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Following deaths of pets and close encounters with birds, tenants in high-rise want safer windows

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    NEW YORK (WCBS) — Some residents say new windows installed at their Harlem high-rise are creating a health hazard, welcoming pigeons and mosquitos into their homes.

Several say their pets have even fallen out of the windows and died, CBS2’s Lisa Rozner reported Thursday.

A beautiful view of the Hudson River came with a tragic price for Ashley Matthews.

“Full of personality, um, she was the little love of my life,” Matthews said.

She was referring to her cat Tofu, who fell to her death 31 stories from Matthews’ apartment window in December after the building took out her screens and replaced her traditional slide-up-and-down windows with casement windows, which are vertical and open outward and inward.

“There is no crank. There’s no kind of mechanism to stop it from opening completely,” Matthews said.

The building didn’t provide new screens, or information on how to buy them custom built.

Months earlier, Sofia Besyakov says the building threatened to sue her when she tried warning others, following the death of her cat, Cleopatra.

“They said, ‘It’s not our problem. Your cat is your responsibility. If your cat sits on the window, it’s your problem,’” Besyakov said.

Urban American Management owns 3333 Broadway, which is comprised of several towers, near 133rd Street. It is investing $8 million to make the window changes to all units, and says they’re energy efficient.

But others say the windows, without screens, are not efficient at keeping out mosquitos and birds.

“I’m on the 34th floor and all kind of bugs are there. Even flies are coming in,” Claudia Smith said.

“You wake up, you see pigeons and poop and everything. As a matter of fact, one flew onto my son’s head. He started crying,” William Dawkins said.

Dawkins said he has also asked the building for window guards to protect his 1- and 3-year-olds, but was told because the windows aren’t supposed to open beyond four and a half inches, the city doesn’t require the building provide them.

So instead, Dawkins tapes cardboard over the entire window, so the kids can’t touch the latches.

Claudine Isaac loves the aesthetics, but there was one close call with her son.

“He pushed it a little bit and I got a little bit scared, but I rectified that by putting some furniture right next to it,” Isaac said.

Some residents who refused to accept new windows have received letters from the management company saying they may soon have to move out.

“That’s not acceptable, so we’re not going to sit here in the dead of summer with 90-degree heat and not have screens in the windows,” Rachel Henderson said.

“I’ve written them again and again asking for the manufacturer’s info so I can talk to them,” John Dawsey added.

A former tenant said another property the company previously owned, Heritage Towers along Central Park, did get the new windows with screens installed.

“To me, that’s discrimination, and when I asked Urban American about it they couldn’t remember,” said Lana Orin, a former tenant, who added she believes Urban Management would not renew her lease due to her advocacy on the issue.

Independent buildings expert and president of RIP Construction Consultants Steven Salvensen said he has never received complaints about casement windows. He added, “But of course, if there’s no screenage, or child guards there, then those animals would be subject to falling out of those windows.”

Urban American Management declined to speak with CBS2 on camera.

A spokesperson said via e-mail, “We are very saddened by the loss of any pet and hope that our additional safety measures and recommendations to residents will ensure no future pets are lost. While screens are not a safety feature and will not eliminate this risk, we will begin installing them next week for those who have requested one. We urge all residents to be vigilant in supervising any pets that walk or rest on sills and to never leave them unattended with an open window. We are proud to bring these much needed, safer windows to the building. The previous windows were not only unsightly but unsafe and past their useful life. Instead, this $8 million investment is an upgrade that improves the quality of life of the residents while also being more secure.”

The company claims in one of the instances where a pet died, there was a screen in place. It adds the building was built in 1975 and the original windows are 25 years past their useful life. The old windows are not well insulated, drafty, heavy and after decades of wear and tear, they don’t work well and can cause injury. It adds the new widows are designed to code to be child safe so window guards aren’t needed.

A spokesperson for NYC Housing Preservation and Development said the building has been inspected in the past and windows have the correct limiting arms at the top and bottom of the window. The agency added if a tenant believes the limiting device in the apartment is not properly installed, and keeps the window from opening more than four and a half inches in any direction, that they should report it to the landlord and call 311 if the issue is not addressed.

The agency said screens are not required under the Housing Maintenance Code and do not provide protection against window falls. However, HPD and the NYC Department of Health have window guard requirements for instances like this where tenants are concerned for their child’s safety.

The Department of Health provided this link for tenants concerned about safety issues:

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