Astoria tenants threatened with eviction by nonprofit landlord are still in limbo, lawyer says

Photo by Angela Matua/QNS

Astoria tenants who were abruptly told to move out of their apartments last November are in limbo more than a year after receiving their first eviction notices.

The building at 31-10 47th St. is managed by the nonprofit New York School of Urban Ministry (NYSUM). The 39-unit apartment features single-room dorms occupied by residents with referrals by clergy.

In November 2016, the tenants discovered that they were being forced to move out after NYSUM allegedly signed a contract with a service provider to turn the building into a homeless shelter. The Department of Homeless Services vehemently denied any such agreement was signed.

At least 12 of the tenants are being represented by the Legal Aid Society, which took on the case soon after eviction notices were granted. The move by NYSUM, which is a nonprofit organization that “hosts, trains and deploys” youth and adults for urban ministry, was decried as “heartless” and “cruel” by local elected officials in a press conference last year.

In October 2017, Sateesh Nori, the lawyer for the tenants told QNS that they were being threatened by building staff and had their Wi-Fi shut off in an effort to force them out of the building.

“They have done almost nothing to take the lawsuit on,” Nori told QNS in October. “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.”

In a Nov. 16 court date, a Queens Supreme Court judge granted an injunction, which means the landlord cannot take any action to remove the tenants until a final verdict is announced.

Nori said that at a Dec. 20 court date, the case was adjourned until Jan. 9. But on Dec. 27, the lawyer for NYSUM asked to reschedule the date in order to have more time to respond.

“We’re somewhat surprised that they aren’t pushing this case more,” he said. “[NYSUM is] extremely lax about fighting the case and that’s beneficial to our clients because they’re the ones remaining in their apartments.”

Nori said the nonprofit’s attitude is especially surprising considering that last year, they were actively seeking to push tenants out to turn the building into a homeless shelter. Tenants received notices on Nov. 28 and were told they had to move out on or before Dec. 31.

NYSUM extended the deadline to January and according to Nori, several people moved out though he is not sure how many of the 39 tenants have left since last November.

“A year ago they were in such a rush and now it’s, ‘Oh, whatever comes,'” Nori said. “And we’re fine with that. Our clients have a place to live.”

Tenants won’t get “any final word on what happens” until at least March or later, he said. A final verdict on the case probably won’t be made until six to nine months from now, he added. Ira Clair, the lawyer for NYSUM, has not proposed a settlement.

Clair did not respond to a request for comment.

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