Homeless Brooklyn families seek redress in court

Public Advocate, Jumaane Williams.

Eighteen families who have been homeless for the past eight months following a devastating fire in their 36-unit rent-stabilized building at 180 East 18th Street in Flatbush, Brooklyn, on Friday asked Brooklyn Housing Court to force their landlords, Juda Rosenfeld and JBM Estates, to make the repairs necessary to move back into their homes and to pay relocation costs in the interim.

“Since the fire in February, landlords have done little to nothing to make the necessary repairs, and the little work they have done has failed to meet city safety or health standards, resulting in numerous city stop work orders,” said Brooklyn Legal Services’ Tenant Rights Coalition.

“Meanwhile, tenants and their families continue to be homeless, some staying in shelters or with friends and family and one tenant who left the state because she couldn’t afford to live anywhere else,” it added.

Gail Nurse, a tenant who has lived in the building for the last 20 years, said: “My whole life is turned upside down right now.

“You can’t imagine how frustrating it is to live like this,” she said. “I’m living out of garbage bags at my friend’s place. We’ve been out of the apartment for going on nine months now.

“All I want is to move back into my apartment,” Nurse added. “It’s like the landlord is intentionally taking his time so we don’t move back in. But I like my building. I like this area. I like where I live. I just want justice for me and my neighbors.”

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said “it has been almost a year that residents of 180 E. 18th experienced the tragedy of losing their homes and possessions in a fire and still little or nothing has been done for those who remain displaced.

“I went to court with these families because what I saw was egregious,” he said. “It’s time for JBM Estates to commit to helping their tenants who are still struggling as they protect profits. Housing is a human right and landlords cannot continue to make empty promises while their tenants face housing insecurities.”

Sabrina Francois, a community organizer with the Flatbush Tenant Coalition, said that, “historically, housing court was supposed to represent tenants against landlords in regards to repairs, harassment, and more.

“But it is 2019, and housing court is an eviction mill where tenants face eviction and there is no enforcement of repairs,” she said. “We need to shift the current power dynamics in housing court and make it a place of justice for tenants.”

At last count, Brooklyn Legal Services’ Tenant Rights Coalition said there are 422 outstanding violations in the building — 153 of which are considered extremely hazardous by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

“Windows need to be replaced, water-logged ceilings and walls need to be fixed, and mold removed, gas and electrical lines need to be repaired and restored, the roof needs several fixes, fire escapes need to be replaced, and fire damage to common areas and units needs to be addressed,” it said.

In the approximately eight months since the city issued vacate orders, the Tenants Rights Coalition said the landlord has done minimal work beyond demolishing much of the units and removing fire safety walls, “and, even then, workers flouted city health and safety codes which slowed repairs and resulted in several stop work orders from the City.”

In June, the association said the Department of Health issued a stop work order following repeated warnings that landlord’s workers were not mitigating lead dust created by the construction.

Other stop work orders were for failing to acquire the necessary construction permits, the association said.

Last week, it said the landlord finally obtained the necessary permits needed to continue repairing the building.

On Friday, tenants asked Brooklyn Housing Court to order their landlord to commit to a schedule of repairs or face civil penalties.

Additionally, tenants asked the landlord to pay relocation costs while the delayed repairs are being made.

“These tenants and their families have been waiting eight months without seeing signs that their landlord is making progress on repairs. These tenants are tired waiting and are now asking the court to intervene,” said Veronica Corsaro, a staff attorney at Brooklyn Legal Service who is representing the tenants.

“Now that the landlord has secured the necessary permits, tenants expect the landlord to work as quickly and safely as possible to make repairs. so they can finally move back into their homes and get their lives back.”

The Flatbush Tenant Coalition is a member-led group of tenant associations in Flatbush, East Flatbush, and South Crown Heights working collectively to build tenant power.

Brooklyn Legal Service’s Tenant Rights Coalition, a program of Legal Services NYC, provides legal and advocacy services to tenants in East New York, Brownsville, Flatbush, and surrounding neighborhoods, assisting thousands of tenants to fight evictions, address bad housing conditions, and force scofflaw landlords to comply with the law.

Brooklyn Legal Services’ Tenant Rights Coalition’s work is funded by NYC Human Resources Administration’s Anti-Harassment and Tenant Protection program.

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