Scott Meyer heard the commotion when he returned home to 10 Monroe Blvd. on July 27. The superintendent of the seven-story apartment building was in the lobby, trying to pry open the elevator doors with a crowbar to free a resident who was stuck between floors.
“I had walked in the side door and could hear something going on,” said Meyer, 40. “The superintendent had a big crowbar and the door wasn’t moving. He handed me a crowbar and the both of us were just pulling the door. There was a young girl in there, probably about 20. The elevator didn’t come down all the way. We finally got the door open enough for her to come out. She was definitely scared and really freaking out.”
It was the third incident in a week in which a tenant became stuck in the elevator. On July 31, second-floor tenant Olga Lopez said she was trapped for about 20 minutes when she returned home from buying groceries. “They told me the elevator was working,” she said. “I’m claustrophobic — I was so scared, and I was shaking.”
Just hours later, Long Beach firefighters helped a tenant when the elevator malfunctioned yet again, Meyer said.
City officials said that even before Hurricane Sandy, the 104-unit, rent-controlled apartment building, which was built in 1967, had major issues with its two elevators. One was destroyed in the storm and needs to be replaced, and the other was damaged and is unreliable, officials said. “Now I’m terrified because people keep getting stuck,” said Andrea Keiser, whose elderly father lives on the top floor.
Tenants have also complained about leaks in the roof, crumbling walls and shoddy railings on the terraces and in the stairwells, which many are forced to use while elevator service is spotty at best, they said. Many residents are elderly and unable to use the stairs, and complain that they have been isolated in their apartments. Others have helped them with their groceries and other errands.
“My wife is eight and a half months pregnant with twins, and she has to use the stairs all the time,” said Meyer, who lives on the third floor.
Building Commissioner Scott Kemins said that the elevator company hired by the building’s owner, Queens-based Samson Management, applied for a permit on June 26 to replace the elevators, and the city granted it on July 12. “The question is, what have they been doing since October 29?” Kemins said.
Late last month, the city issued six summonses to Samson Management for lack of a working elevator, each carrying fines of $250 per day. Samson pleaded guilty to one summons in Long Beach City Court and paid a $200 fine.
Kemins, City Manager Jack Schnirman and City Council members Fran Adelson and Eileen Goggin visited the building on July 31 to see the elevators for themselves and to meet with tenants. They announced that the council intends to vote on a measure to increase the fine to $1,000 per day. A public hearing is scheduled for Aug. 20.
“For $250 a day, there is no incentive,” Adelson said. “Another thing we’re looking at is court injunctions to force the owner to take care of the elevators, and do it more expediently.”
Replacement could take a month
Kemins said that both elevators will be replaced, and that work on the inoperable unit is expected to begin in two weeks. The other elevator will remain in service until work on the first one is finished, which he said could take about a month. “We’ve spoken to the elevator company,” he said. “They’re doing whatever they can to keep one elevator running while they’re going to be renovating the other elevator.”
Goggin said that the city intends to keep pressure on the building’s owner to finish the work. “The conditions are outrageous,” she said. “It’s clearly not only the elevators that are not working, it’s the building itself. It’s in terrible condition.”
Jordan Hyman, an attorney for Samson Management, said that the building’s owner has been working diligently to complete the project, and is doing additional work to modernize the building. “The reason why they couldn’t start this job any sooner is because you have to have the parts retrofitted, and this is the fastest it could be done,” Hyman said, adding that work was scheduled to begin on Wednesday, and that Samson has authorized overtime pay to complete the work in four weeks instead of seven.
He said that the city’s claims that Samson has neglected repairs are unwarranted because the company has already begun replacing the elevators. “They go over and above what your average landlord would do,” he said. “Millions of dollars have been spent in these buildings after Sandy to do the right thing for the tenants and to get them back into their homes as soon as possible.”
Asked about ongoing problems with the lone functioning elevator, Hyman said, “We have not had any reports that there had been any emergency extrications in the building. Whenever there needs to be repairs, the repair people are there to take care of it. There have only been approximately five building violations for the entire year, and each and every one of them were immediately addressed by management.”
Tenants, however, said that Samson has been unresponsive. Cy Floyd, the secretary for the building’s tenants association, said there are ongoing issues with maintenance and upkeep of the building.
“Since Sandy, it’s just been abhorrent,” Floyd said. “… [T]his last episode lasted six days with no elevator service. One of my neighbors today said she was afraid to go buy groceries because she didn’t know if she could get back upstairs if the elevator was out.”
“The problem is that they’re putting a Band-Aid on these elevators that need a tourniquet,” added a tenant who declined to be identified. “We pay top rent and they’ve done nothing. There are other amenities and repairs that they’re supposed to address, and nothing is being done. And you really feel for the senior citizens who live in this building — they’re stuck. There was one situation when the Fire Department had to use a ladder to get to an elderly tenant on the seventh floor, because they couldn’t bring him down through the elevator.”
Jimmy Norton, 91, a World War II veteran and a lifelong Long Beach resident who lives on the fifth floor, said that tenants have put up with poor elevator service for a year. Norton, who uses a wheelchair, likes to go to a diner each morning for coffee and a bagel.
“The problem is that they make temporary repairs that last two or three days or a week, and then the elevator becomes defective again,” he said. “It cuts off my living — there is no living that I can enjoy or aspire to because we have no elevator service.”