Monday, November 5, 2018

Surveillance: Audio and Visual

Security cameras can be a major benefit to a landlord. However, tenants may be more ambivalent about their presence. While they obviously make the building more secure, they can also be seen as an invasion of privacy. The law agrees on some occasions. Surveillance of private property by someone who is not the owner is illegal. Similarly, spying on your tenants in their apartments is also prohibited. Cameras are only legal if they are being used to monitor public areas.

However, before we get to where cameras can and cannot go, there is something even more pressing, and that is audio. The law sees eavesdropping on unwilling parties as more of an invasion of privacy than monitoring them with a camera. And while there are a limited number of conditions that allow for audio surveillance, it’s best to avoid the issue entirely unless it becomes an absolute necessity. If you do believe you need to have audio surveillance, consult an attorney. Do not install any equipment that can record audio unless they approve of its usage.

As the LandlordsNY Legal Expert Michelle Maratto Itkowitz wrote in response to a question posted on the site some time ago, “Audio surveillance is governed by the Federal Wiretap Act, which prohibits intentionally intercepting ‘any wire, oral or electronic communication.’ See, 18 U.S.C. §2511.” She adds that, “§ 250.05 of the New York Penal Law, captioned ‘Eavesdropping,’ renders it a class E felony for any person, other than a law enforcement officer…to engage in, among other forms of surveillance, ‘mechanical overhearing of a conversation.’” Mechanical overhearing is defined in N.Y. Penal Law § 250.00 as “the intentional overhearing or recording of a conversation or discussion, without the consent of at least one party thereto, by a person not present thereat, by means of any instrument, device or equipment.”

To reiterate: Having a security camera equipped with audio is not 100 percent illegal, but it is only rarely deemed warranted in the eyes of the law. Unless your attorney has approved it, do not put a security camera with a microphone in your building.

Back to the thorny issue of camera placement. We can split this into two categories: indoor cameras and outdoor cameras.

For outdoor cameras, the rule is straightforward. You have the right to watch over public areas such as sidewalks and streets. You can also install cameras that monitor the outdoor portions of your property. However, the Backyard Surveillance Bill, which was signed into law by Governor Cuomo this past summer, prohibits you from pointing cameras into your neighbors’ backyards. If a neighbor feels pestered, threatened, or uneasy about the camera, you are required to take it down or reposition it. If you refuse, the displeased neighbor can ask for an injunction from the court. Note that this is a civil matter, so it's not like you'll go to jail, but it still could cost you. The law says nothing about front yards.

As for interior cameras, the logic behind the law is pretty much the same: Don't invade someone else's space. You can't angle cameras so that they'll see into the private lives of your tenants. The best way to think about it is a kind of crass question. Here it is: Is it reasonable to assume that this camera will see naked people? If the answer is yes, don’t put the camera there. If the answer is no, you’re probably okay. This means that cameras are not prohibited in the lobby, vestibule, mail rooms, public hallways, amenity areas (gyms, pools, dog spas, etc.), or elevators, and that they are prohibited in bedrooms, bathrooms, changing rooms, and the like.

This brings up perhaps the thorniest issue concerning security cameras: Surveillance of a particular apartment.

Let’s say, for example, that you suspect there are tenants who are renting out their apartment on Airbnb, and you want to go about collecting evidence before you bring the issue up. For this evidence to be admissible in court, you need to ensure that the surveillance does not violate the tenants’ privacy. In this case, it would mean by capturing any image of the interior of the apartment. You only want to document who comes and who goes. The specifics of what happens inside the unit is irrelevant and entirely none of your business. You also need to have the footage “authenticated.” Consequently, it is highly recommended that you hire a professional investigator to set up the camera so that it does not violate tenants’ rights and so that it can be properly authenticated and, therefore, admissible in court.

To summarize, here are the hard and fast rules of security cameras: No audio, no neighbors' backyards, no potentially naked people, and no doing it yourself when it comes to monitoring specific tenants.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Five Telltale Signs Work is Being Performed Illegally

No permit and unlicensed workers outside of Apt#5G (Cutting corners and saving money can risk the lives of the workers and of the tenants in the building. Integrity and safety are linked. (Photo: Kirby Sommers October 19, 2018)

There are five telltale signs that work is being performed illegally:

1. Work after hours. The New York City Department of Buildings permits work only Monday through Friday 7 A.M. to 6 P.M. Co-ops and condos tend to further restrict the hours (so as not to inconvenience or disturb residents).  The most flexible ones usually allow work 9 A.M. – 5 P.M.

 2. No work permits posted. If walls are being demolished or moved, a work permit is needed. It doesn’t matter how small the wall is.

 3. Nobody on the job site speaks English. If the contractor does not speak English, chances are that he is not licensed and insured.

 4. Work contrary to approved plans. Posted work permits list in abbreviated form the scope of approved work. If permits indicate demolition and new walls are being built, something is wrong.

 5. Questionable safety.  If workers are on scaffolds and do not have safety harnesses, they probably do not have the required OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) certifications. If they do, then they are violating code.

(Penal Law § 120.20: A person is guilty of reckless endangerment in the second degree when he recklessly engages in conduct which creates a substantial risk of serious physical injury to another person)


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Asbestos: Legal notice for asbestos related work in residential building

Legal Notice for asbestos related work to be done in building

Project Requirements: Asbestos

A project may involve the removal or disturbance of Asbestos Containing Material (ACM).  Pre-1987 buildings may have plumbing piping and equipment insulated with asbestos, or may contain walls, floors, ceiling tiles, roofing, etc. made with an ACM.  These buildings, prior to permit, an asbestos assessment is required to determine whether the site is asbestos–free, has a minimally acceptable amount of ACM to not be an Asbestos Project, or requires asbestos abatement per NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) rules and regulations.

Pursuant to DEP rules, applications for renovation projects shall comply with the following procedures with respect to the asbestos certification requirements.

Old radiator pipes removed on September 27, 2018 in Apt#5G (also in 5H 4G, 4H)




Before a large abatement begins, NYS requires the property owner and the asbestos abatement contractor to provide 10 calendar days written or posted notice to residential and business occupants on the same floor and one floor above and below the abatement area. Three days notice is required for small or minor abatements. Notice for emergency abatements must be provided as soon as possible.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Kirby Sommers is being harassed, threatened, initimated by landlord for tenant advocacy work

Stock image. Not actual image of the front of my apartment.

In yet another display of intentional infliction of emotional duress and to retaliate/harass me into moving out of my apartment because of my tenant advocacy work via the tenants’ association – our landlord had men show up at my door with sledgehammers yesterday (10/15/18).

The acting super, Brian, knocked on my door at 10:30am (which is illegal – an agent of any landlord cannot just knock on your door unless it is an emergency) – to tell me they were going to break apart the hallway floor tiles in front of my apartment.

Last month when they attempted to do this (some minor repair work needs to be done) – they agreed to wait until “after” my apartment has been repaired.

However, that did not happen.
I opened the door and saw 2 day workers (unlicensed) with sledgehammers and our 23 year old super standing there. My mind raced to images of rats invading my apartment, dust, noise.

I became momentarily unhinged: “No way you are doing this today!”
Brian, the acting super, got into the elevator and left to speak with the managing agent of the building Joe (Zef) Zagreda. When he came back up he told me that they would “not do it today, but are giving me 7-day notice.” (This reference was in direct response to my email to them alerting them of how to properly notify tenants).
I immediately contacted Arthur (the owner/landlord) and he told me: “You and I are enemies, the tenants’ association…” Whenever he and I speak he always brings up the tenants association.

I responded: “many of the tenants have told me that you were the person who created the tenants’ association. We have a volunteer group and no one likes to work long hours for free making you do the right thing.”

“Don’t lecture me,” he responded.

Reluctantly, he agreed to delay the work until after repairs to my apartment have been made. However, he also told me he will only speak to my attorney and will no longer speak with me directly.

This is also illegal and costly on my end.

His son, Alex, months and months ago in April told me: “Kirby, you have to move, your apartment is very damaged due to leaks from the roof, so you have to move.”

This is the point when I knew I needed an attorney and so I hired one.

That was May. It is now middle of October and the only thing in my apartment that has been repaired is the intercom.


If you are being harassed by your landlord you may file a complaint.


Information on what constitutes harassment and how to file a harassment complaint can be found here:



Various methods may be employed in cases of landlord harassment, such as, but not limited to the following:
  • Withholding maintenance on the property, such as garbage collection, landscaping, or repair of broken fixtures
  • Verbal and written complaints, imagined or exaggerated, of tenant's supposed improper conduct (see notice to quit)
  • Deliberate defacing of the rented facilities or the property of the tenant
  • Creating a nuisance for the tenant (for example, by generating loud noise)
  • Intimidation and threats of physical or financial injury directed at the tenant
  • Physical assault or other direct criminal activity directed against the tenant
  • Attempt to enter apartment or housing without cause, or without emergency need to check on premises or on tenant activity
  • Claiming emergency when no emergency exists to enter apartment, housing, dwelling etc., without proper notice.
  • Not letting tenant peace on property via repeated attempts to enter dwelling.
  • Harassment about Rent Not Paid, or Not paid in full.
  • Disconnecting water supply or electricity, without proper notice

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Trash Chute | Airborne bacteria | Maintenance | What you want to know

Trash Chute at 143 West 69 Street

A blast of bacteria laden air sucker punched me awake at 3am this morning. I suddenly remembered the trash chutes were being cleaned and realized they were probably doing this in the middle of the night.
Trash chutes also called “hoppers” have never been cleaned in our two sister buildings. No one, including myself, has any recollection of the landlord ever performing any maintenance on them other than replacing loose doors when it is brought to their attention by a tenant.

Maintenance man said he'd never seen dirtier, grimier trash chutes than our two buildings. "They've never been cleaned."
Garbage chutes have vents and this allows the stench to circulate into the hallways and into our individual apartments where we are then, without any knowledge, exposed to airborne bacteria and toxins.
Fire is another possibility for trash chutes that aren’t maintained properly. A combination of grease, grime and bits of debris can immediately ignite and start a fire in any residential building where proper maintenance is not performed.
I had some minor skin lesions on my face for a couple of hours after the dirt literally hit my face.
Another day. Another disaster barely survived.
I am happy our landlord and management company cleaned the trash chutes but may sleep somewhere else if they do this again in the future.

Roof work | Aluminum Coating Painted on Entire Roof | October 6 ,2018

Work on Roof | October 6, 2018 (Saturday)

Tim Nelligan, president of United Cool Roof Coatings: “Facilities managers cannot think of a coating as solving all their roofing problems,” he says. “If you have a leak, fix it before you apply a coating. Sure, a coating will probably stop the leak, but that fix won’t last as long as if you fix the leak and then apply the coating.”

October 6, 2018 on roof | 143 West 69th Street
Photos by Kirby Sommers

Empty bucket used for painting the roof with silver paint
Drain pipe lifted in preparation for painting the roof.

Reflective coating applied to the entire roof. Note: this is not to be used for sealing cracks as per supplier information.

Palmer Asphalt is the supplier of the silver coating on the roof.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Trash chutes will be cleaned on Saturday October 13, 2018 | For the first time.

The garbage chutes at 143 West 69 Street and 2020 Broadway will be cleaned tomorrow.
This is the first time I have ever seen them cleaned.
They are a source of food scraps for rats, mice, insects - and I am happy to see our landlord / management company finally take a step in the maintenance of the buildings.
Notes were placed under our doors this evening Friday, October 12, 2018. I am happy to see that the Tenants Association (being the first to place notices under doors) has inspired our landlord / management company in doing the same.
And our request for PROPER NOTICE is finally, finally being heard.
One step toward eradicating the rodent infestation in our buildings.

Roof | Noi Due fans on roof get maintenance | Finally.

The fans for the restaurant on the lower level of 143 West 69 Street that are on the roof of the building and that create condensation were serviced this afternoon.

Another hooray.

I hope the maintenance of the buildings, the common areas and our apartments (our homes) continues to improve.

Kirby Sommers, President
Cornfeld Tenants Association
143 West 69 Street
New York, NY 10023