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Residents cry 'foul play' over X-rated tenants.

A Chelsea property owner who unwittingly rented to an x-rated video parlor said, in reaction to community complaints, he is stymied by the laws of landlord-tenant court.

Other owners and attorneys said leases must be carefully drafted to maintain control of the premises.

Area residents marched last month to protest the increasing number of blatant pornographic video shops that have opened in the neighborhood. Councilmember Thomas Duane claims that some building owners are jeopardizing the fragility of life in Chelsea by intentionally renting to these shopkeepers who prominently display nude phoWs in the windows. Duane says the owners have done it with the intention of emptying the surrounding properties, a charge that real estate experts and owners of these properties call preposterous.

The rezoning of Sixth Avenue and the potential for private developers is the main motive, Duane asserts, saying these businesses were willing to accept month-to-month leases.

While some owners have been making a case over the last decade torezone Sixth Avenue so as to bring a stronger residential flavor to the avenue, they said it was "ridiculous" in this economy to believe they are renting space to these video shops to drive out other people.

"They are proliferating all over Midtown," said Warren Wechsler, first senior vice president of the Real Estate Board of New York. q don't know what the owners' motives are," he added, "but the economy may have something to do with it."

Council member Duane said the rezoning was on the "front burner" at City Planning.

A spokesperson for City Planning, Lonnie Soury, said the rezoning is being currently pursued and there has been some interest and meetings with the community.

"We are moving along with this developer (Leonard) Adell as co-applicants for the rezoning," he added.

City Planning is currently establishing requirements for an Environmental Impact Statement. Adell owns several properties in the area.

Under the rezoning proposal, the area from 23rd Street in the mid-block to 31st Street along Sixth Avenue would be rezoned to C64, which permits a tower on a contextual ??? base and is designed to encourage a mix of residential apartments with ground floor retail and other commercial activities. An FAR bonus of two would be available for providing affordable housing.

But, Soury noted, "it's not like there are major financiers around waiting to get their hands on Sixth Avenue."

Owner Elmo Nier, whose single Chelsea 20-by-60-foot property at 755 Sixth Avenue was a target of the marchers, said Duane's statement is untrue and his only wish was to have a legitimate tenant. "We gave them a lease to open a video store and we never expected them to do something like this," he said.

This store has a five-year lease and is not a month-to-month tenant as Duane charged. Such a storefront in the area would rent for about $1,500 a month.

Is Eviction


Some stores were only rented to video parlors after the buildings were totally vacant for many years and these tenants, the only ones to come forward, had harangued owners for the space for a long time.

"The owners thought it would be tasteful and it wasn't," said one real estate expert. "Now they have to figure out how to undo it."

But, undoing it, however, could be the hardest part.

Nier, who owns 19 properties in other neighborhoods, said he called Housing Preservation & Development's Code Enforcement recently in order to evict a residential tenant in a building in another part of the city who brought in four more women and began a brothel.

When he called Code Enforcement on this video store, however, they told him there is nothing thcy can do. He was told they only have jurisdiction over residential units.

It would cost Nier $10,000 to 15,000 to fight the tenant store in court, he said, adding nothing would happen anyway. "We have no tool, the city must make a tool," he implored.

Nier added he would be glad to go to landlord-tenant court if the neighborhood wanted to pay a lawyer to waste their money. "Tell this marcher go march in front of City Hall and get us some tool to get these people out," he added.

Lawrence Borah, a partner with Finkelstein, Borah, Schwartz, Altschuler & Goldstein, said it is easy to get prostitutes evicted because a "bawdy house" rule allows anyone to bring an action to evict and it doesn't even have to be the owner of the property. Additinally, he noted, the city is eager to evict drug sellers and the District Attorney and drug task force will help with that.

Getting out a commercial tenant with a lease, however, is another matter. In last fall's New York senatorial race. Elizabeth Holtzman noted on television that John Zaccaro, husband of fellow candidate Geraldine Ferraro, had an alleged pornographer as a tenant in one of his properties. Ferraro stresssed that her husband had tried to expel the undesirable tenant to no avail.

"There is nothing that prohibits x-rated film parlors per se in the zoning resolution and that is where the long range thrust has to come from," said Building Department spokesperson Vahe A. Tiryakian.

He recalled a video store in Greenwich Village that moved three blocks south along Sixth Avenue after a community march. "The three blocks made a big difference," he said.

Tiryakian said many of these video shops moved into residential areas after there was a push to rid them from 42nd Street.

Duane said he realizes that this is entering into the domain of the First Amendment.

"We can't regulate it but we can demand that a business be sensitive to the neighborhood," he said.

While some Business Improvement Districts have issued design guidelines for storefronts, there is no BID in the Chelsea neighborhood and Duane admitted such guidelines would be hard to enforce.

Robert Esnard, the president of the Donald Zucker Company, which owns both residential and commercial buildings in the 14th Street end of Sixth Avenue, said they kicked out one of these video stores before and are in the process of kicking one out again.

"We have a problem with 'the graphic depiction," Esnard said. "We're very concerned about the image of our buildings."

Esnard said the company's leases are very specific about not showing suggestive materials. "People sign leases and then don't do what they are supposed to do," he added.

Eugene S. Reisman, a partner in Novick Edelstein Lubell Reisman Wasserman & Leventhal, said they always add riders to the standard Real Estate Board of New York lease that say the premises are not to be used for lewd or immoral purposes. The tenants may also be causing a nuisance, he suggested, if marches are occurring.

"In today's market," Reisman added, "owners are happy to have tenants. I don't believe owners would be renting to commercial tenants to empty other space."
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Title Annotation:Chelsea district community in New York, New York pressure owner Elmo Nier to evict X-rated video store
Author:Weiss, Lois
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Jan 6, 1993
Previous Article:City agrees to reprieve for unregistered boilers.
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