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Chinatown Residents Protest 'Slumlord' Owner of Their Buildings

By Donna M. Airoldi | May 19, 2015 11:03am
 Tenants and local activists demand a Bowery landlord make much-needed repairs.
83-85 Bowery Apartment Repairs
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CHINATOWN — The "slumlord" owner of 83-85 Bowery has let the buildings fall into disrepair with water leaks and damage, gaping holes in ceilings and walls, a collapsing staircase and other issues, a group of tenants, activists and government representatives said.

One resident has an umbrella secured beneath an opening in her bathroom ceiling to block water that runs through every day when her upstairs neighbor takes a shower.

Another “has rats all over the place coming out from the holes. They have to knock on the door to make the rats leave before they can even enter their own bathroom,” said Shu Qing Wang and Ya Qun, representatives of the 83-85 Bowery Tenants’ Association.

The sloping staircase at 85 Bowery becomes dangerous and slippery from leaks in the roof after it rains, said tenant Wang Xiao, who has had a leak in her bathroom for a year.

“The super came to look at it and said he would come back tomorrow to fix it," she said. "But tomorrow never came.”

Owner Joseph Betesh of Milestone Equities, whose family owns Dr. Jays’ clothing stores, bought the walk-up buildings, which were constructed around 1910, with nine other properties along the Bowery in June 2013 for $62 million.

Batesh did not return multiple requests for comment.

First in English and then Mandarin, the crowd of roughly 50 people gathered Monday outside 83-85 Bowery chanted, “What do we want? Repairs!” “When do we want them? Now!”

Neighbors from nearby buildings in Chinatown and the Lower East Side attended the event and said similar problems are plaguing their buildings, but tenants are too afraid to complain for fear of facing eviction.

“We’re seeing more and more of these cases happening and it continues to get worse,” said David Tieu of the National Mobilization Against Sweatshops.

“A lot of luxury development has been pushed into our community, such as the 56-story Extell skyscraper planned for the waterfront, and it encourages landlords like Joseph Betesh to use these slumlord tactics to push out long-time residents.”

Despite the damage and months-long requests for repairs, each buildling has just one open complaint on the NYC Department of Buildings website. Those were posted Monday this week for an "enforcement work order: special safety sweep."

The protesters also claimed that the landlord is letting leases lapse in order to evict the tenants, who pay below-market rates ranging from about $900 to $1,100, said Wendy Cheung, a CSWA representative.

Most of the tenants, who are from school age to in their 80s, are Chinese and have lived in the buildings from 10 to 30 years.

They’ve continued to pay their rent despite the lack of repairs.

So far, just one tenant in the two buildings has received an eviction notice, but all but one of the 27 units has expired leases, with the last one up in August, said CSWA’s Vincent Cao. Commercial tenants were given notice a few weeks ago to vacate by May 31.

Residents formed the tenants’ association in March and contacted the CSWA for help after their multiple requests for repairs to Betesh, the super and 311 went unanswered, and they began to fear eviction. On April 1, the gas at 85 Bowery was shut off and wasn’t turned back on until May 6.

Milestone Equities has, however, “reached out” since being notified last week of the press conference, Cheung said, “which means they feel the pressure. We encourage more [tenants] to come forward.”

"I also think they should renew the leases," Cheung added, "but whether or not you have a lease, evictions can happen, which is why the repairs need to happen."