By Gabriel Rom
As allegations of landlord harassment increase in Western Queens, Ridgewood tenants are beginning to organize.
Residents gathered last week at PS 305 for an emergency informational session on tenant rights hosted by a mix of attorneys, non-profits and lawmakers.
The meeting was organized by Ridgewood Housing Matters, a tenants rights organization, and featured presentations from nine social-service-organizations, including the Greater Ridgewood Restoration Corporation and the Ridgewood Tenants Union. A number of city elected officials were also in attendance, including Councilman Antonio Reynoso (D-Brooklyn), state Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan’s (D-Ridgewood) office and a representative for state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
According to community activists and tenants, concern has been rising over the loss of affordable units in Ridgewood, landlord harassment and illegal construction.
For Angela Mirabile, executive director at Greater Ridgewood Restoration Corp., the event provided a much-needed social service for people who may not know the full extent of their legal rights as tenants.
“It can be frustrating calling an organization and then just getting referred to another,” Mirabile said. “I think people were happy to see an event where they could talk to all the relevant groups at the same time. It’s important for people to get a sense of their rights.”
More than 100 residents from Ridgewood and neighboring Bushwick were taught how, among other things, to access court documents and exercise tenant rights in buy-outs.
Priam Saywack, a staff attorney at the Queens Legal Service, points to the ongoing problem of landlords refusing to renew leases and denying repairs to tenants.
“We have seen landlords offering tenants buy-outs repeatedly, which is illegal,” she said. “We want people to know that they can deny a buy-out.”
A buyout is when a landlord offers money to a tenant to give up the rights to his apartment, often taking the apartment out of rent regulation. If a tenant is bought out of her rent-regulated apartment, the landlord has the right to increase the rent by 20 percent.
Ridgewood Housing Task Force, which the Queens Legal Service participates in, has been established to target serial offending landlords. The task force will work with various city agencies to crack down on illegal behavior.
Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at [email protected]