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East Village Tenants Protest Landlord for Harassment, Court Action Imminent

By Lisha Arino | May 28, 2015 6:37pm | Updated on May 29, 2015 4:27pm
 Tenants from 444 E. 13th St. spoke out against their landlord, who they say is harrassing them in an effort to vacate their apartments and charge market rent.
Rent-Stabilized Tenants Speak Out Against Landlord for Harassment
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EAST VILLAGE — A group of rent-regulated tenants on East 13th Street are planning to take their landlord to court, fed up by illegal construction, persistent buyout offers and other actions they believe are designed to drive them out of their longtime homes.

The lawsuit, to be filed Friday against Goldmark Property Management and its agents, will ask the court to force the landlord to restore the building’s heat, hot water and cooking gas, which has been shut off since April and request an injunction on illegal harassment and disruptive repairs in individual apartments, the building residents and their lawyers said at a protest Thursday morning.

Goldmark Property Management did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit will name head officer Raphael Toledano and managing agent Paulius Skema as well as Newton Hinds and Miguel Cueto, who tenants said have been approaching residents about ending their leases early and taking buyouts, said Stephanie Rudolph, a lawyer at the Urban Justice Center, which is representing nine families in the building.

Hines did not respond to requests for comment by email and phone. Cueto confirmed that the company he worked for, Watch Guard 24/7, had worked with Goldmark at the building but said he was not authorized to discuss it.

Holding signs that read “No more harassment” and “Save our homes!” in English and Spanish, residents described their daily challenges in the violation-ridden apartment at 444 E. 13th St., which was purchased in January for $6.1 million, city records show.

The group claimed the landlord refused to make repairs in their apartment and asked the predominantly Spanish-speaking tenants to provide documents like passports.

The landlord also accused tenants of illegal activity like prostitution and drug trafficking, they said.

“We’re tired of it,” said Cesar Bello, 26, who has lived in his two-bedroom apartment since 1999.

According to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development website, there are currently 85 open violations — most of which were issued during inspections that took place in April and May, according to an HPD spokesman.

“Our overriding concern is to see that the tenants here and throughout the City have safe and decent homes and that this building does not continue to blight the community. If an owner fails in their responsibilities and forces their tenants to live in unsafe conditions, as has been the case at this property, we will use all of our enforcement tools to hold them accountable,” the agency said in a statement.

A stop-work order has also been issued by the Department of Buildings, according to the agency’s website.

The landlord has also received violations for performing gut renovations without a permit, records show. The DOB also issued a violation for unpermitted pipe work after a tenant tipped Con Edison to illegal gas work and the utility company shut off the building's service, officials said.

The DOB issued a violation for failing to provide heat, hot water and cooking gas to tenants, according to the agency's website.

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene also found lead levels of up to approximately 24 times the legal limit in dust samples taken inside the building, according to a report provided by the tenants’ attorney.

The April 16 inspection found dust and debris throughout the building’s common areas, and observed crews working in vacant apartments without plastic covers or door flaps, according to the report. The inspector stopped the construction and ordered workers to clean the area.

No workers or construction were observed during follow-up inspections the next day and on April 30, documents show.

Bello and the other tenants said they would continue to fight to stay in their homes.

“I grew up around this neighborhood,” he said. “I’m emotionally attached to this building.”

The tenants are also organizing with the help of the community organization Good Old Lower East Side and Councilwoman Rosie Mendez. MFY Legal Services has also agreed to give tenants additional legal representation, it said at the press conference.