Union City is again calling for custodial receivership of the residential building owned by Imam Feisal Rauf after a final inspection by the city on Oct. 21 revealed that fire, building, and health code violations still remain at 2206 Central Ave.
The city’s final inspection report, turned over Oct. 22 to Hudson County Superior Court Judge Thomas Olivieri, concludes that the continued failure of Rauf to remedy violations at the property warrants a receiver to fix the violations and manage the property.
The next step, after a court review of the findings, will be a teleconference between city attorneys, Rauf’s attorney, and the court to decide whether the next step will be another court hearing, or a ruling.
Rauf is the imam at the center of the controversy over plans to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque near the former World Trade center site.
The city filed a lawsuit Sept. 13 against Rauf, the sole officer of Sage Development, LLC, for ignoring multiple tenant complaints dating as far back as 1996, and failing to address over 200 fire and health violations in the last two months that include bed bug infestation, a defective alarm, and mold throughout the premises at the 16-unit apartment building.
The next step in the city’s case against the landlord Imam Feisal Rauf will either be another court hearing or a ruling by the judge.
In an Oct. 26 letter to Judge Olivieri responding to the city’s findings, Espinosa argued the city interfered with the work process the weekend of Oct. 9 with the expulsion of workers on two separate occasions. The three-day delay, Espinosa wrote, “affected the timely repair of the fire escape and all work on premises.”
“There was absolutely no suspension of workers,” Union City spokesman Mark Albiez said in response to Espinosa’s allegations.
Renewed calls for receivership
In a final report to Judge Olivieri on Oct. 22, the city lists misstatement of the status of repairs, continued failure to remedy all violations by the specified deadlines, and chronic disregard for court orders as evidence that the situation calls for the appointment of a custodial receiver “on the ground of gross or fraudulent mismanagement.”
Receivership would allow the city to use rent to fix the remaining violations, as well as to “protect and preserve the health and safety of the tenants and other citizens of Union City and any other persons impacted by the conditions at the property,” according to the city’s final report.
Espinosa contends that Rauf had substantially remedied the violations, and that any remaining work to be done would be minor repairs with no threat to residents’ health and safety.
“Clearly the inspectors had a different opinion,” Albiez said in response to Espinosa’s comment that outstanding violations were of a solely aesthetic nature.
Since Sept. 13, Union City has pushed for receivership of the building at 2206 Central Ave., but Olivieri denied the request at that time because it preceded the imposed deadline.
Stucco cracking in many places around the building, a non-functioning entry system, and open sewer lines in the laundry room and basement hallway still must be repaired or replaced, Inspector Yordi Mesa said in his report.
In a letter to Judge Olivieri concerning the city’s findings, Espinosa argues that the stucco cracking is “an issue of aesthetic not safety,” and that the repair work required would have been impossible to finish within such the short amount of provided.
Existing health code violations, according to City Housing/Health Inspector Alejandro “Alex” Velazquez, include four uncapped sewer lines in the basement area. Espinosa counters in his letter that what Velazquez refers to are, in fact, the sewer lines of laundry lines that if capped would render the trap for gases and odors unworkable.
In response to inspection findings of bedbug infestations in four apartments, Espinosa contended that monthly extermination are being done by La Bomba Atomic, which has conducted 17 exterminations this past year, and said re-infestation occurs through tenant activity.
“This is an intractable problem for which the defendants have diligently and constantly treated premises and the apartments, but that is recreated by the tenant’s bringing infested material into the premises again and again,” Espinosa wrote.
Fire code violations have yet to be remedied, with a drop ladder deemed unsafe during the city’s inspection. Fire hazards in and outside of the building have been a source of continued concern over the last month.
Last month, Judge Olivieri ordered Sage Development to reimburse the city $19,800 for having to assign a police offer for a nearly 10-day “fire watch” while the faulty fire alarm was being fixed last month and earlier this month, from Oct. 8 through Oct. 13, when officials noticed that the fire escapes had been temporarily removed from the building.
In prior reports by city-hired architect Manuel Pereira and Dr. Ahmed Shaaban of Shaaban Engineering, LLC, the two each found the ladder to be in working order, prompting a statement by city attorney Christine Vanek before Olivieri Oct. 19 that violations had been abated and that the fire watch had been withdrawn.
Upon re-inspection Oct. 21, however, defects were found. Shaaban inspected the ladder Oct. 23 and suggested foul play as the cause in his follow-up report, caused by someone kicking the bottom of the ladder.
It will be up to the court now to consider the inspection report, the city’s renewed push for custodial receivership, and Espinosa’s response before deciding the next course of action for the property.