Local electeds led by City Councilman Antonio Reynoso and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez are urging Mayor Bill de Blasio and city agencies to pursue criminal recriminations against landlords who they say are using underhanded methods to evict long-term low-income tenants.
On Wednesday evening, Reynoso and Velazquez, joined housing advocates and tenants of 98 Linden Street, to protest the mismanagement of their building, owned by landlord Joel Israel, who has at least 395 open housing violations that have been issued on 10 other properties, according to records.
“It is outrageous to see landlords adopt criminal tactics, undermine New Yorkers most fundamental rights to dignified housing conditions without immediate penalization of such behaviors,” said Reynoso. “We must give the City the means to protect tenant’s rights and preserve affordable housing.”
The residents at 98 Linden Street allege that about nine months ago, Israel told them he would be making repairs to the buildings – instead what they’ve been left with appears to be deliberate damage that has not been addressed since.
The flooring has completely given away in the kitchen in one of the apartments on the first floor – planks of wood lie strewn about with a gaping hole in the floor. In addition the apartment does not have a functioning bathroom.
“I have to go to my neighbor’s on the second floor to do dishes, to bathe, and sometimes I just have to use a bucket to wash things,” said Gloria Corea, who lives in that apartment. “I have problems with my kidney and it is really hard for me to keep going up and coming down.”
Across the hall, tenant Michelle Navaz has been without a functioning kitchen for the past nine months. She cooks on an electric stove in a room that has no ventilation. When she agreed to the renovations she was promised a better kitchen.
“We want justice,” she said holding back tears. “I’m not rich but I try to give my kids what I can. Now I can barely cook in here. My son has problems breathing. We sometimes have to sleep with our door open.”
Navaz pointed to a bucket amid the clutter in her kitchen. “I’m forced to wash everything in that sometimes,” she said.
Both tenants live in rent-regulated apartments. In the past few years, it has become increasingly commonplace for crooked landlords to buy buildings, drive out stabilized-rent paying tenants by creating unlivable conditions, and then convert them into luxury-style buildings. Israel is facing similar accusations from tenants at a building he owns at 300 Nassau Avenue.
“As gentrification continues to sweep across North Brooklyn, landlords seeking to capitalize on rising property values are increasingly turning to tenant harassment and unpermitted demolition to force rent regulated tenants from their homes,” said Martin Needelman, chief counsel at Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, which often fights cases involving rent-stabilized tenants and dodgy landlords.
The Department of Housing Preservation and Development has already sued Israel over the violations relating to 98 Linden Street. The matter will be heard in housing court Wednesday afternoon, and the case for 300 Nassau Avenue will be made at the end of the month.
But housing advocates insisted that housing courts often dismiss cases against landlords, and levy minimum fines, which do not deter landlords from continuing to employ questionable tactics.
Velazquez and Reynoso are now sending de Blasio, who has consistently championed the preservation of affordable housing, a letter urging him to create an inter-agency task force to stringently check such abuses and to expand already existing housing programs like Alternative Enforcement Program and Emergency Repair Program.