Residents of a Bushwick apartment building who have paid rent on a month-to-month basis for over a decade at their landlord’s insistence are now facing eviction after the sale of the property to a real estate developer, despite assurances that they would be able to remain.
“I had a two year lease when I moved in around 2001, but when I asked for another lease, the landlord did not want to create one,” said Gladis Garcia, through a Spanish translator, about her apartment at 590 Bushwick Avenue. “We had a friendly relationship with the landlord. We would see her at the supermarket, around the neighborhood. I figured that everything was okay.”
Until recently, it seemed Gladis had little to fear. Other than her $850 monthly rent being raised to $900 in 2008, things mostly remained steady, the issue of a lease (or lack thereof) an unnecessary formality, or so her landlord advised. Her job cleaning apartments paid the bills, allowing her to live in proximity to her granddaughters and other relatives.
“I have thirteen years and everything I want here,” Garcia said. “The nearby hospital, my granddaughters, the supermarket, a good train, the bus.”
But in August, the landlord, Dolores Enriquez, advised tenants she was selling the property. Residents had to sign a “tenant estoppel certificate,” acknowledging they were merely month-to-month tenants, with few rights or recourse. But Ms. Enriquez reassured them.
“She said ‘don’t worry, you’ll be able to stay,'” Garcia said.
In September, the property was sold for $1.35 million to Silvershore Properties, a real estate investment firm with recent acquisitions in several gentrifying areas of Brooklyn, including Bushwick, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Crown Heights, as well as more well-heeled neighborhoods like Cobble Hill and Fort Greene.
Almost immediately after the sale, Garcia and other residents received another notice, this time from their new landlord, ordering them to vacate the premises within thirty days.
Rosa Villatoro, another tenant in the building, was shocked. The 33-year-old cancer survivor takes care of two children who attend nearby schools, while her husband works to support them.
“Very quickly we had no heat, and the garbage was piling up on the street with no one taking care of it,” Villatoro said. “Since the notice, we’ve had to heat hot water on the stove. We keep sweaters and jackets on all the time.”
Other tenants advised that the disruption of the heat and hot water may have merely been a coincidence (as a result of a long-faulty boiler), but repairs have been slow, with a lack of service since November 15th. In the meantime, Villatoro said that she looked at other possible apartments in the area, but with rents at $2,000 or even $3,000 per month, her family cannot afford it.
“Where can I go?” Villatoro said. “I want my children to be in a safe place. But the rent is sky-high.”
Rafael Medina runs Diamond Pump & Electronic Motor Corp., leasing space on the ground floor of the property. He was so close with the landlord, Ms. Enriquez, that he even employed her husband at his store.
“When I found out they did this to us, I threw him out,” Medina said. “All my clients are here. And I’m having trouble finding anything else nearby.”
Medina said his month-to-month rent steadily increased over the years from $800 to $1600, but that other nearby locations were asking for at least $5,000 to $6,000 and usually preferred bars to his type of business.
So far, residents have been able to remain due to a postponement in housing court granted when tenants in a lawsuit are seeking counsel, said Luz Yolanda Coca, Housing Specialist at the Bushwick Housing Independence Project, a tenants’ rights and advocacy group.
“We see this kind of story all the time–people come to us in tears,” Coca said, estimating she learns of 5-6 new cases of this nature each month.”But it’s hard to find legal counsel when the most you can ask for is a few months to relocate. The tenants were at the will of their landlord to provide a lease, who didn’t do so, and now they suffer.”
Other housing advocates cite the tenants’ circumstances as an example of “secondary displacement” resulting from of the rise of luxury developments in the area. 590 Bushwick Avenue is one block away from Read Properties’ incoming development at the former Rheingold Brewery site, which was only allowed through a controversial rezoning of the area.
“Large scale rezonings and influxes of residential luxury development in low income neighborhoods effect the surrounding housing market, raising rents and property taxes,” said Brigette Blood, a founder of the North West Bushwick Community Group, a local community and advocacy group organizing around housing, land use, and zoning. “Displacement and being priced out are experienced by those in proximity to luxury. Our housing stability is threatened by the impacts luxury developments have on our local housing market.”
The roughly 17 tenants of 590 Bushwick Avenue (a three story, five-unit building) have started organizing, writing to their new landlord and asking to remain in the property, even delivering a copy of the letter in person to Silvershore Properties at their offices in Manhattan. They have not received a response to the letter, through “Mark,” a “tenant representative” who declined to confirm his last name to the residents, advised in phone conversations that they need to leave the property and should have done so already.
Brooklyn Brief made multiple attempts to reach Silvershore Properties for comment, mostly to no avail.
A secretary at Silvershore Properties answered the phone but advised that “everyone is at closings.” The secretary declined to take down any contact information for Brooklyn Brief, advised there was no one Brooklyn Brief could be referred to with respect to the story, and when Brooklyn Brief asked for the secretary’s name, promptly hung up the phone. However, before hanging up, the secretary advised that if a draft of this story was e-mailed to a generic e-mail address listed on company’s the web site, the company would respond if they wanted to.
“Mark,” a tenant representative for Silvershore Properties, was reached at a separate telephone number, whereupon he advised that he had helped the new property owner (Silvershore) work with the tenants during early stages of their acquisition of the property, but that he no longer has a role with the tenants or the property. He advised that the generic e-mail addresses for Silvershore was working, and that the company could respond to a draft of the story sent to that address, if they wanted to.
Two e-mails of the story were sent to Silvershore’s generic e-mail address, but no response was received as of press time.
A phone message for Jeff Klarsfeld, the attorney for Silvershore, and two e-mails of the story to all publicly available e-mail addresses for the firm, Platte, Klarsfeld, Levine & Lachtman, LLP, also went unanswered.
The tenants’ next court date is December 17th.