Trouble in Paradise, 2 Wide Views; How the Belnord Battle Took Shape Along Classical Lines

The Lorelei of 86th Street

By Richard Perez-Pena, The New York Times, Nov. 13, 1994

Photo by Bruce Davidson

In 1975, Thomas Vitullo-Martin attained many a New Yorker’s fantasy: an eight-room, rent-stabilized apartment in the Belnord, the landmark Upper West Side apartment house. His joy at the find lasted three years, until his refrigerator and freezer broke down, touching off 16 years of warfare with his landlady, Lillian Seril.

“She wouldn’t fix them, wouldn’t let me fix them and wouldn’t let me replace them,” he said. “Eventually, she moved up a refrigerator from the basement that was 20 years old, that was rusted and mildewed, that had roaches in it, and it turned out it was short-circuited, too.”

Many Belnord residents recall such episodes — moments when they came to view their gracious old home as the Lorelei of 86th Street, whose promise of elegant living had lured them onto the shoals of an epic landlord-tenant dispute. Over two decades, renters — many of whom will refer to Mrs. Seril only as “she” or “the landlord” — accused her of failure to make essential repairs, allowing the once-grand building to deteriorate.

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