Cleopatra, a 2-year-old Himalayan cat, used to wake up her owner each morning. But she didn’t on August 9, because she had fallen out of a newly installed window in the Harlem high-rise apartment where she lived.
In July, management began installing new windows at Riverside Park Community apartment complex, at 3333 Broadway, which consists of five buildings ranging in height from 11 to 35 stories. Residents said the European-style windows have no screens and push outward, creating an opening of 5 to 7 inches, even though an opening of no more than 4 ½ inches is the law, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Tenants said at least three pets have died after falling out of the new windows, and they’re concerned that management isn’t addressing the issue or other building complaints.
Sofia Bes Yakov, Cleopatra’s owner, has been living in the building since April 2019. She said Cleopatra wasn’t the first animal to die by falling out of the new windows at 3333 Broadway. Shortly after her cat died, a dog in the building suffered the same tragic fate. She said losing Cleopatra was especially devastating because she considered her cat a therapy animal, helping her cope with not only the pandemic but her own health issues. Bes Yakov said she must keep her windows open to breathe but can’t live without a pet, so she bought a new kitten and had an ex install window screens.
While Bes Yakov said she knows it was her responsibility to look after her cat, she wished that building management had notified her about another cat that had fallen out of the window before Cleopatra, so she would’ve been more watchful.
A spokesperson for Urban American, the building’s management company, wrote in an email that Urban American only heard about one pet falling out of a window last fall, before the new windows were being installed. But Bes Yakov said she notified management about Cleopatra’s death in August.
To prevent future accidents, Bes Yakov teamed up with fellow tenant Lana Orin, who’s lived in the building for four years. Bes Yakov said the women distributed flyers around the property to let people know they should be cautious if they have pets. Management called them “right away” and told them to remove all of the flyers, said Bes Yakov, who couldn’t believe there was any objection to a warning about the windows.
“It encourages death in the building,” she said. “It’s unbearable.”
The purpose of the new windows is “purely aesthetic,” said Orin. “It’s for money, it’s not for us.”
Orin said she will not allow anyone into her unit to install the new windows. When she talked to the building manager on the phone, she said he told her the screens simply hadn’t arrived yet due to delays brought on by the coronavirus. Urban American’s spokesperson, however, said there will not be any screens added.
Urban American also said the windows are compliant with the city’s window guard policy and only open 4 ½ inches. “We were required to file permits to install these windows with the city, and they were approved,” the company wrote in an email.
Orin, worried that kids would be next to fall out of the windows, said she emailed Urban American executives. Orin said Doryne Isley, a manager at the company, replied, but not in the way she’d hoped.
“The only email response I got was, ‘Thank you for sending this email, we’ll get back to you,’ and then nothing. So, that’s when I decided I needed to escalate it,” said Orin.
In an emailed statement, New York State Senator Robert Jackson said that “many landlords and management companies in New York City are not the most responsive.” If tenants aren’t provided with a satisfactory response, they should organize or bring their concerns to their building’s tenant association if it has one, he said. From there, the association should decide whether to bring the issue to public officials, the media or some form of legal recourse.
“Usually, what works best is an escalation approach where you ratchet up the pressure on the landlord over time with a series of more serious actions,” said Jackson.
But Orin hasn’t had much luck with the 3333 Broadway Tenants Association. It has a vacant president’s seat, and none of the board members want to take action, she said.
“I’ve been telling them numerous times this is not something we can wait on,” said Orin. “Every single day, they’re putting new windows in and putting more people in danger. It’s been kind of frustrating that there is an association in my building that I thought we could rely on and trust.”
Quemuel Arroyo, the vice president of the building’s tenants association, said taking any of the actions Jackson suggested would mean “jumping the gun.”
“What I’ve been recommending is that tenants speak to management and ask for the installment of window protectors,” said Arroyo. “The window replacement process has been in motion for quite some time, so it’s kind of hard for you to stop a very fast-moving train,” he said.
“This is just not the type of issue for us to blow out of proportion.”
Arroyo, whose apartment doesn’t have new windows yet, said he’s seen them and that they each have a “sliver” of an opening. He said he’s heard about a dog and a cat falling out, but he’s not sure of the details because it’s “hearsay.”
Orin, whose cat loves sitting on the windowsill, said she’ll continue to reach out to public officials herself, with the goal of having the brand of windows banned in high-rise buildings.
Sus Hu has lived in the complex for 14 years and said she’s moving out by the end of October because “the ongoing problems in this building are sort of starting to build up.”
“I don’t want mosquitos in here and I don’t want my cat to die,” said Hu, who described a list of other problems in the building. There are insects, mice and broken elevators in her tower, she said, adding that tenants have to pick their packages up at a location near the Bronx because management is in a feud with the postal service. And while she agreed that the building needed new windows, management is fixing them “in the worst possible way,” she said.
Since 2010, the building has received 189 complaints about defective elevators and 29 complaints regarding rodents, according to New York City Open Data, a hub of analytics compiled by the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics and the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications.
Another reason Hu said she’s moving out is because the landlord raised her rent, even after she let them know her husband lost his job due to the pandemic.
Urban American said the increases in rent have been “modest” as lease renewals approach.
“People do not have your best interest in mind,” said Orin. “So, if you do not speak up, they will continue to degrade and not help you.”