Life Inside an Icon Realty Building is a Living Hell [PHOTOS]

Posted on: March 2nd, 2016 at 10:23 am by
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[Updated below] ​It’s sad, really.

The habits of a select few landlords are so ingrained in the East Village/Lower East Side that we could easily draw up a template post and just plug-and-play the du jour offender. Most often at the expense of tenants (i.e. harassment), and with great risk. And in the same vein, there seems to be shared common experiences for the victims.

Today, we revisit the real estate empire of Icon Realty Management, a name dragged through the mud of late, thanks in large part to its shady tactics with regard to the Stage Restaurant at 128 Second Avenue. The firm tried to evict the thirty-five-year-old luncheonette based on alleged gas-tampering charges in the wake of the Second Avenue explosion last year. Owner Roman Diakun, for his part, refuted the charges, and filed a lawsuit (as did tenants). Legal proceedings are still ongoing, yet he just announced today that the business is closing for good.

It seems that with each new acquisition, Icon brings the pain. Like clockwork. Case in point, the 129-year-old buildings comprising 441-447 East 9th Street.

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Ceiling collapse in a bathroom at 445 E. 9th St.

This latest battleground carries many of the hallmarks you’d expect. The serious problems started upon purchase in May 2014, and it didn’t take long to worsen. For example, the property has been without gas since last June, and heat/hot water is, we’re told, was shut off. (Hot plates were delivered, and some rent abatements doled.) Couple those actions with ongoing interior demolition, caving ceilings, buckling supports, and potentially hazardous dust plumes (likely laced with lead) that are allegedly mopped away without the mandated scrubbing procedures.

There are only a few people still living in the four-tenement complex. As of this writing, no one is left at 441 East 9th, two of five tenants remain (rent stabilized) at #443, and four of ten remain at #445 (rent stabilized).

To combat this negative image in the public sphere, Icon tapped the public relations muscle of Tusk Ventures, with one Chris Coffey as the smiley-faced rep providing lip service. In fact residents are reportedly treated in a condescending manner and blamed for any problems raised. “I feel like nothing but a piece of garbage in the way of Icon,” notes one of the four holdouts at 445 East 9th. “[Conditions were so bad] I had a bloody nose, sore throat, and bloody eyes.”

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A ceiling is buckling

He further explains that there’s always a “low-grade fear of gas, dust, and health issues.” It’s the new reality in which the future value of new tenants is prioritized over current dwellers. Any time a complaint is made regarding living conditions, the landlord simply blames the victim and allegedly becomes verbally hostile. Like explaining away the lack of hot water to residents “showering too long.”

But the situation is reportedly more dire for another holdout living here, who is raising a four-year-old. That tenant has seen his ceiling collapse, walls crack, and daughter exposed to potentially toxic dust particles. “It’s a persistent cycle of disregard,” he tells us. “We live under a great deal of uncertainty, and you never know what you’re coming home to. Life has gotten more expensive [since Icon took over].” Indeed, both our informants are consistently forced to take days off work to deal with renovation issues. It hurts the wallet, for sure.

“Icon keeps making claims that they’re improving the way they conduct construction in their buildings,” Cooper Square Committee Director of Organizing Brandon Kielbasa tells us. “However, in reality it doesn’t seem they’ve made any substantive changes in the way construction is conducted.”

On the ground, meanwhile, the commercial units are predominantly dormant. Another Icon Realty MO – boot the commercial businesses and warehouse the properties until a rich business (i.e. bank) comes along. For instance, Cafe Pick Me Up on the Avenue A front was given its marching orders to leave last May after a hefty rent hike. However, we’re told that Superiority Burger did ink a lease for one of the spaces for storage and prep space.

The silver lining in this shitstorm is that tenants are organized and fighting with a vengeance, thanks to the service of the Cooper Square Committee. In fact, a coalition was recently forged to do battle with Icon. The aptly-named Icon Community United (ICU) group is composed of holdouts from several Icon-owned properties around the city, and aims to fight the power and end the harassment.

“The Cooper Square Committee will stand united with the ICU (Icon Community United — The Icon Tenants Union) and will use all of the tools at our disposal to help these tenants fight for what they are a rightfully entitled to: safe and habitable homes,” Kielbasa noted.

UPDATE: Icon responds via Coffey – “Over the last 3 months, we have worked with the residents of 445 East 9th Street to make the construction there as painless as possible. We do regret the inconvenience that is caused by that construction, which is why we offered everyone rent-free stays at a nearby hotel or Icon apartment. We are hopeful that once we finish work in the next 2 months, residents can settle back into their routine with better lobbies, better stairs, better common area, and with most of their apartments having received significant improvements at no cost to them. We remain committed to improving the dynamics between our tenants and Icon and look forward to continuing to work on that in the coming months.”

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