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Landlord Who Bragged to NY Times of Flipping Homes Sued by Disabled Tenants

By Gwynne Hogan | January 12, 2017 2:24pm
 Maria Collado, 84, and her son Jose Collado, 54, both rely on the elevator in their building that the landlords say has to be out of service for up to six months. Maria is wheelchair bound, while her son, has severe diabetes and wears a cast on one of his legs which is covered in blisters and sores and it causes him to walk with a limp.
Maria Collado, 84, and her son Jose Collado, 54, both rely on the elevator in their building that the landlords say has to be out of service for up to six months. Maria is wheelchair bound, while her son, has severe diabetes and wears a cast on one of his legs which is covered in blisters and sores and it causes him to walk with a limp.
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DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan

BUSHWICK — Delmira Baez, 84, usually attends Mision Asamblea Pentecostal church four times a week. She's resigned to cutting her visits in half as work on her building's elevator leaves her stranded at home.

Baez suffers from joint weakness. The effort of climbing six flights of stairs to the rent-stabilized apartment she's lived in for the last 34 years is simply too much, she said. 

"It's hard to go up. I go up two flights and rest, I go up another two," Baez said in Spanish. "I get to the top and I'm exhausted."

Baez is one of five disabled and mobility-impaired tenants at 946 Bushwick Ave. who sued the landlord of their building, GRJ LLC, in Brooklyn Federal Court for civil and housing rights violations.

Tenant lawyers and residents see the extended repair work, which signs posted at the building say will take between four to six months, as yet another sign of tenant harassment now detailed in three lawsuits filed against Graham Jones of GRJ LLC in August.

He owns three Bushwick buildings with about 100 apartments at 946 Bushwick Ave., 1075 Greene Ave. and 920 Bushwick Ave.

In two of the lawsuits, tenants said their building superintendent unleashed a campaign of verbal threats, physical advances and sexual comments that have caused them to fear for their physical safety.

But at 946 Bushwick Ave., home to a handful of disabled tenants — one in a wheelchair, one with severe diabetes that causes blisters and sores on one leg and a limp, and another with extreme asthma to the point where it can be dangerous to climb stairs — the elevator is the most pressing concern.

"Who am I going to get to help get my mother to the doctor," Gladys Collado, 58, who lives with her wheelchair-bound mom Maria, said in Spanish.

Collado takes her mother to multiple doctor appointments a month.

While those are essential outings, Maria, also 84, said she'd miss simply leaving the house, sitting in Maria Hernandez Park, window shopping along Knickerbocker Avenue or getting her hair done.

"I guess I'll stay here by the grace of God," she said in Spanish.

Signs posted in the building said repair work was scheduled to begin on Jan. 2, but Judge Leo Glasser granted a temporary restraining order preventing it until the next court date on Jan. 18.

Following the court order, someone wrote another 2 onto the flier to say the work would now start on Jan. 22.

DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan

Residents agree that the outdated elevator needs work. It often stops a few inches above or below floor-level and sometimes it's out of service for a day at a time, they said.

Building permits issued on Dec. 2 say the work is to "modernize the elevator."

A Department of Building spokesman, Andrew Rudansky, said that the landlord had filed to make extensive repairs with a number of parts getting replaced entirely, though didn't provide an estimate about how long that work usually takes.

He said that when construction begins, the Department of Buildings would check on progress regularly to make sure it wasn't taking an unnecessarily long time.

GRJ LLC is owned by Graham and Gregory Jones, New Jersey brothers whose business model is built on renovating buildings and getting rid of rent-stabilized tenants, according to a 2015 New York Times  profile.

The article said that they pieced together a $90 million real estate portfolio in a few years through investors they met at the exclusive Racquet and Tennis Club on Park Avenue.

"The progress is striking for two young men who struggled to pay their own rent five years ago," according to the report, which details that the two sons of a New Jersey real estate lawyer attended Bowdoin College and Columbia University.

"Their story offers an unusual glimpse into the rough-and-tumble real estate world in Manhattan."

The Jones brothers boast of their track record on their company's website, which shows two buildings that they flipped and sold for millions more than the purchase price in a few short years — one in the East Village and another on the Upper East Side.

"GRJ seeks to identify mismanaged properties with potential to drive rents through extensive renovation and asset repositioning," their website reads.

"Property level value creation is derived through rent growth and expense reduction."

The tenants of 946 Bushwick phrase it in simpler terms.

"They want us to leave from here, that's my opinion," Gladys Collado, 58, said. "Many have already left."

But the brothers' business approach has often brought backlash from tenants.

Artists organized to protect their DUMBO lofts. Other tenants organized rent strikes and protests claiming they were having basic services shut off and disruptive construction was being carried out inside their buildings, according to reports.

Graham Jones, when reached on his cell phone, declined to comment.

"There's nothing to talk about," he said, hanging up the phone.

His attorney David Lee at Heiberger and Associates couldn't be reached for comment.

Read the court filings for yourself.