DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — Chinatown tenants who last month dodged eviction attempts from alleged “slumlord” Joseph Betesh of Milestone Equities — thanks to a tentative settlement that would ensure long-term leases after a period of temporary relocation for necessary repairs — are now rebuffing that settlement, saying they refuse to be relocated at all.
Tenants of 83-85 Bowery on Tuesday rallied outside Dr. Jay’s, a clothing store owned by Betesh at 479 Fulton St., to protest what they claim are continued “eviction tactics” and demand repairs be carried out on the building with the tenants still there.
A tenant representative said Betesh’s refusal to carry out repairs with residents in the buildings is just another attempt to push for eviction — the terms of the settlement reached by Public Advocate Letitia James and accompanying attorneys just for show, she said.
“I think the landlord was definitely playing the nice guy,” said Sarah Ahn of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side. “He’s misleading the public and he’s misleading the tenants.”
Tenants stood outside the clothing store with megaphones, shouting refrains of “Dr. Jay’s, Slumlord! Joe Betesh, Slumlord!” They also waved colorful signs emblazoned with the landlord’s face accompanied by fans of cash, calling him a “Slumlord Millionaire.”
Betesh himself was not in the store Tuesday. An employee, who asked to remain anonymous, said he had met Betesh a handful of times and that he is a “nice guy” but a “tough businessman.”
“Let’s say you own a building,” he said. “A lot of things can make you say, ‘I don’t want these people here.’ There are two sides to the coin.”
The tenants are terrified that once they are removed, the landlord may refuse to reinstate them and continue with eviction proceedings, said Ahn — though the settlement currently being hammered out in court states otherwise.
The tenants also demand the buildings be made rent-stabilized — a demand Betesh’s lawyer claims is impossible because the buildings do not qualify for rent-stabilization — and that repairs to the crumbling structure be made immediately.
But the repairs to the buildings’ staircases — which include replacing the beams that hold up the stairs, according to an affidavit submitted by an engineer on behalf of the landlord — make it impossible to renovate without removing tenants, argued Betesh’s lawyer.
“The owner has no desire to wholesale evict people from either one of these buildings,” said Joe Goldsmith. “But the things they do need to do are renovate and repair these buildings, which I think everyone agrees they are in desperate need of.”
The coalition, however, claims they hired an engineer who found it is possible to carry out repairs with tenants in place.
Lawyers representing both parties will meet on Wednesday in a continued effort to hammer out specifics of the deal.
In the meantime, the tenants will continue to push for a more generous settlement on their terms, said the coalition.
A representative for the Public Advocate’s office declined to comment, citing ongoing negotiations.