Some Lower Manhattan residents are still struggling with the effects of Superstorm Sandy, shut out of their homes for more than a month or longer.
Tenants at 1 West Street weren't able to get back into their building for 33 days after the storm, and 2 Gold Street leases have been suspended until March 1, according to one 2 Gold resident.
"I think the hardest part was not getting a clear timeline from the management company," said 1 West tenant Cathleen Cooper. Several 1 West tenants complained that they got information piecemeal from management, which made securing accommodations more expensive.
"They weren't forthright with us," another renter complained. "We had to make housing arrangements on a week-to-week basis."
Ben Shuman, 1 West's property manager, said they did the best they could.
"We moved heaven and earth to get the residents back, and to get them back safely," Shuman said. "We passed along the information that we had as it came in, at least once a day everyday."
Shuman said part of the problem was that early assessments of the damage were relatively positive. Now, some residents want to take advantage of a clause in their contract that allows them to break their lease if kept out of their apartments for over 30 days. The option to break a lease is part of the standard Real Estate Board of New York lease reads that termination is effective as of the casualty, he said.
1 West Street and 2 Gold Street are among the most prestigious residential apartment buildings in the financial district, with studios renting for more than $2,800 a month and 1-bedroom apartments at more than $3,500.
Residents at 1 West complained at the weekend that elevators were still not working, that power outages still happened and that there were noxious smells in the building. City tests showed there was no danger to residents.
One resident of 1 West said he spent more than $9,000 on hotel rooms in November. “They kept pushing back the date when we could return to the building. I had to book hotel rooms sometimes at just 3-4 hours notice, so the charges were exorbitant.”
What's the law, really?
Joseph Burden of the law firm Belkin, Burden, Wenig and Goldman confirmed that the 'casualty provision', allowing tenants to cancel their lease if they're out of possession of the apartment for more than 30 days as a result of a casualty, is standard, but tenants "have to act within a reasonable period of time after the 30 days."
Burden said that the amount of time is not specified, calling it a "rule of reason."
Some of the 1 West tenants wondered if they had time to see if building conditions improved, which Burden said could work.
"If the elevator doesn't work occasionally, that's not a reason to terminate," he said. "But gas and things like that make sense."