The owner of a Grand Army Plaza old-folks home defied court orders to turn on air conditioning for his elderly tenants, forcing the seniors to sweat out Tuesday’s soaring temperatures in an ongoing campaign to drive them out of his building, say attorneys for the residents and their families.
State Supreme Court Justice Wayne Saitta on Monday ordered Prospect Park Residence owner Haysha Deitsch to provide central air conditioning in the residents’ rooms by the end of the day, following months of complaints from concerned relatives. But the oldsters on Tuesday afternoon said that they were still waiting, and were instead depending on unreliable window units to beat the heat, which they say don’t keep the rooms consistently cool and make it difficult to sleep.
“It’s noisy and parts of the apartment are hot,” said 93-year-old AnneMarie Mogil, of the window unit meant to cool her room. “Sometimes at night, I feel that I’m perspiring. It’s not comfortable.”
The residents’ lawyers say Deitsch’s attorney Joel Drucker told them the cooling system takes a few days to start working, and the facility is attempting to get it up and running by Wednesday. Signs posted throughout the building promise that the air conditioning will be on no later than Wednesday, June 24. But a lawyer for the tenants claimed that the central air conditioning was already in operation near administrative offices on the building’s second floor on Tuesday, which she said proves the landlord is deliberately dragging his feet.
“It seems petty for the owner to suddenly switch off the AC in a selective way,” said Aurore DeCarlo of the Legal Aid Society.
Drucker claimed at a hearing on June 19 that the nursing home is not required by law to provide central air-conditioning, and fans and window units were enough to protect the elderly residents from the summer heat.
“My understanding is that there are adult care facilities in New York State that have no air conditioning at all,” he said. “It is not a requirement.”
The residents and their families say Deitsch’s refusal to turn the central air on is just the latest blow in an ongoing campaign to harass the elderly tenants out of the building so he can sell it to developers.
Deitsch first tried to close the facility in March last year, after an investment firm offered to buy the building from him for $76 million. The old-folks home gave its 120-odd residents three months to leave, but a handful of seniors refused to go, and their angry relatives sued Deitsch and the state, claiming such a hasty closure plan was illegal and inadequate.
The court ordered Deitsch to keep the building open for the seven — formerly nine — holdouts until the lawsuit is settled, and to continue providing the services laid out in their leases. But the residents and their loved ones claim he has instead been cutting amenities — serving shoddy meals, dimming hallway lights, and reducing staff — while jacking up their rent, to drive them out and cover the high costs of keeping the nine-story building open for so few people.
Saitta in April appointed an outside caretaker to seize the reins of the facility to ensure the residents were being properly cared for, but both Deitsch and the state have refused to cover the temporary administrator’s operating costs, and he has still not taken up the post, say the residents’ lawyers. Saitta on Monday ordered Deitsch to cough up two months of the caretaker’s expenses by the next hearing on June 30.
Residents and their families will also take to the witness stand for the first time on Tuesday to give first-hand accounts of the hardships they say they have faced under the current management.
In the meantime, the seven tenants — whose ranks include a Holocaust survivor and a centenarian — say it will take more than heat to force them out of their homes.
“They’re going to have to carry me out,” said Alice Singer.
Deitsch’s attorney did not return calls for comment.