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Artist Stonghold in DUMBO Warehouse Threatened by Developers, Residents Say

By Janet Upadhye | August 25, 2014 8:47am
 The lofts at 57 Jay St. were recently bought by developer brothers Graham and Gregory Jones.
The lofts at 57 Jay St. were recently bought by developer brothers Graham and Gregory Jones.
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Flickr/Joshua Derr; Joshua Derr Photography

DUMBO — After the recent sale of their building, residents of a warehouse fear their new landlord will convert the property into upscale apartments and strong-arm them out of their homes.

Brothers Graham and Gregory Jones, operating as GRJ, purchased the warehouse at 57 Jay St. — which has been home to a group of artists for decades — on Aug. 20 and they're already threatening to evict tenants from their homes, according to residents.

Residents of the 22-unit building say they've received threatening phone calls from the developer with buyout offers that are "borderline harassment," according to Michael Kozek, an attorney representing a group of tenants in the building. 

Andrew Lee, who works for an auction house and has lived in the building for 18 years, called GRJ "hard-charging," although he declined to comment on his specific interactions with them.

"I have gotten several phone calls," Lee said. "Let's just say they are persistent."

The new owners are planning to upgrade the building, where "Hedwig And The Angry Inch" director John Cameron Mitchell shot his sophomore flick "Shortbus," so that it can legally be considered a residential property. The City's Loft Law requires residential buildings to meet certain fire and safety standards, but tenants fear this is just the beginning.

Tenants say GRJ is notorious for buying properties and converting them into luxury apartments, and they're worried this might mean they'll eventually be priced out of their homes. 

"[GRJ has] a history of buying buildings and doing extensive renovations to make them upscale," said Margaret Sandercock, a lawyer representing another group of tenants. "And they do so without regard for the rights, needs or safety or the people living in the building."

In 2012, GRJ bought a 20-unit building in Yorkville and three East Village buildings that they planned to convert to “the most desirable walk-ups in the East Village,” according to the Commercial Observer.

If worst comes to worst, tenants say they're ready to fight to keep their homes.

"Over half of the residents have hired lawyers," said Lee. "I think legally we are protected but they can still make it painful for you to stay and drain you of legal funds."

GRJ declined to reveal its future plans for the building, but said it will abide by the rules.

"We are not doing anything improper," said Gregory Jones, a co-founder of GRJ.