After 97 – 99 Clay St. was sold to developers in 2014, the 25 rent-stabilized tenants in the building reduced to five, following what current tenants claim has been a sustained effort by the new landlords to push them out through untenable demolition and construction conditions. “The first thing that happened is that they changed the locks on Christmas day and didn’t tell us,” said Gretchen, who wishes to withhold her last name and continues to live in a rent-stabilized studio at 97 Clay St. despite alleged harassment.”We live between a halfway house and two homeless shelters and there was no front door for two months,” she said adding that one of the other tenants is a wheel-chair bound senior citizen, making him especially vulnerable.
“They let everything get very run down and then started offering buyouts. They first offered me $4,000 and I said no.”
The new landlords originally planned to raze the building to make way for new construction, but with at least one tenant remaining in each of the buildings, the owners had to settle for renovations instead. Around February 2018, tenants say that demolition commenced and the living situation became increasingly hazardous. Complaints to the management company, Perfect Management, would simply result in a visit from the building’s super who tenants say has acted hostile toward their complaints. Perfect Management has not yet responded to Greenpointers.
“What they did was while I was home one day, they just sent the super and another guy to destroy the apartments around me. They smashed apart the sinks and showers and the toilets with crowbars, knocked over the refrigerator and pulled down the cabinets with a crowbar. I thought there was an earthquake,” Gretchen said.
The demolition crew allegedly ripped out the walls, ceilings, and floors of adjacent units with the doors open to the hallways, and Gretchen took video from her peephole. “The super came in and said to me, ‘Just to let you know, there’s gonna be a lot of rats now,'” she said.
“At one point the landlord came into my apartment and asked, ‘How long do you plan on living here?’ “I said at least another ten years.” Gretchen alleges that the landlord responded, “You don’t think that in 10 years you’ll be married and want to leave here?”
After researching how much rent-stabilized tenants can receive for buyouts, Gretchen upped the landlord’s original offer. “I told him that my relationship status has nothing to do with if I want to stay here or not. I wouldn’t leave for under $110,000 and he responded saying, ‘You will never get $110,000 for this shithole!'”
The 97 Clay St. tenants started making complaints to the DOB and through 311, and the landlord received stop-work orders. “One day over the summer a fire marshal came and knocked on my door. He said, ‘Wow you’re a human being and you’re living here. I just want to let you know your landlords filed their permits as if no one was living here,'” Gretchen said. Soon after the construction site was deemed a fire hazard and 24-hour fire guards were assigned to watch over the site.
Still, the construction woes continued according to tenants. The dirt and dust inside Gretchen’s apartment would accumulate on a daily basis, “It was all over my clothes, my dishes and it was burning our throats,” she said.
“We do work with lawyers setup from the city, free lawyers, they definitely help us. But they’ll send the Department of Buildings, but it’s always two days too late, and it just seems like our landlords are getting away with things that they shouldn’t be,” Gretchen said. Tenants claim that illegal construction continues through stop-work orders as the workers know it takes the DOB up to the following day to arrive on site.
A representative from the Department of Buildings said that when a tenant calls 311 and reports an ‘immediate hazardous condition’ then DOB will respond to the site within an hour. A law passed by the city council in 2017, Local Law 188, created a real-time enforcement unit for tenant harassment issues. If a resident from a multiple-dwelling building reports illegal construction work that is ongoing without permits, DOB now responds within 12 hours and says that its average response to such instances currently meets the laws’ standards. For non-hazardous conditions, the response time is at a maximum 40 days by law and DOB says that their average response time is currently nine days.
Through the winter months, tenants report that the heat has consistently been cut, an issue that is dealt with by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.”Two days before Thanksgiving our heat went out and they claimed they couldn’t find anyone to fix it over the holiday. Every holiday it breaks. Christmas there was no heat for three days, and right now again we have no heat.”
DOB was fast to respond to this story and has since alerted the Office of the Tenant Advocate who is in the process of reaching out to the 97 – 99 Clay St. tenants.