By Bill Parry
Tenants in an Astoria dormitory won a temporary restraining order against their Christian non-profit landlord last week as their nearly year-long fight against eviction drags on. Their attorneys from the Legal Aid Society filed the request for an injunction in Queens Supreme Court following a recent series of tenant harassment incidents at a residential building run by the New York School of Urban Ministry.
In a continued effort to make the building unlivable for tenants, NYSUM management recently removed furniture and computers from a shared living room and disconnected the building’s WiFi internet, according to The Legal Aid Society. A dormitory resident also claims that she was physically assaulted by management at a recent tenant meeting.
“The temporary restraining order is basically a time-out,” a Legal Aid attorney Sateesh Nori said. “The reason we asked for it was NYSUM was engaging in unscrupulous behavior that was making many of the tenants move out and if they all leave to find a better place, then our case would collapse.”
The order requires NYSUM to stop harassing the tenants and also blocks the landlord from commencing any legal action to evict the tenants until another hearing is held Nov. 16.
“That’s when both sides will make their arguments,” Nori said. “If we win, then it’s a good indication of where this case is going and it could lead to a settlement.”
The saga began just before Thanksgiving last year when NYSUM informed the 39 low-income residents that they were being evicted so the building at 31-65 46th St. could be converted to a homeless shelter, claiming the ministry could no longer maintain the property. The Legal Aid Society’s Queens Neighborhood Office filed a lawsuit in February on behalf of 12 tenants who remained, seeking a stay of eviction, arguing that the apartments are protected by the rent stabilization laws, which requires renewable leases. NYSUM argues that it could evict the tenants because it does not need to conform to rent stabilization laws since it is a non profit.
NYSUM’s attorney, Ira Clair, could not be reached for comment.
Legal Aid attempted to discuss the settlement and resolution of the issues, but NYSU through its attorneys has not made any reasonable offers, according to The Legal Aid Society. Instead management has resorted to vicious tactics to bully the tenants into giving up their apartments.
“Management even tore up their vegetable garden. It’s unfortunate that management continues to bully and intimidate our clients to squeeze them out of their homes,” Nori said. “We expected NYSUM management to comport themselves in a passionate and empathetic manner — especially as employees of a Christian organization. Instead, management is operating not from the ‘good book’ but from the book of dirty tricks.”
State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) has been guiding the tenants since November.
“After doing this job long enough, it takes a long time to shock me, but watching NYSUM abuse its tenants for almost a year after we brought to light their inappropriate behavior is truly startling and disappointing,” Gianaris said. “It’s almost a year now and it’s past time to make it clear that these tenants are entitled to stay in their homes and not be harassed by NYSUM any longer.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr