Astoria tenants fighting eviction are being harassed and had Wi-Fi shut off, lawyer says

Photo by Angela Matua/QNS

Last year, tenants living in a rent-stabilized apartment building managed by the Astoria nonprofit New York School of Urban Ministry (NYSUM) retained a lawyer after their landlord surprised them with eviction notices.

The tenants, who live at 31-10 47th St., are being represented by the Legal Aid Society (LAS) after NYSUM issued eviction notices last November. NYSUM had worked out a deal to turn the building into a homeless shelter and decided to kick out low-income adults from the building since owners claimed NYSUM was facing financial hardship.

The landlord, Pastor Peter DeArruda, had been pressuring tenants to move out but at least 12 tenants in the 39-unit building filed a lawsuit against the organization with LAS in February.

According to Sateesh Nori, the Attorney-in-Charge at LAS, the threats have gotten worse since the lawsuit was filed.

“They have done almost nothing to take the lawsuit on,” he said. “They haven’t put any legal arguments together. They haven’t made any meaningful settlement offers to us and it was a mystery until we realized that their plan was to go directly to the tenants, to go around us because we’re their lawyers and to directly push them out and make their lives uncomfortable.”

NYSUM board members have visited the tenants in the building and have told them to move out because they don’t have a good case in court or have offered “paltry sums” of money to entice them to leave.

They have also disconnected the computers in the common room and the Wi-Fi in the building. A vegetable garden that tenants have been maintaining for years was recently ripped up, Nori said.

Nori added that a few months ago when tenants were confronted by a board member, the member allegedly slapped a tenant in the arm.

“The tenants are very good, idealistic, religious people and they believed for a long time that this is a building and this is a landlord and organization that shared their values,” he said. “It’s really hard for them to see that this organization that they looked up to is treating them this way.”

NYSUM “hosts, trains and deploys over 5,000 youth and adults for urban ministry each year by partnering with inner city pastors and churches in New York City,” according to its website. The old Boulevard Hospital at 31-65 46th St. is the site of the organization’s operations and houses ministry students.

The building at 31-10 47th St. houses low-income people who are referred by clergy and who are encouraged to do charitable work while they live there.

Rents at the building start at $425 and many tenants say that they cannot afford market-rate apartments. Nori said approximately eight to 10 residents have already moved out to avoid the harassment.

On Oct. 16, a judge granted the tenants a temporary restraining order, which bars the organization from harassing tenants or filing any cases to evict them.

On Nov. 16, the judge will hear more elaborate arguments on the issue and if the judge rules in favor of the tenants, an injunction will be granted. The injunction will last as long as the case does  whether it’s a few months or a few years.

“They just want to live in peace and want to have the right to live [at the apartment building] or if not to move within a reasonable time and move on with their lives,” Nori said. “Instead, they’re in this constant state of anxiety and panic and uncertainty.” 

Ira Clair, attorney for NYSUM, did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.

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