Dozens of distraught Brooklyn tenants shared their landlord horror stories at a packed town-hall meeting at Borough Hall last Tuesday.
Borough President Adams said he organized the meeting, the first of three this month, to crack down on bad landlords who intentionally harass their tenants out of rent-stabilized apartments. The building owners know they will only be slapped with minor fines if they’re caught — so authorities need to raise the stakes and start prosecuting them in court, he said.
“They’re laughing at those fines. They see it as the cost of doing business,” said Adams. “And we want to say to them that the cost of doing business is going to become so expensive that they’ll want to do the right thing.”
Tenants, many tearful, complained of landlords hiking up their rents without notice, completing often-shabby renovations on the buildings to justify the hikes, refusing to make repairs, allowing apartments to be overrun by vermin, and, in some cases, suddenly kicking residents out.
One Fort Greene resident claimed that her building’s current and previous landlords have bought-out many rent-stabilized tenants and raised their units’ fees to market-rate, and have made life difficult for the tenants who have stayed put.
“Those few like myself who have refused to leave have been constantly harassed, either by refusal of repairs or building amenities are not being taken care of,” said Robin McClary, an 11-year resident of 301 Cumberland St., a six-floor, 42-unit building between Lafayette and Greene avenues.
McClary said that her stove was broken for 10 months, and she had to get three court orders before the building’s former landlord Dermot Realty Management Company made the repairs.
A spokesperson for the company denied that it was an issue, despite being shown proof of the court orders.
“At Dermot, we treat all of our tenants with the highest level of regard and should a conflict arise, we resolve the issue in an effective and timely manner. Any contradicting allegation is simply inaccurate,” said a representative.
The trouble continued, McClary said, when A and E Real Estate Management took over the building in February and allegedly issued her with a letter demanding rent she had already paid, dating back to 2008. McClary claims she has asked the company for proof several times, but all she has received in response is threats to cough up the cash.
“Their response to my request for the rent statement is to send me a letter to say, ‘pay us up or we’re going to take legal action,’ ” she said.
Another tenant in the building said the company has left him stranded several times when the lock on the building’s front door has broken.
“They’ve been mysteriously slow leaving locks broken for days at a time so people can’t get in and out of the building,” said Dan Sallitt, who said he did not have an issue with Dermot, and that A and E has not asked him to shell out rent he has already paid.
Adams has recruited a team of lawyers to attend the meetings and listen to the tenants’ stories so they can investigate the claims and file criminal suits against the worst offenders.
Landlords who own rent-regulated buildings in the borough’s booming real-estate market have a financial incentive to harass rent-regulated tenants out of their units so they can jack up the rent or sell the building to developers, and low-income tenants often don’t have access to lawyers to fight back on their own, said Martin Needelman, the co-executive director and chief counsel at Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, who was on-hand at the assembly to offer advice.
Civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, who ran the meeting with Adams, told many of those who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting that he would be in touch. They might not succeed, he said, but at least the tenants will get their day in court.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean we make a judgment that you win,” Siegel said. “But we make a judgment that it’s worth the fight.”
The Beep is holding his meetings amid what law-makers and enforcers say is a new city-wide war on abusive landlords.
In April, authorities filed criminal charges against Bushwick and Greenpoint landlords Joel and Amron Israel for allegedly breaking into their rent-stabilized tenants’ units and destroying them in order to force them out. And last month, police arrested landlord Daniel Melamed for allegedly harassing tenants out of his Crown Heights building by cutting their heat in the middle of winter and exposing them to toxic lead dust.
Adams and his team of attorneys held a second town hall on tenant harassment at Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center in Bedford-Stuyvesant on July 16, and will hold the third on July 28 at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in Prospect Lefferts Gardens.
A and E Real Estate Management did not respond to requests for comment.
Tenant harassment town hall at State University of New York Downstate Medical Center (450 Clarkson Ave. between New York Avenue and E. 37th Street in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, (718) 802–2682]. July 28 at 6 pm.