Landlord Asks Judge to Evict Tenants for Their 'Protection'

By Danielle Tcholakian on March 24, 2014 7:09am 

SOHO — A SoHo landlord says his building is unsafe for people to live in — and he's asking a judge to kick out his tenants so he can make repairs.

Ken Rosenblum, who owns 25 Thompson St., is arguing in court that he needs to clear out the six-story building's 28 apartments, including three that are rent-stabilized, to make urgent repairs to its façade and foundation.

"The whole front of the building is falling off," Rosenblum told DNAinfo New York last week.

While the Department of Buildings and Department of Housing Preservation and Development have issued violations to Rosenblum for failure to maintain the building, the FDNY and the Department of Buildings have both inspected 25 Thompson St. recently and found it structurally sound, they said.

As a result, rent-stabilized tenants say they believe Rosenblum is intentionally letting the 114-year-old building fall into a state of disrepair as a way of forcing them out in favor of market-rate tenants.

"He is clearly hiding his true agenda for this building," said Elizabeth Rossa, a rent-stabilized tenant who has lived at 25 Thompson St. for 19 years. "The landlord is pressing this issue, obviously, to get us out of here for some ulterior motive."

Rosenblum first tried to remove the tenants in January, when he called the rent-stabilized tenants and then posted a letter in the lobby saying the building was in dire condition and everyone would have to clear out soon.

"We will request and it will be required that the tenants find suitable other accommodations shortly," the Jan. 20 letter stated, according to a copy provided to DNAinfo New York.

Ken Rosenblum's Jan. 20 letter to 25 Thompson St. tenants:

But the rent-stabilized tenants fought back in New York City Housing Court, and last week a judge ordered a more detailed report about the condition of the structure, to "determine what measures are necessary to stabilize the building," said David Ng, the tenants' lawyer. The new report is due April 21.

Rosenblum told DNAinfo he would rather not remove the tenants, but he has no choice.

"The priority in this situation is to protect the people living there," he said. "Whether I want people to be living there or don't want people to be living there is irrelevant."

Rosenblum said he has done everything he could to keep the building in good shape, including installing new gas pipes, new wiring for the intercom and new doors on all 28 units.

But tenants say the repairs were done poorly or never completed.

The Buildings Department got involved after Rossa, one of the rent-stabilized tenants, filed a complaint in November 2012 because work to renovate a neighboring apartment was causing her floor and walls to buckle.

The DOB issued several violations over the following months, as cracks continued to appear in Rossa's walls and ceiling, even after Rosenblum said he had made repairs.

The building has eight open HPD violations, for issues including sloping floors, defective plastered surfaces and failure to supply gas to apartments, online records show.

More than a year after the problems started, Rossa notified Rosenblum on Jan. 14 that she would put her rent in escrow until he fixed her apartment for good.

The following day, Rosenblum called the building's rent-stabilized tenants and told them the building was falling down and they would have to move.

Panicked, the tenants filed an HP Action in Housing Court, which can compel a landlord to make repairs to a building. That same day, Jan. 20, Rosenblum posted the letter in the lobby warning the building's tenants they would have to leave.

Just over a month later, on Feb. 24, the Fire Department received an emergency call reporting "a potential façade collapse" at the building, an FDNY spokeswoman said.

FDNY and Department of Buildings inspectors who responded determined the building was safe and there were no structural defects, representatives for the agencies said.

Jim Shewalter, who has lived in a rent-stabilized apartment at 25 Thompson St. for 35 years, said he's fed up with the poor condition of his building but doesn't want to leave.

"We do not live in a ghetto," Shewalter said, "but this is really a slum."

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