City inspectors ordered dozens of Williamsburg artists out of their decrepit loft building on Thursday — and now the tenants are suing their landlord, claiming that they had no idea they were living in an illegal warehouse space with hundreds of building code violations.
The building, on Metropolitan Avenue near Lorimer Street, houses 40 or 50 residents in lofts and studios, despite the fact that it’s zoned for commercial use and the owners have 94 open violations with the city.
Tenants said that Department of Buildings inspectors arrived in the morning and demanded that the residents leave by sundown — mostly because there hasn’t been an emergency exit or structurally sound stairs for years.
“[Inspectors] told us we can’t take a s—t, shower or use the kitchen — we just have to go before they padlock the doors,” said a longtime resident who lives with a handful of others on the fifth floor. “We’re young, we don’t have savings. We had no idea about the problems here.”
And the problems are actually worse than he could have imagined. The Environmental Control Board still has 94 open cases against the building dating back to 1988, including 64 structural violations such as an unsafe elevator, a blocked emergency exit, structural dilapidation and illegally erected walls and rooms.
Department documents show that on Oct. 6, the agency rejected a permit request that the landlords filed to fix the place up, just a week before Thursday’s raid — but records show that the same owners have appealed to fix it up before, yet did no work.
The resident and a handful of young artists, who were packing their bags on Thursday night, said that they signed leases years ago without any knowledge of problems or illegal studios. They said that they’d sue the owners — who have been unreachable — for the alleged fraud.
Past that, the tenants are out of options.
“We have nothing,” the resident said. “How could [the owners] do this to us?”
Department of Buildings officials have denied that they’ve increased their enforcement on illegal residences this year, but they’ve certainly been cracking down on some substantial operations. In March, city officials raided and vacated Loftstel and Zip112, two Williamsburg hostels that were not zoned for residential use — yet both housed hundreds of people. In July, the city evicted a group of Clinton Hill artists, who racked up dozens of violations for their constant partying, from their Flushing Avenue “workspace.”