Tenants at a Hudson apartment building were told late Friday they had 21 days to relocate after their landlord let the building fall into disrepair, then elected to close it down instead of paying to correct structural issues.
Three reports – one in 2016 and two this year – pointed to a need for repairs on the property, which is owned by Phil Gellert, one of the county’s biggest property owners.
A structural consultation from August reports the multi-family three-story building showed “numerous signs of structural deficiencies,” that snowfall could cause “significant damage” to the building and called the building “uninhabitable in its current condition.”
Gellert was ordered by the Hudson Code Enforcement Office to either make the needed repairs by Nov. 15 or vacate the building. Code Enforcement relied on Gellert’s engineer to inspect the building, following the engineer’s recommendation for a vacate date.
Hudson Code Enforcement Officer Craig Haigh refused to say when his office last inspected the building.
Though Hudson Mayor Rick Rector was sent emails and text messages about the building’s condition starting in August, and his office received copies of the eventual orders to repair the building or vacate it, he expressed confusion when interviewed about the building, and said the responsibility rested entirely on Code Enforcement.
Angelica Butler leaned against the railing in front of 510 State Street Friday evening, about two hours after being told she must vacate the premises in three weeks. She slouched in her black hoodie, numerous toys scattered on the sloop and the sidewalk below it.
“He told us on late notice,” she said, referring to Gellert. “We only have until the 15th.”
In an earlier interview, Butler said she started renting the three-bedroom apartment last fall, signing a year lease.
The last time she saw Gellert was when she moved in, Butler said. She mentioned problems she’d had with the apartment: the lights in one of the bedrooms didn’t work and had never been fixed, and the ceiling in the kitchen was coming down.
Her apartment is on the ground floor down a short, narrow hallway with ragged carpet. The hallway feeds into a staircase leading to the second- and third-floor apartments, but a chipped piece of plywood seals it off: three of the six apartments in the building are vacant. More plywood seals off a broken window on the second story.
The structure was built in 1985 and was valued at less than $100,000 until the city reassessed all its buildings this year in a process that saw property values skyrocket regardless of condition due to the city’s new, chic profile. Butler said she paid Gellert $1,100 a month to live there.
The apartments are not subsidized under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s “Section 8” program, according to a database of the federal contracts.
Two hours after she received the news, I asked Butler what she was going to do now.
She shrugged sadly.
“Going to look for something else,” she said.
The Trail to Here
Problems with the building started coming to a head in August. The property was being sold by Gellert through the real estate firm The Kinderhook Group (TKG).
Though Gellert operates his own real estate firm, Northern Empire, he often uses other firms to sell his properties, he said.
Gellert has been selling off his Hudson properties, he said, but will continue to maintain his other holdings in the county.
Gellert owns more than 100 properties in the county, stretching across all 19 of its municipalities, including houses, vacant land, apartment buildings and businesses, according to the county’s parcel inventory.
Investors from New Jersey interested in the building asked Rapp Construction Management (RAPPCM) to examine the building this summer.
Joe Rapp, the semi-retired founder of RAPPCM, alerted Hudson Code Enforcement Officer Craig Haigh about the condition of the building Aug. 2, saying it was “in horrific condition, structurally failing and unfit for humans,” according to a screenshot of the text message.
Haigh responded four days later asking Rapp for a “certified inspection report,” according to the screenshot, and asking Rapp if his conclusions were based only on his own observations.
Rapp is not a licensed engineer, but he responded that his 40 years in the construction business gave his observations a certain credibility.
“I am shocked that human beings are allowed to occupy this building and that mr. (sic) Gellert is allowed to collect rent for this building,” according to a screenshot.
Haigh responded he just needed a “good complaint.”
“We will be issuing the proper inspections…with our engineer,” he texted.
The property was examined in mid-August – not by code enforcement, but by a private engineering firm hired by another prospective buyer.
The resulting report by Praetorius and Conrad P.C. found necessary repairs “could cost as much as a new building;” that the building “shows numerous signs of structural deficiencies;” and that the building could “suffer significant damage” in heavy snowfall, according to a copy of the report.
“It is in our opinion that the building is uninhabitable in its current condition,” according to the Aug. 23 report.
The report also referenced a structural evaluation completed in June 2016 by engineer Timothy A. Ross that found, at the time, the structure was stable, but repairs needed to me made.
Ross is Gellert’s engineer, according to Haigh.
None of these recommended repairs were done by Gellert, according to the report.
The report was sent to Haigh, Hudson Mayor Rick Rector, and Mayor’s Aide Don Moore on Sept. 5 by Rapp, according to the email. Rapp had received the report from a third party.
“The attached letter signed by an engineer needs to be stamped by an engineer,” Haigh responded the next day, according to his email.
In an interview Friday, Haigh refused to say if the report obtained by The Other Hudson Valley was the same report his office had received, but said what he got was not “a certified engineer report,” because it was not stamped, and therefore not certified by “a New York state engineer.”
However, after receiving the report, Haigh’s office sent Gellert an order stating an investigation was being conducted on the property, telling Gellert to immediately contact the office “to allow our department, accompanied by the City of Hudson’s Engineering firm to inspect the property to make a determination and recommendation,” according to the order.
A “stamped engineers report” deeming the building safe would also suffice, according to the order.
Haigh refused to say when the property was last inspected by his office. His office sent Gellert a second order Oct. 9 about the property’s structural issues, but there is no mention of anyone from code enforcement or the city examining the property. Codes instead relied on Gellert’s own engineer, Timothy Ross, to inspect the building.
Ross found the building had structural issues demanding repair before the first snowfall, according to the second order to Gellert — Nov.15.
Phil Gellert said Friday he was going to shutter the building instead of undertaking the massive repairs.
“We decided our best bet was to close the building,” he said. “I have enough going on with other projects…I just don’t have time to deal with the renovation.”
Code Enforcement did not do their own inspection or walk-through, Gellert said.
Gellert had been divesting his holdings in Hudson and did not have alternative rentals to offer the displaced tenants within the city, he said, but would “make every effort” to relocate them to other properties he owned elsewhere.
The property must now be vacated. Various tenants have lived in the building for years as Gellert let it deteriorate. The current tenants continued to live there for more than two-and-a-half months after Haigh was told it was in “horrific” condition, yet his office, by multiple accounts, never inspected it themselves.
When Mayor Rector was asked whether he told code enforcement to inspect the building after he was emailed a copy of the report calling the building “uninhabitable” Sept. 5, he said he had not.
“Craig (Haigh) has responsibility for following up on that, and it would be his call if the building is habitable or not habitable, and if necessary, he’d bring in engineers and all that to make sure,” he said. “That’s his job, his responsibility.”
UPDATE: 9:19 a.m.,10/27-This article has been updated with additional information about the apartments not being federally subsidized through the Section 8 program. –