Owner Evicts Low-Rent Tenants in Chelsea

By Mathew Katz on November 8, 2011 5:40pm 

Residents and advocates rally in front of 221 W. 16th St. on Nov. 6, 2011, where five families face eviction from rent-stabilized apartments.
Residents and advocates rally in front of 221 W. 16th St. on Nov. 6, 2011, where five families face eviction from rent-stabilized apartments.
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DNAinfo/Sonja Sharp

CHELSEA — A landlord evicted five low income tenants on Monday night, using what local officials say is a dishonest legal loophole.

The evictions at 221 W. 16th St. come after officials, including City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, State Senator Tom Duane, and Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, along with tenant advocacy organizations rallied on Sunday in an attempt to stop them.

Elected officials and tenants’ rights advocates say Furnished Quarters President Gary Brown is exploiting a legal loophole that allows an owner to evict tenants if he plans on living in the property itself.

The tenants, some of whom had lived in the building for decades, were given six day's notice to vacate.

"They had less than a week to find a new place to live, and that's impossible," said Duane. "I think [Brown] is probably just emptying it out and hoping he can operate an illegal hotel because of the tenants being gone."

Officials said the families were making alternate living arrangements, but had yet to find a new permanent place to live. Tenants' rights advocates said one of the former residents still had belongings in his recently-vacated apartment, and was negotiating with Furnished Quarters to get back in to retrieve them.

Furnished Quarters offers furnished apartments for tourists and other visitors to the city, and Duane's office said several groups of tourists showed up at the building Monday night to stay at the apartments.

Duane and other advocates expressed doubt that Brown, who lives in Conneticut, would actually move into the building. The current plan is to turn the now-empty apartments on the the fourth and fifth floor would be converted into a duplex, and the owner would add an elevator into the building that would serve just those two floors.

A representative of Furnished Quarters declined to comment for this story.

The owner occupancy loophole is illegal outside of New York City, and a bill in Albany would make it illegal here as well. Advocates said these evictions set a dangerous precedent. Officials pledged that this wasn't the end of the fight for the apartments, but would not give specifics on their legal strategy.

"We’re dicussing what to do and there may be other strategies," said Duane. "We certainly haven’t given up hope to get those people back in their houses."

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