A group of rent-stabilized Greenpoint tenants are still out of their apartments a year after their Nassau Avenue building’s utilities were rendered inoperable — by their landlords, they suspect.
The tenants have sued Aaron and Joel Israel, the brothers who own 300 Nassau Ave., and are paying rent into an escrow account to show good faith, but say they are tired of waiting for the courts to act.
“I am losing hope,” Catalina Hidalgo said. “With everything we have been through, I thought that the justice system would kick in right away, but we have not even gotten an update, let alone gotten back into our homes.”
The plight of the 15 renters dates back to when someone destroyed the building’s thermostat, electrical system, and boilers with an ax. The tenants called the city to complain and inspectors determined that, without utilities, the three-apartment building was unsafe to live in, and forced them to leave, pending repairs.
The displaced residents believe the Israel brothers plotted the sabotage to force them out and replace them with tenants paying market rates.
The three families are scattered around the city. For the time being, Hidalgo and her family are staying in a much more expensive apartment, another family has split up to stay with various relatives, and the third is staying in a homeless shelter, Hidalgo and the tenants’ lawyer said.
They are all also paying $1 per month to the Israel brothers to maintain their end of the landlord-tenant contract.
The tenants’ lawyer said the case has been held up by Israel’s attorneys and by the slow pace of housing court, and that has to change.
“We need faster response from city and state agencies and from housing court,” said lawyer Adam Meyers. “And we need more proactive policing to catch these situations before they result in vacature.”
A lawyer for the Israel brothers denied that they sabotaged their building and said that the court’s procedures are to blame for all of the delays.
“The Israels have been committed from the beginning to making the necessary repairs as quickly and safely as possible, but repairs cannot be made until they are approved by the court,” said Glenn Spiegel, attorney for JBI Management, the Israels’ property management company. “The Israels certainly have never vandalized their own buildings, nor have they ever engaged in an effort to force out rent-stabilized tenants.”
The lot’s zoning allows for a five-story building to rise in place of the current, three-story one.
Tenants at another Israel-owned building, in Bushwick, are having more luck. A judge has ordered the brothers to repair holes contractors made in tenants’ floor, forcing them to use a neighbors’ kitchen and bathrooms for months.