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9 Months After Fire, Rent-Stabilized LIC Tenants Fighting to Return Home

 The building at 10-38 47th Road as it looks now, nearly nine months after the fire.
The building at 10-38 47th Road as it looks now, nearly nine months after the fire.
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DNAinfo/Jeanmarie Evelly

HUNTERS POINT — It's been nine months since a fire forced Claire Munday from the apartment she's called home for the past 20 years. 

The artist and longtime Long Island City resident has been crashing with various friends since the Jan. 25 blaze in her building at 10-38 47th Road, where the door remains padlocked, the stoop blocked by scaffolding and two of the windows boarded up with plywood.

"I'm using the graciousness of longtime friends in our neighborhood to reside and store my things and all of that," she explained. "It has been so stressful being moved from place to place."

Munday is one of three tenants displaced by the fire who are currently battling with the property manager, Bethel Management Inc., and landlord Pui Yan Ho to get the building fixed so they can move back in.  

They say the landlord is deliberately delaying repairs on their fire- and water-damaged units in an attempt to get them to vacate the rent-stabilized apartments.

"They want us out, for sure," said Christian Neri, who lived in the building with his father before they were forced out by the blaze, which was caused by an electrical issue and ruled accidental, according to the FDNY. 

"They're making promises, but in reality they're stalling for us to get desperate and move out."

The tenants are working with lawyers from Legal Services NYC, which filed a housing court proceeding on their behalf in July against the landlord and management company in an effort to force the owner to address the property's housing violations.

There is currently an "order to repair/vacate order" in effect at the building, as well as 20 open violations, according to records with the city's Department of Housing, Preservation and Development. 

On July 24, a judge ordered the owners to make fixes at the property, giving them deadlines of either 24 hours, 30 days or 90 days to make the repairs, depending on the level of the violation, according to Jennifer Fernandez, one of the lawyers with Queens Legal Services who's handling the case.  

But she said little progress appears to have been made.

"The tenants don’t see any work being done," Fernandez said, adding that residents have given different reasons for the delays, including problems with the insurance company and "asbestos issues."

In a statement emailed to DNAinfo, Bethel Management denied creating any unnecessary delays. 

"All the allegations are false which have no basis in fact, the landlord is undertaking work that is legally required as expeditiously as possible," the statement said.

The company claims that 19 of the 20 open HPD violations "are false allegations made by the tenants" that "will all be removed upon the completion of the work."

There are currently three alteration permits active at the property — two issued in May and another in August — for renovations in the cellar, on each floor of the building and for plumbing work, Department of Building records show.

But Neri, who works a few blocks from his old apartment, said he passes the property often and has not personally seen construction workers there since July. 

"I'm there every single day, and I haven't seen any progress at all," he said.

Both Neri and Munday say management has offered a deal for them to move out. An email sent by Bethel to tenants on March 16 that was shared with DNAinfo stated that the building owner was working "diligently" to fix the building, but also gave residents the option to leave. 

"If you have any interest at all in relinquishing any rights you may have in returning to the subject building once rebuilt in exchange for appropriate and reasonable consideration, we would be happy to engage in such a discussion with you. Please let us know," the email said.

In the months since the fire, Neri has been staying with his mother in Connecticut — commuting to his job in New York each day — while his father has been staying with a family member.

"Its been very hard, financially and emotionally," he said.

Munday said she's gotten little to no information from the landlord in recent months, and feels "like they completely just want us to go away."

"I have a lease, I've paid my rent on time every month for 20 years, and expect that they hold up their end of the bargain," she said, saying the case is about more than just this one building.

"A disaster can happen to anyone," she said. "We just need to make sure that the right laws are in place to help the people who experience them."