Richard D. Lyons, The New York Times, June 7, 1987
Residents of the Belnord, the huge landmark apartment house on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, have taken a cue from conservationists and set up a fund to help rehabilitate their building.
Contributions are to come from rent rollbacks and refunds ordered by the state’s Division of Housing and Community Renewal for two-thirds of the apartments in the building at 201-225 West 86th Street. The action is the latest chapter in what may be the longest and most bitter landlord-tenant battle in the city – dating back 25 years.
Lillian Seril, the Belnord’s owner, is suing more than 100 of the building’s 220 tenants on a series of charges, including: failure to pay rent increases, illegal residency and vandalism. She is seeking to evict about 50 of them. In the last eight years the tenants’ association has spent $350,000 in attorneys fees because of its legal skirmishes with Mrs. Seril.
The tenants view the fund, the Belnord Landmark Conservancy, as an expression of their commitment to the building. Mrs. Seril, however, believes their action is another attempt to gain control of the property.
”We are not looking for lower rents,” said Dr. Thomas Vitullo-Martin, the co-chairman of the Belnord Landmark Conservancy. ”We’re looking for a better building.”
Tenants say they hope the fund – a concept derived from the Central Park Conservancy – will persuade Mrs. Seril to make improvements, the costs of which would be shared.
Dr. Vitullo-Martin, the tenant leader, is a government-policy consultant and former professor of education at Teachers College at Columbia University. He said the idea for the conservancy came from the one he helped create for Central Park in 1980, which last year raised $2.7 million from private sources to improve and operate the park.
He said one engineering survey of the Belnord commissioned by the tenants estimated that the building needed more than $5 million in repairs to the roof, plumbing, elevators, electrical system and masonry. Richard H. Balser, the engineer who conducted that survey in 1979, estimated that the costs would now be about $7 million.
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”We are not looking for lower rents. We’re looking for a better building.”Thomas Vitullo-Martin, co-chair, Belnord Landmark Conservancy