GREENPOINT — Tenants forced to leave the apartments they'd lived in for decades after their notorious landlords cut off essential services, are finally back home, following nearly three years of living in shelters, temporary apartments and crashing with relatives, all the while battling their landlord in court.
Rent stabilized residents of 300 Nassau Ave., owned by brothers Joel and Amrom Israel who still face criminal charges for the destruction there and at several other buildings, moved back into their newly renovated apartments in late August, once the building was finally brought back up to code and the Department of Buildings lifted a vacate order that had condemned the property since December of 2013, according to court records.
"I swear it's like a miracle. We've been through so many things in these three years," said Rosita Navarro, 44, in Spanish. Navarro had lived in her apartment for 23 years with her husband and two sons before they were kicked out in the dead of winter. Construction workers had cut off water, electricity and gas, according to court records and prosecutors.
Firemen, building inspectors, and Red Cross workers showed up to evacuate them, Navarro recalled. She, her husband and two sons collected clothes they could carry and important documents by candlelight. Everything else they left behind, she said.
The family spent seven months in a shelter and the rest of the time in an East New York public housing apartment. Navarro's asthma has gotten worse from all the stress and her 16-year-old son was robbed and attacked. They had to give their cat to a shelter and their dog to a friend's care.
"We're just starting to readjust to the lives we had before," she said.
Tenant lawyers with the housing advocacy group Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A represented Navarro and rent stabilized tenants from two other apartments at 300 Nassau Ave., about 11 tenants in total, all of whom recently moved back in, according to Rolando Guzman, a tenant organizer at St. Nick's Alliance.
"It's a great victory for both families and a good example to other tenants," Guzman said. "It's inspiring to other tenants to keep the fight to get back to their homes where they rightfully belong."
In a drawn-out housing court battle, a judge sided with the 300 Nassau Ave. tenants and in January 2015, agreed to take control of the building away from the Israel brothers and give it to an independent administrator who was tasked with repairing the building, court records show.
In this case, the city fronted funds needed for repairs to the independent administrator, while taking out liens on the building, that the landlord is ultimately responsible for, tenants' attorney Adam Meyers explained.
The good news for Nassau Avenue residents comes just a few weeks before a criminal trial against the Israel brothers is set to begin.
The burglary, grand larceny, criminal mischief and a slew of other charges against them stem from issues at their Nassau Avenue property as well as three others including 324 Central Ave. and 98 Linden St. in Bushwick and 15 Humboldt St. in East Williamsburg.
The trial is slated to begin on Nov. 7, court records show.
The upcoming trial brought little comfort to Navarro, who said she couldn't come to grips with the fact that while her family suffered so much in the last three years, the two brothers have walked free.
"I don't understand how they're not in prison. There's no justice in that sense," said Navarro. "The four of us have come out OK, but we've passed through some terrible things all because of those men."
An attorney for the Israels didn't respond immediately to a request for comment.