‘High-Rise Hell’: New York Skyscraper’s Elevator Breakdown Pane Tenants

When completed in 1931, the City Bank-Farmers Trust Company Building towered over the Financial District as one of the tallest buildings in New York City. It was, in fact, the tallest with a stone-clad facade, which featured 14 Assyrian-style busts, called “financial giants”, surveying the narrow streets from their perch on the 19th floor. Replica coins from around the world adorned the entrance, representing the countries where National City Bank – later to become Citibank – had branches.

The 59-story building at 20 Exchange Place is now a bustling residential skyscraper with more than 750 apartments, offering luxury amenities, stunning harbor views and rent-stabilized units. Tenants enter the lobby, with its high ceilings and elaborate marble mosaics, and the Art Deco-style elevators to reach their homes.

Or they did, anyway.

Since November, the skyscraper has been plagued by long elevator outages that have disrupted daily life and trapped residents with reduced mobility inside their apartments. Elevator service is unpredictable and often nonexistent, for hours at a time, above the 15th floor. Elevators that only serve lower floors have continued to operate, although failures of others have become more frequent in the past two months.

The city received 25,376 complaints about broken elevators in 2021, according to city data, which isn’t an outrageous number for a city with more than 70,000 elevators and escalators. What’s far more remarkable is how often the elevators came out at the same address — one where a market-priced bedroom can rent for up to $5,000 a month.

In interviews and emails, more than a dozen residents told The New York Times about living in what one described as “highrise hell” and how they reorganized their lives accordingly. They’ve canceled plans, missed appointments, been late for work, ditched heavy strollers, considered moving. (But how do you get out of a skyscraper without a reliable elevator?)

“Our lives completely changed the moment those elevators stopped working,” said Faisal Al Mutar, 30, who lives in a 22nd-floor studio.

Those who are able have climbed many stairs. In fact, one young software engineer got so used to the trek that he signed up for the 102-story Tunnels to Towers charity climb at One World Trade Center in June.

Erin Campbell, a 28-year-old nurse, was thrilled to strike a “Covid deal” for a two-year lease for a 48th-floor water-view apartment just over a year ago. Then the elevators started breaking down, leaving her stranded after long standing shifts.

“I’m a nurse, I have no choice: I have to go to work,” she says, recounting how often she returns home to find that the elevators are broken. After a recent 12-hour shift, she returned at 8:30 p.m. and was told by doormen that service to her floor likely wouldn’t be restored until about 11 p.m.

“I just started crying,” she recalled. “I’m a young, fit person, so I can do it. But it’s misery. »

Her biggest concern, she said, is her neighbors who can’t take as many flights on foot – as well as the possibility that residents may face delays in receiving medical attention in an emergency, a she declared.

The building’s owners, DTH Capital, say Con Edison needs to step in to fix the problems, which they say are likely related to electrical surges from Con Edison equipment. The owners say they have hired crews with elevator, electrical and engineering expertise to fix the problem, which affects eight elevators.

“These experts have thus far been unable to determine the source of the surges and believe that we cannot do so without the full cooperation and 24/7 support of Con Edison,” said DTH Capital in a statement.

Con Edison, in turn, says he conducted extensive testing in the building and found “no indication that our power supply is deficient or compromised.”

“To date, no plausible theory has been presented to us as to why the elevator problems, which have developed since the start of work to install a new elevator system, are related to the equipment or serving Con Edison,” the power company said in a statement. .

Con Edison added that he hired a nonprofit called the Electric Power Research Institute to help with his investigation.

The building’s owners say the elevator’s control panels are regularly burned out and need to be replaced often, and they’ve hired elevator mechanics to be on site around the clock to speed up repairs. They also tried to buy farm panels in bulk, but were blocked by supply chain issues, they said.

Rose Associates, a property management company, is taking over management of the building after residents complained about how the former management group, First Service Residential, handled the elevator issue.

The 311 call system lists dozens of complaints about the building’s elevators.

The landlords say they have offered some tenants hotel rooms and furnished apartments on lower floors and in another building in the neighborhood, and that rent concessions are forthcoming. Tenants were also allowed to break their lease, and the building hired couriers to deliver packages up the stairs and offered a laundry service.

Local elected officials intervened to attempt mediation. In a joint statement, State Senator Brian Kavanagh, Congresswoman Yuh-Line Niou and Councilman Christopher Marte said they have worked with Con Edison, building and city agencies to resolve the issue and help residents. residents.

Mr. Kavanagh and Mr. Marte held a press conference with residents outside the building on Monday. (Ms. Niou was in Albany and a staff member read a statement on her behalf.)

“We are here to say enough is enough,” Mr Kavanagh said at the press conference. “At the highest levels of the Buildings Department, Con Ed and this building, they need to get the engineers together, they need to involve the regulators if necessary, and figure out what’s wrong and fix this immediately.”

In an earlier interview, Mr Marte said his office had been contacted by more than 100 residents, some of whom feared reprisals if they contacted the management company directly. He described the situation at 20 Exchange Place as “disturbing and ridiculous”.

Some residents interviewed asked that their names not be released because they also feared reprisals or did not want to jeopardize their chances of receiving a rent concession. The building has also asked some residents to sign nondisclosure agreements.

Sara Irvine, 31, lives on the 43rd floor and said arthritis prevented her from using the stairs. For a time, she behaved during blackouts as she had at the start of the pandemic, only going out to run errands for two weeks’ worth of groceries, or making do with what she had at home. House.

“There were nights where there was no way to dine,” Ms Irvine said. “I would just eat crackers or something.”

She and other residents also said they suffered sudden jolts during elevator rides. In one case, the elevator stopped and then started descending too quickly, Ms Irvine said. The building’s owners said in response that the elevator’s “safety stop” is triggered when a power surge or brownout occurs and can be abrupt and cause a perceived drop.

Ms Irvine accepted an offer to stay at a nearby hotel this month, but said coordination had been spotty, with her stays often extended at the very last minute. The situation is made all the more frustrating, she says, because she has a stable home that she is paying for, but no reliable way to get in or out of it. And she hates getting used to the daily uncertainty.

“It’s just emotionally and mentally unsettling,” she said.

Gina Chen, 30, who lives on the 22nd floor, considered the elevator problem a mere nuisance – until she broke her foot a few weeks ago.

“It’s a privilege that we can afford to live here, but we didn’t register to live in golden cages,” Ms. Chen said. “And after two years of a pandemic situation where we felt trapped, it all seems so much more acute.”

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