BUSHWICK — The landlord who bragged to The New York Times about getting rid of rent-regulated tenants so he could charge market rate rent now says he wants to work with the residents of a six-story building who sued him for housing and civil rights violations.
Graham Jones' change of heart comes after DNAinfo New York reported about elderly and disabled tenants who were terrified that they would be trapped in their apartments at 946 Buswick Ave. for four to six month while the building's elevator was shutdown for repairs.
Renters claim the repairs are a veiled attempt to get rent-stabilized tenants to leave. But Jones insists he will work with disabled tenants to provide accommodations during the work.
Jones said that his lawyers have begun talks with representatives of five disabled and mobility-impaired tenants at 946 Bushwick Ave. who filed the federal lawsuit against Jones claiming civil rights and fair housing act statutes.
Jones, however would only give specifics on one of the renters, 84-year-old Maria Collado, who is the only tenant in a wheelchair.
"I have offered to install a chair lift from the lobby to the second floor or relocate [Maria Collado] to a different building [in the area] and pay the difference,” Jones said.
Gladys Collado, 58, Maria's daughter and caretaker who lives with her in their second-floor apartment, said a chair lift would be ideal.
"I would like them to put that so my mother can get up and down," she said in Spanish. "If they put that in, OK."
She said moving her elderly mother out of the building after more than 20 years was out of the question.
The lift, however, would only be helpful to Collado and Marino Lalane, her next door neighbor on the second floor of the building. Lalane is disabled, mobility-impaired and has colon cancer, appendicitis, arthritis, asthma, diabetes and cataracts, according to court documents.
The three other tenants who filed suit live higher up in the building still wouldn't have a way into their apartments.
“We’re going to work to accommodate them as well," Jones said, but declined to say how.
The lawyer for the residents, Lina Lee, from Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, said she's made little headway with the up-and-coming real estate tycoon.
“[Graham] won’t even recognize the other tenants as disabled,” Lee said. She said Collado was first offered an apartment in The Bronx and then in Crown Heights.
Talks with tenant lawyers began last week, a month and a half after tenant attorneys started warning in two letters that they would sue if the landlord didn't make a backup plan for disabled and elderly renters, according to court documents.
"A large portion of tenants at the premises suffer from physical disabilities and/or are elderly, and as such require the use of elevator services to move throughout and out of their building," one of those letters read, though it didn't explain which tenants would be effected by the shutdown.
Jones' attorney, David Lee at Heiberger and Associates, didn't respond to a request for additional comment.
A federal judge put a temporary restraining order on the elevator repairs so that the lawyers in the two parties can come up with a solution beforehand. The four to sixth month shutdown was supposed to begin on Jan 2. but has since been postponed to Jan. 22, a sign posted inside the elevator showed.