Broken Elevators Mystify Management, Rile Tenants in Financial District

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And you thought your walk-up apartment was bad!

The grandeur of 20 Exchange Place is an unlikely setting for a landlord-tenant battle, but that’s where near endemic elevator issues have taken residents of this 59-story building in the Financial District.

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Since October 2021, residents in the building between William and Hanover streets have been forced to seriously consider the prospects of how they will return to their rental apartments if the five elevators lose power, which they say is around 50 percent of the time. The strenuous process of putting one foot before the other seems the likeliest for those above the 15th floor, where elevator service tends to come to a halt.

Even figuring out who to blame has become murky for the residents who have been told by DTH Capital, owner of the property, that power surges from Con Edison transformers have been at the root of the issue.

The 1929 building, originally headquarters of the City Farmer & Trust Company, is comprised of 750 rental units. About 163 of the homes, on floors 16 to 27, have only had intermittent elevator access since at least February, when the problem only seemed to worsen, according to DTH Capital.

Jim Barrett has lived on the 54th floor and compared the vertical effort of climbing the stairs to trudging to the other side of Lower Manhattan.

“Part of the frustration, or maybe most of the frustration, is because even when the elevators are working, you don’t know where they’re going to stop,” Barrett said during a Monday press conference in front of 20 Exchange Place. “When the elevator isn’t working, it’s a long way home. If you measure the distance in terms of time instead of blocks, without the elevators it’s like living in Battery Park City.”

DTH Capital said there is no discernible pattern to the breakdowns, which have been accompanied by electrical operating boards that burn out and require replacement. In November 2021, elevator mechanics were brought in by the company on a round-the-clock basis.

Alisa Kriegel, a resident who said she has stayed in hotels as a result of the ongoing situation, is working on a civil case so tenants can get some of their money back over the time they haven’t had reliable access to their apartments.

“It’s really the only chance we have to get our money back and not pay rent at this point, without being in violation of withholding our rent ourselves,” Kriegel said. “I work from home in a sunlit apartment, but I was given hotel rooms that were dark and noisy. I can’t work from them. So, basically, now I’m split between two non-functioning places, paying a lot more than the services I’m getting.”

When asked, Con Edison told Commercial Observer that its equipment checks out, including the two transformers it owns on the 28th and 56th floors as well as the four feeders that go into the building.

The feeder cables running into 20 Exchange Place, however, service several buildings, and Con Edison said none of the other ones have reported power problems. The company also said the feeders have systems in place to take themselves out of service when there are problems, and this has not been recorded on these power lines.

“Con Edison engineers have conducted extensive testing and inspections at 20 Exchange Place and found no indication that our power supply is deficient or compromised,” the company said in a statement. “Our experts continue to work with building management and the building’s consultants. To date, we have not been presented with any plausible theory as to why the elevator problems, which have developed since work to install a new elevator system began, are related to Con Edison equipment or service. We remain committed to helping to identify the cause and have hired the Electric Power Research Institute [EPRI], a preeminent nonprofit research organization, to assist in the investigation.”

DTH Capital, however, was not satisfied with Con Edison’s statement, expressing frustration similar to that of its tenants in both a fresh message as well as one issued to The New York Times over the weekend.

“The timing of the start of the electrical surges commenced months after one elevator cab was upgraded, so there is no correlation between any elevator work performed at the building and the start of the electrical issues,” DTH Capital said in a statement. “In late October, the building first alerted Con Edison to the electrical issues at 20 Exchange and have been repeatedly asking Con Edison for further support for months, and they only engaged EPRI within the last few days.”

DTH Capital said its company has sought help from multiple third-party experts, such as Nouveau Elevator Industries, Centennial Elevator, Goldman Copeland, ANZ Consulting Engineering.

Meanwhile, elected officials are working on behalf of the tenants.

Councilmember Christopher Marte and state Sen. Brian Kavanagh explained during the press conference that their offices have been working with the New York City Office of Emergency Management as well as the departments of Housing Preservation and Development and Buildings.

Mark Hallum can be reached at mhallum@commercialobserver.com.