By Bill Parry
Residents of a Long Island City apartment building are fighting to be allowed back into their homes after a fire forced them to leave their apartments more than eight months ago.
After the Jan. 25 blaze caused severe damage to 10-38 47th Road in the Hunters Point section, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development issued an Order to Vacate, leaving residents unable to return to their apartments. In May, attorneys from Queens Legal Services asked Bethel Management for a time frame in which the repairs would be made so that the residents could go home. The management company did not respond.
This month the tenants continued their fight against landlord Pui Yan Ho in Queens Housing Court in a suit filed by three of the six tenants that claims the landlord and management company have been refusing to make the repairs in order to harass their low-income tenants into giving up their rent-stabilized apartments.
“The Rent Stabilization Code was established to protect affordable housing in New York City,” said Jennifer Fernandez, a Tenants Rights Coalition staff attorney at QLS. “When there is a full vacate order as a result of a fire, a landlord can circumvent these protections by delaying the repairs, causing the tenants to give up and find other housing and allowing the landlords to raise the rents.”
Neither Bethel Management Inc. nor Pui Yan Po could be reached for comment.
Some of the tenants have health problems, and some have slept on couches at friends’ and family members’ homes.
They are not even allowed into the building to retrieve their possessions because of an alleged asbestos abatement issue, according to their attorneys.
“Not only have they not even started on repairs of the building, they have not been forthcoming enough to give the tenants an expected move-in date, or to tell us why they haven’t even started the repairs,” said Claire Munday, who has rented an apartment in the building for more than 20 years.”
She added, “There is no communication with them. Besides the loss of my personal property — some irreplaceable, I have suffered physical, mental, emotional and financial trauma from this whole experience. It is now October, and I’m seeing no work being done on the building. I am deeply disturbed, still scattered and unsettled and feel taken advantage of by the landlord and Bethel Management.”
The city Department of Housing Preservation and Development has also brought the landlord to court to secure the repairs. Meanwhile, QLS continues to seek relief on the tenants’ behalf, including asking the court to hold the landlord in contempt, to force the landlord and management company to repair the building and restore the tenants to their homes.
“I need my affordable housing in a location that has become unaffordable for the working class,” Munday said. “I signed lease in good faith. And I expect the current owners to hold up their end of the bargain: Do the repairs to enable me to move back in before the end of this very long year.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr