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Bushwick Tenants Fight Eviction, Claim Landlord Lied About Legal Docs

By Serena Dai | December 11, 2014 1:01pm
 The tenants of 590 Bushwick Ave. are fighting to stay in their homes after their former landlord lied to them in Spanish about a document that signed away their rights.
590 Bushwick Ave. Tenants Fight to Stay in Their Apartments
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BUSHWICK — Tenants at a Bushwick building are fighting to stay in their longtime home after the former landlord lied in Spanish about what an English document said signing away their legal rights, residents claimed.

Dolores Enriquez sold 590 Bushwick Ave. to developer Silvershore Properties for $1.35 million in September, according to city records.

Silvershore immediately asked the approximately 16 tenants, many of whom had been there for more than a dozen years, as well as a mechanice business inside the building, to move out, according to residents and a termination order.

But the tenants, who understand limited English, said the eviction came as a shock because Enriquez had assured several of them in Spanish that a document they were signing in English would not impact their tenancy.

Instead, they signed away their legal right to stay in the apartment by confirming that no lease existed, tenants said.

"We were very surprised," said resident Gladis Garcia through a translator. "We had a good relationship with our landlord."

Enriquez, whose family had owned the property since 1976, hung up the phone when a DNAinfo New York reporter called and did not respond to further calls. An attorney for Silvershore declined to comment, citing the tenants' pending case in housing court.

Tenants are now hoping that Silvershore will help place them in one of its other properties in the area, or that the company will let them sign a lease to stay.

Some residents, who currently pay less than $1,000 per month for two-bedroom apartments, said they would be willing to pay up to $1,300 a month to stay in the building.

They hand delivered a letter to Silvershore in October asking for a two-year lease. In the letter, they said they did not think it was a "just" move to kick them out and that they've been "paying rent on time" for years.

They said they have not received an official response.

The residents of 590 Bushwick Ave. have no legal protection in the fight — an increasingly common situation in the area, said housing advocate Yolanda Coca with Bushwick Housing Independence Project, who's helping the tenants.

Many people have lived for years in the neighborhood using oral agreements or month-to-month leases, ultimately leaving them with no legal way to stay once the building is sold, Coca explained.

Most of the impacted tenants are immigrants who speak limited English, she added, noting many live in buildings with fewer than six units, meaning rent stabilization laws don't apply to them.

Tenants at 590 Bushwick Ave. said they paid Enriquez in cash monthly, at her request, for more than a dozen years despite asking for a lease on multiple occasions.

When Enriquez asked them to sign a document, they believed her because they'd always had a "great" relationship with her, they said.

The business tenant, mechanic Rafael Medina, even employed Enriquez's husband, Jose Garcia, at the store for 10 years up until the eviction, he said.

Garcia never mentioned that Medina would soon be losing the space for his 15-year business, Medina noted.

"My mother had died, and [the landlord and her family] expressed sympathy," Medina said through a translator. "Then I came back to an eviction notice. He never said nothing."

Tenant Rosa Villatoro, a cancer survivor who stays home to take care of her two children, has lived with her husband in the building ever since she moved to New York from El Salvador 12 years ago, she said.

Silvershore offered her a $2,000 buyout, but that's not nearly enough to move to a different apartment in the area, where her children go to school, she said.

Rent for her current two-bedroom apartment costs $925 a month, while average rents for a Bushwick two-bedroom were nearly $2,300 as of October.

"Where are we going to go?" Villatoro said through a translator. "I'm very concerned about my children."

The tenants of 590 Bushwick Ave. will attend housing court on Dec. 17, but they will be going without legal representation, as no one would agree to take their case.

It's difficult to find an attorney willing to represent people in these cases, which are virtually unwinnable, Coca explained.

"It’s getting worse," she said. "They're throwing out everyone who’s living in these apartments."

She hopes that helping to organize the residents of 590 Bushwick Ave. will put pressure on Silvershore and other local landlords looking to kick out tenants.

"It's something that really affects our community," she said. "It's not only this family."