Two weeks ago Greenpoint resident and local watch repairwoman, Ms. Leokadia Trzaskowska, was sitting at her workbench, like every day for the past 26 years, and had the unimaginable happen. A NYC Marshal stormed into her shop, not get a watch fixed, but to announce that the 77 year old was to leave the premises immediately. With no time to spare, the woman grabbed her purse and watched in confusion as a padlock was put on the door.
For the last 26 years Ms. Trzaskowska has sat in the window of the Sunshine Laundromat tinkering with gears and tiny screws, repairing a lifetime of watches from ending in the up in garbage heaps. All of her specialized tools, her passport, and essentially her life’s work was now being kept under the auspices of a commercial possession.
And yet Ms. Trzaskowska, who has been paying a monthly rent of $745 without an official lease, claims she never received any court documents telling her to leave. Mr. Sokol, the lawyer representing the landlord, denied the allegation.
The shuttering of Ms.Trzaskowska’s shop is a common occurrence in NYC these days. Each month in NYC 1,200 to 1,400 small businesses lose their leases due to displacement. Last month, Greenpointers published an article about the horrid situations many commercial tenants fare in the wake of rapid gentrification. For a small businesswoman like Ms. Trzaskowska, whose second language is English, she is particularly vulnerable to displacement.
When speaking with the Gothamist, Mr. Sokol, the landlord’s representative, shrugged off Ms. Trzaskowska’s eviction as a byproduct of gentrification. “Is this case really so strange in Williamsburg or Greenpoint? You see that on Manhattan Avenue, the prices are going up. This is how the neighborhood is changing.”
Unfortunately without a lease, Ms. Trzaskowska doesn’t have much a case. Attorney David Hershey-Webb, who often litigates on behalf of tenants says, “Commercials tenants are treated worse than residential tenants, and even they don’t have much in the way of defenses if they don’t have a lease.”
This why organizations like Small Business Congress and TAKEBACKNY are lobbying hard to pass the Small Business Jobs Survival Act–legislation that would protect commercial tenants from such hostile takeovers and save small businesses from price-gouging rent increases.
According to Ms. Trzaskowska, her landlord had approached her in April, saying he needed the shop and suggested she start looking for another space to rent.
“Landlord say, look in different place, because we need,” she told the Gothamist. “I need the place small, you understand? Because I just do the repairs.” Ms.Trzaskowska looked at one space and became quickly discouraged when the asking price was $4,000 a month. She said decided to wait it out and until she received official notice from the courts as how to proceed.
“I looked, I didn’t find a new shop, and he told me he was going to court,” Ms. Trzaskowska said. “I didn’t get any documents, you understand?”
Sadly, at a recent court hearing over the legality of the commercial possession, Judge Theresa Ciccotto sided in favor of the landlord and refused to grant Ms. Trzaskowska her workspace back. The reason behind the ruling was a lack of an official lease and the fact Ms. Trzaskowska was “informed many times [via documents delivered by a process server] that the landlord needed the space and that she had to look for a new location.” The landlord’s lawyer also had photographic proof of the marshal’s warrant, posted at 860 Manhattan Avenue, six business days before the eviction took place–which is within the state’s legal limit for a commercial possession.
“It’s simply 20 years of my life. I suffer terribly,” she said of sad her fate.
So what is to become Ms. Trzaskowska’s shop? Well surprise-surprise, the landlord has received a wine and liquor license, and plans on building out a bar in the back of the shop.
As for the fortune telling chimp sits in the window where the 77 yr old sat for 26 years. Ms. Trzaskowska said, “They should have killed me…I’ve lost everything.”