Followup: 85 Bowery Landlord Speaks Out Regarding Vacate Order

83-85 Bowery; Jan. 18.

83-85 Bowery; Jan. 18.

We have more from 85 Bowery, where residents of all 16 apartments were evacuated Thursday night after the Department of Buildings (DOB) issued a full vacate order. DOB inspectors concluded that a stairwell had become destabilized and that the tenement was unsafe.

The tenants and landlord Joseph Betesh have been engaged in a long-running legal dispute. Last month, the State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) recommended to a state supreme court judge that the building be declared rent stabilized. Betesh has been pushing to temporarily relocate the tenants while the building is rehabilitated. Residents wanted to stay in place while repairs took place, fearing that Betesh would never allow them to return at their current rents.

Tonight, we have a statement from Betesh’s company, Bowery 8385 LLC. “The safety of the occupants of 83-85 Bowery,” a spokesperson said, “is our top priority and we are taking immediate steps to repair building infrastructure and make the property safe for habitation. While the DOB was correct to vacate the building in the interest of safety, we believe this action should have been taken long ago.”

The company, according to the spokesperson, has been arguing to NYC officials and to residents for the past two years that repairs could only take place if the building was vacated. The landlord contends that he has been, “working to find a positive resolution, but (that) our proposals were rejected at every turn by (the tenants’) lawyers and other representatives.”

The spokesperson alleges that the, “occupants of 83-85 Bowery have apparently engaged in illegal renovation work that further contributed to the building’s structural instability.” After the vacate order was issued Thursday afternoon, the property owner asserts, it became apparent that 11 apartments at 85 Bowery were, “illegally converted into nearly 40 single room occupancy (SRO) units.” The “unauthorized renovations,” said the spokesperson, “put all the building’s occupants at greater risk by leading to dangerous overcrowding, blocked fire escapes and other safety hazards.” Previously, ownership said, it was barred by residents from entering apartments.

“Now that the DOB has executed its vacate order and we have regained access to all areas of the property,” Betesh’s spokesperson said, “we are already taking steps to clear out debris and begin repairing the building’s infrastructure. Our intention is to restore this property to its intended use as quickly as possible and we will continue working diligently with the DOB, the Mayor’s Office and other stakeholders to do just that.”

A protest at 83-85 Bowery in 2015.

A protest at 83-85 Bowery in 2015.

As you might imagine, the tenants strongly disagree with almost everything their landlord is saying. We contacted Seth Miller, an attorney representing many of the residents in 83-85 Bowery. First off, Miller said that, as far as he knows, every apartment is occupied by a family and that no one has offered evidence to the contrary.

The city has ordered Betesh to complete emergency repairs in two weeks. The landlord, said Miller, is intent on “spinning the city into expanding its vacate order” by making “false allegations.” Betesh, he said, has been on a two-year campaign to evict the tenants. The repairs that are required, argued Miller, could have been completed long ago with the tenants remaining in their homes.

Miller said he’s hopeful the judge will accept DHCR’s recommendation and declare the building rent stabilized. The judge ordered Thursday’s DOB inspection. Given the resulting vacate order, however, there are more immediate concerns. The tenants are now in a temporary shelter in Brooklyn. The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development is taking the lead in finding longer-term housing. The American Red Cross reported to Community Board 3 that it has registered 26 families, including 95 people (there are 17 children). Miller would like to see the landlord pick up temporary housing costs.

 

Both State Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou and City Councilmember Margaret Chin have been on the scene today, and their staffs are assisting with translation and other resident needs. In a statement put out tonight, Councilmember Chin said, “(Thursday’s) painful evacuation reinforced our commitment to hold landlords accountable for the severe financial and emotional toll caused by their negligent practices. No tenant should ever have to experience what the residents of 85 Bowery went through… and continue to experience, at the hands of their predatory landlord, Joseph Betesh.”