What happens when you hear things that go bump in the night, and these bumps happen to be someone taking a sledge hammer to your water main, knocking down a support beam, or clipping power lines to your apartment building? And then what happens if these actions were put into motion by your landlord in order to frighten you out of your home so he could turn over the apartment to charge a much higher rent?
Nightmares like this have been happening in our area since the renting market became more lucrative. A study via NYU’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy has found Williamsburg and Greenpoint rents have risen 78.6% on average, from 1990–2014. This average increase is over three times that of the rest of New York City, where rents increased 22.1% on average in the same time span. To the more greedy and unscrupulous landlords, this translates to a strategy that would oust longtime rent stabilized tenants in any way they can and thereby receiving market rate rents for the fruits of their villainy.
What are the signs this could happen to you?
Continuous offers of buy-outs
In the case of 300 Nassau Avenue, it began with buy-out offers. Some of the tenants took the buy outs, but the tenants of three units wanted to stay in their homes. They had every right to stay, and the price offered wasn’t worth giving up their homes.
Multiple requests for basic maintenance fell on deaf ears.
Renovations without permits
The Israel Brothers, the landlord of the 300 Nassau Avenue, went ahead with renovations on the unoccupied units. No permits were posted to indicate the city had approved the construction. In addition to the noise and dust that compromised living conditions, some renovations were the opposite of improvements: plumbing was removed which caused raw sewage to come down the staircase, and some structural supports were undermined.
This strategy of excessive and aggressive illegal work elevated to where the water main was destroyed and other deliberate damage was done so that a vacate order was issued due to the building being too dangerous to live in. It is believed that this damage was intentionally caused by the landlord, but there is no direct proof.
What do you do if you have encountered any of these warning signs?
You have rights! Get help: Find a tenants advocate
Early on, Catalina Hildago, a tenant of 300 Nassau, contacted St. Nicks Alliance’s Community Preservation team. They informed Hildago’s family of their rights and made complaints to the city. The tenants of the two other units joined in the complaint and St. Nicks Alliance continued to follow up with the city.
Get organized with your neighbors!
St. Nicks Alliance also served as a mainstay of support during the tenants' exile from their homes. They would council them as a group or one-on-one to motivate them to keep up the fight. Time is a landlord's ally, as it is not easy to be kept from a place you call home while staying in a limbo, where you won’t put down new roots. There is an urge to find a new home, but that would mean the loss of the old home and the landlord would win.
Tenants were also inspired to become more active in the community. This helped them find more strength and feel less like victims. St. Nicks Alliance counseled that it takes people fighting a common cause to change a bad system, and this could prevent what happened to them to keep happening in future. Plus, being part of a group effort builds solidarity, and makes one feel less alone.
Get a lawyer
Brooklyn Legal Corporation A came on the scene when the vacate order was issued on 300 Nassau and submitted a motion to have a 7A administrator appointed to the building. They encourage NYC Housing Preservation & Development to order that 24–7 security be placed outside the building to prevent further damage until an administrator could be appointed. There is precedent that further damage to vacated buildings is part of the strategy to delay or ultimately prevent tenants from returning to the building.
The 7A administrator takes responsibility for the repairs of the building away from the landlord. The repairs are paid for with loans from the city, and these loans turn into liens on the property that the landlord has to pay. When the repairs were done, Brooklyn A allocated heavy resources in their persistence throughout and in finally getting the vacate order rescinded so the patient tenants could return home.
Contact your local representatives
North Brooklyn is fortunate to be represented by Assemblyman Lentol, Assemblywoman Davila, and Councilmembers Levin and Reynoso, who all fight the good fight for affordable housing in our area. 300 Nassau is in Levin’s district and he has rallied with the tenants along with Lentol. Councilman Levin was critical in supporting 300 Nassau as his office helped to expedite complaints to city agencies. He has also introduced legislation that enables real-time enforcement so the Department of Buildings can go into buildings more timely after serious complaints, before damage accrues to the level a vacate order has to be issued that displaces the tenants who complained to protect their home.
If you feel your landlord is harassing you, contact the St. Nicks Alliance Community Preservation team at 718.388.9190 or drop in on Monday or Wednesdays, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. at 306 Union Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11211.