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Landlord Uses Hurricane Damage in Attempt to Evict Tenants, Lawsuit Says

By James Fanelli | November 27, 2012 6:34am
 Tenants at 122 Bergen St. in Boerum Hill were kicked out of their apartments after Hurricane Sandy wrecked their fire escape.
Tenants at 122 Bergen St. in Boerum Hill were kicked out of their apartments after Hurricane Sandy wrecked their fire escape.
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DNAinfo.com/James Fanelli

BROOKLYN — The landlord of a Boerum Hill brownstone threatened to have tenants "blacklisted" as renters if they didn't pack their bags and move out after Hurricane Sandy damaged his building, a new lawsuit charges.

Four tenants at 122 Bergen St. accuse building owner Ales Realty of ordering them to leave or face eviction proceedings after a tree that fell during the Oct. 29 storm wrecked their rear fire escape.

On Nov. 1 city Department of Buildings inspectors slapped Ales Realty with a violation ordering the immediate repair of the fire escape, records show. Inspectors also issued a partial vacate order since the fire escape provided a second exit for tenants in rear units.  

The lawsuit says as a result of the violations, Ales Realty sent letters to tenants Lisa Birnbaum, Klaar De Schepper, Ryan Hackett and Catherine Mather ordering them to remove all their possessions and hand over their keys within 10 days.

The tenants — three of which have rent-stabilized units — claim in the lawsuit filed earlier this month in Brooklyn Supreme Court that they have a right to hold onto their apartments.

The lawsuit asks that a judge bar Ales Realty from starting eviction proceedings in housing court, claiming the tenants would be "blacklisted by future landlords."

The state Office of Court Administration sells housing data based on those proceedings to tenant-screening firms that prepare lists for prospective landlords, the lawsuit claims.

"Many landlords are risk-averse and therefore refuse to rent to anyone whose name appears on the list," the lawsuit says. "Tenants on such a 'blacklist' can find it difficult or impossible to find a rental apartment."

The tenants also accuse Ales Realty of not taking any steps to repair the fire escape.

"Defendants have not even affirmatively acknowledged their responsibility for the repair of the fire escape," the lawsuit says.

The tenants want a judge to order Ales Realty to make the fixes so they can move back in.

The tenants' lawyer, Linda Rzesniowiecki, did not return requests for comment.

Birnbaum did not return a request for comment, but on her Facebook page she wrote about the damage to her building and her imminent removal from her apartment.

"Lisa update: my criminal landlord is ILLEGALLY evicting me and my neighbors," she wrote in a Nov. 5 post. "We have an attorney. We're gonna kick his ass. But in the meanwhile, i still have to vacate."

Abdul Eltaieb, the head of Ales Realty, told DNAinfo.com New York that he has not begun eviction proceedings on any of the tenants.

"We told them we don't want to evict you. We just told them not to sleep in the apartment," he said.

Eltaieb said he also offered to refund the tenants' security deposits.

He said he cannot fix the fire escape until the Department of Buildings signs off on his application to make the repairs.

"I don't know what time the permit will come out. Usually, the city takes time," he said.

However, a spokesman for the Department of Buildings said all Hurricane Sandy-related repair work has been expedited.

Eltaieb said the tree that damaged the fire escape took three days to remove. He said the damage could have been worse if a first-floor deck didn't catch the collapsed fire escape.

"It's very unfortunate for us," he said.

"We are losing rent, but we are lucky no one was hurt."