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State Awards Up to $1M to Chinatown Tenants Forced Out of Crumbling Building

By Patrick Hedlund | June 14, 2010 11:00pm | Updated on June 15, 2010 6:49am

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

CHINATOWN — A group of Hester Street tenants forced from their building due to unstable conditions created by the construction of a new high-rise hotel next door could receive close to $1 million in compensation for their loss.

Last August, about 50 tenants living at 128 Hester St. had to vacate their building due to the threat of collapse brought on by the construction of an adjacent 18-story hotel at the corner of the Bowery.

The Department of Buildings discovered numerous violations at 128 Hester St., which was owned by the same landlord erecting the hotel, and ultimately moved to vacate the residents and demolish the tenement building.

Now, nearly a year later, the state has found the owner directly responsible for causing the crumbling conditions and has ruled that the landlord must pay tenants’ relocation fees — possibly as much as $900,000

“It is clearly a tragedy when someone loses their home in Manhattan, where the cost of living is so high,” said Assemblyman Sheldon Silver, who represents the neighborhood, at a press conference Friday across from the hotel construction site.

He joined the tenants, their attorney, local representatives and members of Asian Americans for Equality in heralding the decision.

The state Division of Housing and Community Renewal, which oversees actions regarding rent-regulated tenants, determined that “the unsafe condition of the building was a direct result of the owner’s construction activities adjacent to the property, and the total neglect of the structure caused the building to deteriorate and ultimately ordered to be demolished.”

That particular finding by DHCR — that the owner “improperly obtained the relief it sought in this [demolition] proceeding,” according to the ruling — struck many at the event, since landlords oftentimes let properties slip into disrepair as a way to evict tenants.

“The lesson is, unscrupulous landlords cannot get away with unethical practices,” said AAFE executive director Chris Kui, whose organization worked with the tenants during the process.

The landlord will have to pay out anywhere between $60,000 to $150,000 — a figure that varies based on the tenant’s monthly rent — for each of the nine apartments lost, Kui added.

The hotel’s construction also destabilized another adjacent building on the Bowery, which had to be demolished last year but is not included in the state’s ruling.

Owner William Su could not be reached for comment Monday. He has 35 days from the time of the May 26 ruling to appeal the decision.