Landlord Evicts Formerly Homeless Tenants From Decrepit Clay Street House
GREENPOINT — Karlmann Gales has mold on his walls, holes in his ceilings and no doors on his bathrooms. Squatters creep into his building's main room to sleep at night, since Gales and other tenants have no keys to lock the doors, he said. Often there is no heat or hot water.
But Gales and the other residents of 66 Clay St. — all formerly homeless men who said they came to the single-room occupancy house a few years ago on promises of cheap rent, counseling, a safe haven and aid in returning to their feet — still want to remain in the blighted building, whose landlord has won the right to evict them by the end of January, according to a Brooklyn Civil Court ruling.
The tenants, who moved into the "Clay Street House" in 2010 after the organization CIS Counseling Center leased rooms from the landlord, signed "temporary residency agreements" with CIS, Judge Marc Finkelstein wrote in his decision. Now the tenants must leave, because CIS left the building last year.
"I can't afford to move anywhere else. I don't know where I'll go," said Gales, 48, who has undergone multiple surgeries after an accident injured his leg and pays $215 monthly rent from his Social Security checks for the rent-stabilized room.
Still, he added, "the landlord hasn't fixed anything."
The eviction notice comes after years of other legal struggles between the tenants and landlord at the Clay Street House.
Residents last year sued CIS and 1109 Manhattan Avenue LLC for forcing them into CIS' counseling when they moved into the building. 1109 Manhattan Avenue LLC proprietor Jay Deutchman did not return calls and office visits requesting comment.
CIS and Deutchman "recruited vulnerable individuals from homeless shelters and substance abuse treatment facilities to reside at Clay Street House," the tenants' lawyers, MFY Legal Services, claimed in Supreme Court.
The counseling center then allegedly forced tenants to share rooms and to attend counseling sessions, which were billed to Medicaid for CIS' profit.
The Supreme Court ruled in CIS' favor, and MFY in February filed an appeal, which is still pending. After the initial Supreme Court lawsuit last year, CIS left the building, according to court papers.
MFY lawyers would not speak about the case since the appeal is pending. All numbers and email addresses for CIS appear to have been disconnected, and no representative was able to be reached.
Current tenants said that as soon as CIS left the building, Deutchman let the building fall into disrepair and began trying to kick them out.
"Lots of people left," Gales recalled, noting that other tenants who were on probation or getting social services feared a legal fight with the landlord. "There were about 370 people — now there are 17."
One former tenant who returned to the building Tuesday to collect his mail said he had chosen to leave because he was tired of the "chaos."
"It was messed up," said the former tenant, who declined to give his name and said he currently lives in a homeless shelter in Chelsea. "I knew we were going to lose the case."
However, for another resident, Jose Rolon — who said he just suffered a stroke two months ago and cannot work — the Clay Street House seems like the only option.
"We're not out on the street, so it's better than that," said Rolon, 43, who has lived in the SRO the past two years. "I'll have to go to a shelter...hopefully I'll have some family I can stay with for a little while."
And tenants of the long-term SRO around the corner on 1109 Manhattan Ave., also owned by Jay Deutchman, said their landlord also failed to restore heat and hot water, and that he frequently did not respond to requests for building repairs or maintenance.
"We haven't had heat or hot water since Friday," said one resident, who declined to give his name, "and it's not because of Hurricane Sandy."
He added that the eviction of the Clay Street House tenants was unsurprising.
"This is prime real estate," he said.