By: Dustin Graziano
Photos by: Dustin Graziano
On the evening of Saturday, October 27th, fire alarms sounded and residents of The Towers, CCNY’s dormitory, exited the building in confusion. The event was no fire drill. Rather, the sprinkler system of a resident’s room on the 6th floor was triggered, causing a flood throughout the building.
“I saw my roommate’s cousin come out of the door soaking wet… I guess she was ironing clothes underneath the sprinkler system and the steam had set it off,” said DesiEmannuel Desire, a roommate of Christelle Dastine, the resident whose cousin triggered the sprinkler system in room 611/D. Christelle now lives in a different room of The Towers.
Residential Assistants (RAs) helped to ensure that residents left the building safely, but they were not able to update the residents as to what was going on. Once outside, RAs told the residents to move back from the building. Residents soon began to take note of the water that was shooting from a window on the 6th floor, and it became clear to residents that the situation was not a drill.
After several moments of standing in the cold as firemen and public safety officers entered and exited the building, residents were then able to go back inside. However, they had to remain on the first floor so that RAs could get a head count, although it was a Saturday night and not everyone was at The Towers during the time of the incident. The entire first floor, except for where the floor’s rooms are located, was packed tight with agitated residents.
For most residents, the trouble had ended when RAs announced that everyone whose rooms were not affected by the flooding could go back to their spaces, but for those affected by the flooding in room 611/D – which spread down to the 1st floor – the trouble had only begun.
Yasmeen Mohammed, a 2nd year resident of The Towers and a sophomore, is the resident of room 609/A, separated by only a thin wall from where the flooding began. “The first thing [the RAs] told us when they announced the affected rooms, was that The Towers was not responsible for any of the damage that had been caused to any one of our rooms,” said Yasmeen.
The flooding had completely soaked the carpet in Yasmeen’s room. The Towers provided overnight housing to her and a few other largely affected residents, but Yasmeen didn’t want to spend the night with someone she did not know. So she stayed in one of her friend’s rooms for the night instead.
Yasmeen returned to her room the next day to find that her belongings had been rearranged so that maintenance could remove the lining along the bottom of the walls in her room and install high-powered fans to dry out the carpet. Her dresser, her desk, her clothes, and more were scattered across the room. “I mean I get that’s what they had to do, but they could have at least told me that they were going to do that, or they could’ve moved my things back,” said Yasmeen.
The Towers had told Yasmeen that she must keep the fans running at all times and that her thermostat could not be set below 80 degrees. Upon realizing that her room was not up to par, Yasmeen had asked The Towers if she would be able to stay in the temporary overnight room that they had assigned her with for a few more days. “The fans were very loud, and they gave off heat. My room was so noisy, and the heat was sweltering. There’s no way I’d be able to sleep like that,” said Yasmeen. The Towers had told Yasmeen that there was nothing that they could do for her as they deemed that her room was in a “livable condition,” and then asked for her to return her temporary room’s key-card immediately.
Within the days that followed, insurance representatives, contractors, and maintenance employees were constantly in and out of Yasmeen’s room without any prior notice. “I couldn’t even take a nap between classes if I wanted to. I never knew when to expect them… I understand this isn’t a regular thing, but with the way The Towers has handled this, I don’t think I’m coming back next year,” said Yasmeen.
Tasnova Osmani is a first-year resident of The Towers and a student in CCNY’s Sophie Davis Biomedical Education program. Her room, 511/D, was also heavily affected by the flooding, as it is the room directly below the room where the sprinkler system was activated. Tasnova’s experience with the flooding was different, yet similar to Yasmeen’s.
Tasnova was home in Long Island when the incident occurred, and returned to The Towers the following day to find that her room had become a scattered mess of her belongings with loud, high-powered fans running. “The only notification I had received was an email from The Towers at 1 a.m. on Saturday night saying that there had been a flooding. It didn’t say which room had flooded, or that my room was affected. I walked into a disaster,” said Tasnova.
Like Yasmeen, Tasnova requested to stay in a different room of the building until the fans were removed from hers, and was denied. “It was not livable… There were grown men in and out every day, and I didn’t know when they’d show up… I decided to start sleeping in my friend’s room on the 8th floor,” said Tasnova.
She continued to reflect on the situation and thought of how much she pays for The Towers. Tasnova is a resident of a four-bedroom, single occupancy unit, with a shared kitchen and two bathrooms. The total cost for her license agreement, lasting from August 26, 2018 to May 25, 2019, is $17,808, which is $518 more than last year’s rate. Though expensive, the costs at The Towers do provide residents with cable TV, a laundry and weight room, and several other included amenities. At this point, none of that matters to Tasnova, “There are cheaper options for apartments near City College, you’re better off finding one of those,” she said.
The situation for affected residents has mostly come to an end, though many are still waiting for the lining of their walls to be repaired. “No one has told me when they’re coming to finish the lining. I just hope that they put everything back when they have to move all of my stuff again,” said Yasmeen.
The Towers’ Code of Conduct
The Towers is not owned and operated by City College. Very few dormitories of public institutions in New York City are managed by their school. Rather, private institutions such as neighboring Columbia University, and Yeshiva University in the Bronx, own and manage their dormitory buildings.
Educational Housing Services (EHS) is a not-for-profit organization specializing in student housing and student lodging in New York City, and they own the building in which The Towers operates. EHS hired a private corporation, Capstone On-Campus Management, LLC, to carry out management at The Towers facility. Capstone, based in Birmingham, Alabama, was founded in 2003 to provide management services to on-campus communities. Residents pay more for housing at The Towers, the dormitory of a public university, as Capstone’s services must be accounted for.
The impact in which the flooding has had on affected residents such as Christelle, Yasmeen, and Tasnova can be better understood by examining the Towers’ 2018-2019 Housing Agreement. Section 1. of said document, developed by EHS and Capstone, entails the following:
“Agent and Resident acknowledge and agree that this Agreement constitutes a license and not a lease, and that nothing contained in this Agreement creates a landlord-tenant relationship. As a resident entering into a license and not a lease, Resident understands and acknowledges that none of the rights or protections afforded to lessees or tenants under the laws of the State of New York are afforded to Resident(s).”
The “Agent” referred to above represents Capstone. Being that Capstone is a private corporation providing a service for EHS, they do not have to align themselves with New York State tenant laws.
Further down in the contract, and the reason why The Towers is not responsible for any of the personal property damages incurred by the flood, Section 20 of the Housing Agreement states:
“Neither Agent nor Owner shall be liable for any personal injury to Resident or his/her Guests, or any damage or loss to Resident’s personal property or the personal property of Resident’s Guests, including but not limited to any injury, loss or damage caused by arson, burglary, assault, vandalism, theft or any other crimes, or damage attributable to (including but not limited to) water, smoke, power surges, fire, or any other calamity, irrespective of the cause.”
This applies to any resident, including the ones who were affected but had no affiliation with causing the flood. However, residents can purchase “Renter’s Insurance” from a separate insurance company that is not included with the cost of The Towers.
According to Section 28 of the Agreement:
“Resident shall be responsible for any and all damage or destruction to the Premises caused, directly or indirectly, by Resident or Resident’s Guests or invitees, and shall also be responsible for any and all damage and destruction to any portion of the Project caused, directly or indirectly, by Resident or Resident’s Guests or invitees.”
This means that Christelle, previous resident of room 611/D, and her cousin will be responsible to cover a significant amount of building damages incurred by the flood. “The Towers’ insurance will cover some of the fee, but not fully. Hopefully, my cousin’s insurance will help, or else the remaining has to be paid out of pocket,” said Christelle.
The disrupting flow of maintenance workers, insurance reps., and contractors throughout the affected rooms is backed up in Section 17 of the agreement:
“Resident agrees that Agent or its representative or designee may enter the Premises at reasonable hours for the purpose of making inspections, repairs, and for any other purpose deemed necessary by Agent, and at all times during an emergency.”
Although the consequences of the flooding for affected residents may have made their lives quite difficult, they are in accordance with The Towers 2018-2019 Housing Agreement. However, there is nothing in the contract that provides a reason for the lack of communication between The Towers and the affected residents; nor is there a “livable condition” clause, which is the reason that Yasmeen and Tasnovas’ requests for temporary housing were denied during the time of an emergency.
“I just wish they could have handled it a little better, especially for how much we pay,” said Yasmeen.
“The entire thing was ridiculous,” said Tasnova.
Both of these affected residents had additional concerns regarding Towers’ policies. Last year, residents were able to sign in 6 guests at a time, so long as there were no more than 10 people in a room at a time. This semester, the limit is 2 guests per resident. Residents were told during meetings at the beginning of the semester that due to last year’s abuse of the guest policy, changes had to be made. “I can’t even have my family over to visit all at once, just Mom and Dad,” said Yasmeen.
“So, a few bad kids ruin it for everyone? Why wouldn’t you just take their guest privileges away?” said Tasnova.
Tasnova also had a problem with how the Towers scheduled move-in day this year, which was the day before classes began at CCNY. Last year, move-in day was scheduled 5 days ahead of the start of classes. Tasnova had freshman orientation 2 days prior to move-in day and had requested that she be able to move in early because of the distance between the campus and her home in Long Island. The Towers requires an additional fee for any resident who wants to move early, and being that residents were only given one day to move in before class, many had requested to arrive before the official day. “It’s all about the money here… I had one day to get everything into my room and organized before I needed to get to bed for class the next morning,” said Tasnova.
A Change in Leadership
Capstone Regional Manager Kern Williams was the Director of Housing and Residence Life for The Towers, but he has recently left the position to work with a college dormitory in California. He has been replaced with Seth Grossman, who has worked for Capstone for over 8 years. Though still operated by Capstone, this change in employment at The Towers could possibly result in changes with policies and agreements that may better suit residents.