NYC Chinese Tenants Sue Landlord for Harassment

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Press Release from CAAAV in New York
Released on Tuesday February 17, 2009


Frivolous Eviction Proceedings; Repair Refusals; Disruption of Tenant Meetings; Removal of Chinese Cultural Symbols and Decorations


On Tuesday, over 15 Chinatown tenants were joined by City Council members Rosie Mendez and Dan Garodnick, State Senator Daniel Squadron, attorneys from the Urban Justice Center (UJC), and organizers at CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities to announce two group harassment lawsuits against the landlord of both 55 and 61 Delancey St.


The landlord, private equity firm Madison Capital, has called the police to disrupt three tenant meetings; rejected rent and frivolously pursued legal eviction proceedings; and ordered tenants remove Chinese cultural symbols and decorations from public view. The tenants view these actions as harassment intended to force their eviction and are suing under the Tenant Protection Act.


"Our landlords have been trying to evict us and turn our homes into luxury apartments for years–they’ve tried everything from frivolous eviction lawsuits to refusing to fix unsafe conditions. But this has gone from bad to worse. Madison Capital has called the police to disrupt our meetings and demanded we take down our Chinese door signs, even though they let Christmas decorations be put up. This is harassment, and we're asking the court to put its foot down," said 61 Delancey tenant Zhi Qin Zheng, who has lived at her apartment for more than 20 years. The previous landlord had attempted to evict her on baseless grounds, and Madison Capital had also refused to accept her rent until recently, even though she had complied with all of their requests.


Madison has also failed to fix dozens of "C", "B" and "A" code violations in the residents' buildings, including holes in walls and ceilings, water leaks and lack of heat. Tenants filed their suits this morning in Manhattan Housing Court, seeking an order fining the landlord for harassment and directing the landlord to make repairs.


The two buildings are in the Chinatown section of the Lower East Side, which have both seen the upscale residential and commercial property development actively and rapidly displace the existing immigrant communities.


"While lawsuits like these are only one of many ways to fight displacement, we’re very encouraged that with this law, these and other tenants have the ability to hold their landlord accountable," said Haeyoung Yoon, Executive Director of CAAAV. "The success of this harassment suit means that landlords like Madison Capital will think twice before buying rent-stabilized buildings to pad their bottom line. Chinatown will have a stronger future when we discourage landlords from harassing and evicting working class families, and protect rent regulated apartments."


Under the Tenant Protection Act, passed by the City Council in March 2008, tenants have the right to sue their landlord under a new definition of harassment. The law covers acts that force or try to force tenants to vacate their homes - such as false eviction proceedings – or deprive them of other housing rights such as safety and sanitation. The court is allowed to impose a penalty of $1000 to $5000 for each act of harassment, with the fine going to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.


"This case shows why we passed the Tenant Protection Act-so that New Yorkers could fight back and safeguard their basic right to live in peace and dignity," said Council Member Dan Garodnick, the author of the City law to protect tenants from harassment. "These tenants will not have their resolve broken by abuse at the hands of a landlord, because they now have the law on their side."


"Today we are asking the Manhattan Housing Court to fine Madison Capital for the acts of harassment against these tenants and to command immediate action on necessary repairs," said Harvey Epstein, Project Director at UJC's Community Development Project. "Under the Tenant Protection Act, tenants have a right to live without harassment from their landlord; by the New York City Housing Maintenance Code and othe laws, the landlord is obliged to provide decent housing conditions and adequate services," Epstein stated.


The landlord, Madison Capital, purchased the buildings in April of 2008 for $20 million. The tenants also alleged harassment under the previous owner, 55 Delancey Street Realty LLC; the previous owner sold the buildings after CAAAV organized the tenants in 2007, and negotiated a rent abatement, repairs, and end to forced evictions.


"Too often, tenants are subjected to behavior meant to drive them out. Thanks to the Tenant Protection Act, victims of harassment have new tools to defend themselves and protect their homes. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the city, the state and the community to make sure no one is ever harassed out of their home," said State Senator Daniel Squadron.
"Despite spending millions to purchase the property, this landlord refuses to provide timely and basic repairs. In addition to continuing the prior landlord's history of forced evictions ignoring essential repairs, Madison Capital has escalated their irresponsible actions to the point of harassment," said Garrett Wright, Staff Attorney in the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center, who filed the lawsuits.


"The tenants filing suit today are right to demand rapid maintenance on the 580 outstanding C, B, and A violations that exist in the building and fines for the landlord for the egregious maltreatment. Unfortunately, we have seen time and again that private equity landlords such as Madison have pursued all methods to evict low income tenants and have not provided legally adequate services and repairs in the rent stabilized buildings they have rushed to purchase over the last few years."


The lawsuit filed today cites the following conditions at the building: cracked and leaking ceilings, rodent infestations, defective sinks and bathtubs, and inadequate heat. As part of the filing, each resident supplied a detailed list of needed repairs in their apartments.


A Housing Court judge will issue a return date approximately 3-4 weeks from now for the tenants and landlord to meet in court and proceed with the case. In the meantime, tenants hope to have HPD return to the apartment complex to continue documenting the full extent of harassment and needed repairs in the building.