On Jan. 25, a fire tore through an apartment building at 10-38 47th Rd. in Long Island City, causing severe damage to the six units. Almost nine months later, tenants say, critical repairs have yet to be made.
According to Queens Legal Services (QLS), which represents three of the tenants, their clients have been forced to stay with friends and family because the landlord has not made the repairs needed to make the rent-stabilized units habitable.
QLS reached out to the landlord Pui Yan Ho and property manager Bethel Management Inc. in May to ask about a time frame for the repairs but did not receive a response. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) issued a vacate order since the building had extensive soot, fire and water damage and tenants can only re-enter after repairs are made.
The electricity and water are still shut off and the windows are boarded up, according to QLS. Attorneys believe that the property manager is delaying the repairs in order to force out the rent-stabilized tenants. Some unscrupulous landlords across the city engage in such predatory tactics to force out low-income residents so that they can charge market-rate prices.
“The Rent Stabilization Code was established to protect affordable housing in New York City,” said Jennifer Fernandez, a tenant 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 landlord to raise the rents.”
Tenants have also been barred from entering their units to pick up any remaining valuables because the landlord claims there is an asbestos abatement issue.
Claire Munday, who has lived in the building for more than 20 years, said she feels the landlord has taken advantage of her.
“Besides the loss of my personal property – some irreplaceable – I have suffered physical, mental, emotional and financial trauma from this whole experience,” she said in a statement. “It is now October, and seeing no work being done on the building, I am deeply disturbed, still scattered and unsettled and feel taken advantage of by the landlords and Bethel Management. I need my affordable housing, in a location that has become unaffordable for the working class. I signed a lease in good faith.”
Fernandez said that QLS has filed a contempt motion and will argue it in front of a judge on Nov. 8. The judge will have the option to issue the order that day or at a later date. The contempt motion would force the landlord to incur fees and possibly spur him to make the repairs.
According to Juliette Pierre-Antoinette, press secretary of HPD, the agency’s Office of Special Enforcement is monitoring the situation after a Housing Court case was settled on Oct. 2.
The judge presiding over the case issued an order to correct and the landlord must begin making repairs within a 90-day time frame. Additionally, the landlord was ordered to pay $4,000 in civil penalties. If the landlord does not comply with the order, HPD will file an order of contempt of court.
“We will continue to use all enforcement tools within our means to bring the building into compliance and ensure the safety of these residents,” Pierre-Antoinette said.
Bethel Management Inc. did not return requests for comment as of press time.
If you think your landlord is engaging in predatory tactics, call 311 or file a complaint through HPD’s website.