October 18, By Tara Law
Tenants of a dormitory-style building in Astoria won a temporary restraining order Monday against their landlord who had allegedly been trying to kick them out since December by making their building uninhabitable.
The tenants claimed that their landlord NYSUM, an Astoria-based Christian ministry, had stopped providing basic services at their 31-65 46th Street building as a means to get rid of them.
They stated that NYSUM had stopped providing housekeeping and janitorial services, and was no longer collecting the trash. In addition, they claimed that NYSUM had removed furniture and computers from the building’s shared space and disconnected the building’s Wi-Fi.
The tenants were awarded a temporary restraining order that requires NYSUM to stop harassing them through such measures as removing furniture and services. The award also stops NYSUM from commencing any legal action to evict the tenants until Nov. 16, when another hearing will be held.
The dormitory style building is divided into 39 single occupancy rooms and the tenants share common spaces such as living rooms, bathrooms and kitchens. The tenants pay $350 to $500 a month in rent for their room
Twelve of the tenants, backed by the Legal Aid Society, petitioned for the restraining order and are fighting to stay.
The whole issue began in November when NYSUM handed its tenants with eviction notices, informing them that they had to leave by the end of the 2016. Most refused to go.
In February, the Legal Aid Society filed a lawsuit on behalf of the tenants arguing that the apartments are protected by the Rent Stabilization laws, which requires renewable leases—and therefore prevents them from being kicked out. NYSUM argues that it has that right to evict the tenants since it doesn’t have to conform to Rent Stabilization laws since it is a non profit.
NYSUM said that it is evicting the tenants because it cannot afford to maintain the building. It wants to convert the property to another use so it can generate more income.
The Legal Aid Society argues that NYSUM does not meet the legal requirements for an exemption as a non-profit charity.
Sateesh Nori, attorney-in-charge of the Queens Civil Office at The Legal Aid Society, said he hopes the restraining order will prevent NYSUM from cutting back services and is glad that the tenants are protected until November.
A judge will decide on Nov. 16 whether to make the temporary restraining order permanent.
Nori said that NYSUM has yet to file suit against the tenants to get a court order to evict them and that he has been surprised that NYSUM has been unwilling to negotiate increased rents or a plan to relocate the tenants.
“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” Nori said. “It’s a nonprofit and a religious organization. Their motives are a mystery to me.”