Sunday, May 31, 2015

Tenants In One Lower East Side Building Take Fight Against Owner To Court, Saying Landlord's Gas, Hot Water Shutoffs Are Part Of Larger Harassment Campaign Aimed At Driving Them Out Of Their Below-Market, Rent-Regulated Apartments; Buyout Offers To Renters Reaching $50K Have Been Turned Down: Resident

On Manhattan's Lower East Side, the New York Daily News reports:
  • Tired of living without gas, heat and hot water, a group of Lower East Side tenants have banded together to sue their landlord and his lackeys — a group that includes a disgraced ex-cop.

    The frustrated tenants — mostly Mexican immigrants — claim Goldmark Property Management has waged a campaign of harassment aimed at driving them out of their rent-regulated apartments.

    They claim they've been without the basic services since April 17 and have endured racist taunts and threats to call immigration from the landlord's aggressive agents.

    "They don't know the reality," said tenant Angel Salazar, 39. "Most of us are legal. That's why we are not afraid."

    Tenants' lawyer Stephanie Rudolph said "this threat of retaliation and racial discrimination is egregious." She said only nine of the 18 units remain occupied — everybody else has been forced out.

    "There are tape recorded conversations where the landlord is threatening to drop dynamite on the building and then let everyone 'figure it out themselves,'" said Rudolph, a staff attorney at the Urban Justice Center.

    There was no immediate response from Goldmark, whose agents include former NYPD Sgt. Miguel Cueto. The cop cost the city $2 million after he and his partner ran over and killed a Brooklyn man in their squad car three years ago.

    City inspectors are no strangers to the six-story building at 444 East 13th St.

    The city's department of Housing Preservation and Development has cited the building for 84 code violations — the vast majority of them since April, records show. Seventy are for serious violations like failure to provide adequate gas, water leaks and shoddy repairs.

    Tenants say their ordeal began in January when Goldmark bought the building, which is located in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.

    Residents in rent-stabilized apartments say they pay between $800 and $1,400 a month for tiny one- and two-bedroom pads that could fetch up to $4,000 a month on the open market.

    Tenants said Goldmark immediately began offering $15,000 buyouts to get them to leave. At the same time, the landlord began stripping "everything down to the studs" and kicking up so much dust that one family with two asthmatic daughters was forced to move.

    By March, Goldmark was offering $50,000, but the holdouts — most of whom were paying between $800 and $1,400-a-month in rent — still wouldn't budge, said Salazar.

    Then, in April, things got nasty. "That's when the threats started," he said.

    Claiming that the building was rife with drugs and prostitution, the landlord installed an electric key system and demanded tenants turn over their keys. They refused.

    Then, the tenants claim, the landlord began dispatching Cueto and his other agents after midnight to knock on their doors and cajole befuddled residents who speak little English into signing agreements to vacate.

    In one case, Salazar said, the tenant's son "translated what he could understand, then the father signed the paper. "The lawyers are telling us that's illegal," he said.

    Then came the gas and hot water shut-offs. "Two months without gas," said Adolfo Bello, 42, who has lived in the building with his wife and two kids for 20 years. "They are killing us. They don't have any feelings and they think everything's about money."

    Cesar Bello, who shares a two-bedroom with his parents, his wife and their two children, said they were living in hell. "We have to wake up at five in the morning so everybody can shower," said Bello, 26. "We cannot make home-cooked meals anymore."
Source: Lower East Side tenants plot to sue landlord, ex-cop-turned-agent over alleged racist taunts, lack of gas, hot water.

For other stories on New York City landlords attempting to drive out rent-regulated tenants in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods, see:

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