor. The toxic fumes were overwhelming and permeated the interiors of apartments up to the 5th floor. Repeated calls to get help from the Douglas Elliman emergency number were unsuccessful. A 4th floor resident, whose wife was 8 months pregnant—got no reply after repeated attempts to reach the emergency number. Another resident got through to an answering service who said they would contact Gail Davis. Several residents called the WVH Security office. WVH security tried repeatedly to reach Gail Davis on her cell phone but was unsuccessful. Security called Gilbert, the super, who came over right away but Gilbert reported that he has not been given keys to vacant apartments and was unable to access the vacant apartment to throw open the windows to help disperse the toxic fumes. Security repeatedly refused resident requests to open the door to the roof to air out the building. The fumes were so strong that the NYC Fire Department was called and arrived around 7pm. A 3rd floor resident suffered an asthma attack and was treated by EMT. WVH security yelled at residents not to call the Fire Dept and then tried to keep the Fire Dept from entering the building.  The Fire Dept went into apartment #1B across the hall and used the fire escape to access the vacant apartment rather than break down the door.  The Fire Dept instructed security to open the roof and lobby doors to ventilate the building. Security finally agreed to open and monitor the doors while residents also kept their windows open. It took several hours for the fumes to dissipate to where residents could shut their windows—by this time it was close to midnight. The temperature that night dropped to 23˚F.

Key Issues that we brought to the House Committee meeting on March 18, 2010:

1. We asked to see written protocols governing work done on apartments regarding notice to residents, noise abatement, and abatement of hazardous/toxic materials. If these exist, we asked that the co-op board investigate why these were not followed in this case, or if they were, whether the protocols needed to be revised. We also asked for the co-op board to mandate the use of non-toxic materials in apartment renovations.

2. We also asked about WVH procedures governing after-hours emergencies. If these exist, we asked the co-op board to investigate why these were not followed in this case, or if they were, whether the procedures needed to be revised. (Failures included: the Douglas Elliman emergency number didn’t answer/couldn’t reach Gail; the super doesn’t have access to vacant apartments; WVH security couldn’t reach Gail/tried to stop fire dept from entering the bldg; no WVH subsequent Management follow-up with residents.)

The Result? Please see the summary Minutes of the HC discussion at In short, what was agreed was that:

  • residents must be informed by Management whenever construction is going to take place in the building that is going to affect them;
  • the Board would recommend the use of non-toxic materials in apartment renovations whenever possible;
  • Management (ie, Gail Davis) must follow-up directly with affected residents within 24hours whenever there is an after-hours incident or emergency complaint.
  • what remained unresolved is whether any of the staff on duty after hours (ie, Gilbert the super) have keys to empty apartments (Gail said that Gilbert had keys, Gilbert said he did not, and many of us agreed that it would be unlikely that Gilbert would have crawled over the fire escape with the FDNY if he had other means of accessing the vacant apartment.)

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