A group of tenants living in an apartment in Astoria owned by a Christian nonprofit filed a lawsuit on Friday against the organization after the owner notified them that the building would be converted into a homeless shelter.
New York School of Urban Ministry (NYSUM), which owns a 39-unit dormitory at 31-65 46th St., told tenants in November that they would have to leave the building because the organization signed a contract with a homeless shelter provider.
Tenants, along with elected officials such as Senator Michael Gianaris, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and Assemblylwoman Aravella Simotas, scrambled to reverse this decision by Pastor Peter DeArruda, the executive vice president of the ministry.
A rally was held in front of the building in December, Congressman Joseph Crowley asked Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to investigate the nonprofit and the Legal Aid Society worked closely with tenants to craft a lawsuit that was filed on Feb. 17, the Daily News first reported.
The nonprofit, which “hosts, trains and deploys over 5,000 youth and adults for urban ministry” in New York City every year, notified its tenants at the end of November that they had one month to vacate the premises. They were given an extra month at their dorms if they signed away their rights to an appearance in housing court.
Rent for the rooms start at $425 and tenants have said that they cannot afford market-rate apartments if they are kicked out.
DeArruda claims that the organization is facing financial hardship and cannot afford to keep running the building as is. But public records show that the property was fully paid for by 2014 and the organization makes $200,000 per year in rent from the tenants.
The suit claimed that “Plaintiffs will be irreparably harmed if this court does not grant their request for preliminary relief as they will likely be evicted from their homes before they have an opportunity to fully litigate their claim here,” according to the Daily News.
Attorney Sateesh Nori said the suit claims that the apartments are subject to rent stabilization. The Rent Stabilization Law gives tenants the rights to renewable leases every year. The nonprofit did not give tenants that option and even though NYSUM is a charity, it does not meet any legal requirements that would make them exempt from this law.
Lauren Gray, spokesperson for the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), told QNS in December that NYSUM lied about the status of the tenants.
The nonprofit told DHS that missionary students were living in the dorms and they would be vacating the units soon. When DHS found out that the landlord wanted to kick out permanent tenants, they “immediately stopped any consideration of this property.”
Schneiderman’s office sent a letter to DeArruda to ask that the eviction notices be rescinded until the Queens Supreme Court makes a decision on the rent stabilization status of the dorms.