‘Evictions are their business practice’: tenants organize against Elmhurst landlord

Photo: Mark Hallum/QNS

Tenant rights groups in Elmhurst are striking back at a landlord who owns 9 buildings in the area and also made the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition’s list of four worst evictors in Queens of 2018.

But displacement was not the only concern for tenants at a rally Thursday night in front of 40-94 Denman St. with many claiming harassment tactics from Benedict Realty Group could be putting their lives in jeopardy.

Yaneisy Vinas is a tenant of BRG and says repair work is shoddy at best with an oven in her unit that turns on and off on its own with regularity.

“It’s scary, the repairs are never done properly. We have things that are broken and even if you ask time and time again, they either don’t come or they come with somebody who doesn’t fix it properly,” Vinas said. “We have safety hazards here. My oven turns on by itself and they don’t fix it. It’s a been a problem for over two years now and they haven’t fixed it.”

Miledes Diaz says flooding in the basement can rise up to her chest and an alternate mode of egress on the ground level is kept locked, leaving the front to the only option for tenants during an emergency other than the fire escape.

But renters with disabilities would be completely out of luck because the only entrance does not meet federal standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act, something Diaz’ mother struggled with in her old age.

Since her mother’s death in December, she is now fighting a legal battle with BRG to succeed her mom on the lease.

“My mother lived here 40 years,” Diaz said. “I’ve been here the same, 40 years. I always lived with my mother… I don’t know how much they’re going to raise the rent for me. They said maybe 20 percent, but that’s a lot. I’m retired too.”

Lorena Lopez from Catholic Migration Services claims BRG not only is not only a top evictor, but the company may be using the state’s Major Capital Improvements law to raise prices. This allows landlords to gain permission from the state to bump up rates, even on rent stabilized units, to pay for building repairs and updates.

“They do not making any repairs, especially for older families, to the point where there are very bad conditions,” Lopez said. “Sometimes they don’t do them at all and offers buyouts, discretely.”

“Evictions are their business practice,” Lopez later added.

According to Lopez, there is a door next to the elevators that tenants believe should be an emergency exit leading to the alley. However, it is a mystery as to what the door leads to: could be an exit, could be the boiler or both, she said.

One tenant name Javier said cockroaches, mice and rats also have free reign throughout the nearby building he lives in, also owned by BRG.

Another tenant said the intercom in the Denman Street building does not work.

Of the total 612 families living in BRG buildings in Queens, Right to Counsel claims the company has sued 446 and evicted 29 families in their properties owned city-wide. Five of those families have been in Queens with about 82 percent of the units owned by BRG are rent stabilized, according to the organization.

Lopez said the ground for many of these suits are for non-payment or succession rights.

According to the city Housing Preservation and Development website, the Denman Street building has compiled about 21 complaints in the past year with many of them indicating a lack of heat or hot water.

BRG is operated by Ely Singer, Jonah Rosenberg, Daniel Benedict and Ari Benedict who run the company’s portfolio out of Great Neck, Long Island.

A representative from BRG has not yet responded to a request for comment from QNS regarding these allegations.

The Thursday rally was also attended by vocal members of Queens Neighborhoods United.