Sued Building Owners Want to Replace Evicted Tenants With Bar, Lawyer Says
EAST WILLIAMSBURG — The owners of a loft-law building in the throes of a lawsuit after they allegedly forced tenants to vacate plan to open a bar and restaurant "in the tenants' living room," residents and their lawyer claim.
Tenants of 13 Thames St. — a former Occupy Wall Street hub and arts collective space where a motorcycle gang was allegedly paid to force out tenants last year — are distraught about a watering hole that's been "illegally" proposed for their building.
The group 13 Thames LLC has applied for a liquor license for the bar that would replace the residences of tenants who have been unjustly vacated from the building in the past 18 months, a lawyer for the tenants said.
"My clients are entitled to possession of the building. Can you imagine if somebody put a restaurant in your house?" said lawyer Thomas Hillgardner, who is representing tenants in a lawsuit against the current owner and the city for unlawful eviction and tenant harassment.
The suit — first filed in January in Brooklyn Supreme Court and then refiled in the spring against Thames Lofts LLC, the new owner of the building — urges the landlord and city to allow tenants to return to the building near the Morgan L train station.
It says vacate orders are for "conditions that never existed."
"The first vacate order by the city claimed a cabaret was operating, and that was erroneous, and then the city came back and put in lame excuses for why the tenants had to stay vacated," said Hillgardner of the current vacate order for "failure to maintain" the building.
"My tenants established their loft-law rights," he said of the city's 2010 law that provided North Brooklyn tenants a chance to turn long-industrial buildings into residential spaces.
And Margeurite Chandler, a longtime resident of 13 Thames St., said “tenants are waiting for the owner to let them back in their home.”
“I have no idea why they’ve applied for this license when [the owners] obviously know the status of the units,” she said.
But the city’s vacate order, issued in March 2011, is valid and still prevents the tenants from legal right to the building, a spokeswoman for the Department of Buildings said. The vacate order was issued for an illegal obstruction of the entrance and for the operation of a nightclub in the building, she said.
The current owner's lawyer, Gerard Profriedt, noted that the vacate orders were the city’s decision, and he claimed he knew nothing of plans for a restaurant in the building — even though a vote on a liquor license application for 13 Thames St. is scheduled for next month’s Williamsburg Community Board 1.
Profriedt also said allegations in the lawsuit of a “motorcycle gang” were untrue.
The owners of Thames Street Lofts declined comment on plans for the restaurant, and a spokeswoman for the city’s law department declined to comment on the pending litigation.