Chelsea Hotel Tenants Win The Day In Court

chelseahotel2 Chelsea Hotel Tenants Win The Day In Court

A bright(er) future for the historic hotel? (B*2, flickr)

The residents of the Chelsea Hotel may still return to their mold-infested, dust-filled rooms this evening, but it will be with the glow of victory.

After failing to get the historic hotel’s new owner Joseph Chetrit to negotiate an agreement to repair the decaying building’s moldering walls, asbestos-filled airshafts and crumbling plaster, the tenants took the sidewalk yesterday in front of their building yesterday, along with a phalanx of politicians, to declare that they were ready to take the matter to a housing court trial.

The Chelsea Hotel Tenants Association, which filed a lawsuit against the Chetrit group to force the group to rectify unsafe conditions in the building last December, finally got its agreement today in housing court, said tenant attorney Janet Ray Kalson.

“It’s done!” announced a jubilant Ms. Kalson Monday afternoon. “The main thing was that they needed to be put under order. Now there’s a very detailed time for repairs to the building. We’re very pleased.”

The agreement also includes steps that the Chetrit group—which purchased the building for $80 million in August 2011—must take to protect the building’s approximately 100 remaining tenants from hazardous debris, steps like sealing off construction areas and monitoring air quality, as demolition and renovation work to turn rooms in luxury accommodations continues.

The attorney for the Chatrit group, Fred Daniels, did not immediately return a request for comment.

Ongoing construction is likely to be a fact of life at the famed West 23rd Street haunt of artists, musicians and writers. Besides the room-by-room transformation from a shabby bohemian residence to posh suites, the Landmarks Preservation Committee recently approved a rooftop bar/nightclub designed by architect Gene Kaufman. Although the building, which is already too big for its lot, may face an uphill battle to get city approval.

The agreement is very similar to “final” one that tenants and the Chetrit group negotiated last month, Ms. Kalson said, with only a few minor changes. The landlords’ decision to renege on that deal at the last moment, insisting on yet more changes, is what prompted residents’ to seek alternative avenues to improve their living situation, she said.

But given the many promises of improved conditions that the Chetrit group has broken over its brief time as owner, did Ms. Kalson think a court order would finally do the trick?

“We shall see… to be continued,” she said.

City Council speaker Christine Quinn hailed the agreement, calling it “a new day for the residents at Chelsea Hotel, whose call for action has been heard at last,” while vowing continued vigilance.

“We’re going to watch this landlord like hawks to make sure the letter of this agreement is followed,” Ms Quinn wrote after the decision was reached.

But yet another important question remains to be answered: Does this mean that the Patti Smith concert will finally happen?

kvelsey@observer.com