Image by Caitlin Kelmar via Twitter.
After workers tossed out personal items belonging to the residents of 85 Bowery this week, citywide news organizations jumped on the story. Last night, property owner Joseph Betesh issued a statement, saying “mistakes were made.”
It was only the latest skirmish between the low-income tenants and Betesh, who have been engaged in a lengthy legal dispute. The residents were displaced Jan. 18 after the city declared 85 Bowery’s staircase unstable. They now face several more weeks in a nearby hotel, since asbestos was discovered during the renovations.
Elected officials, including State Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, have been advocating for the tenants. She was interviewed on WNYC yesterday. Have a listen:
Image by Caitlin Kelmar via Twitter.
More twists and turns yesterday in the long battle between Chinatown landlord Joseph Betesh and residents of 85 Bowery. The tenants, local advocates and elected officials erupted in anger after personal items ended up in a dumpster outside the building. The tenants, displaced since Jan. 18, are waiting for asbestos abatement to be completed in their building.
The first missive came at around 5 p.m. from Sarah Ahn, a local activist with Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association, who has been advocating for some of the 85 Bowery tenants. According to an email, residents had agreed to have their things placed into temporary storage, and were, “making plans to remove their belongings.” They were taken aback, to say the least, when workers started throwing items into the garbage.
“This egregious act has sent shockwaves of anger and confusion among the tenants and neighbors,” said Ahn, adding to their concerns that Betesh and the City have no intention of bringing the tenants home.”
A spokesperson for Betesh’s Bowery 8385 LLC, said, “No usable items belonging to the families of 85 Bowery were intentionally discarded. Some items removed from the building were discarded because they were perceived to be perishable food or in contact with perishable food and/or other unusable items.”
The spokesperson indicated that the personal items were being placed into storage at the owner’s expense. “To avoid any misunderstanding on the part of either party moving forward,” a statement explained, “we will not discard any of these items unless they are obviously hazardous to health. All items taken from the building as part of this process will be brought to appropriate storage facilities, where the families will have direct access to those items.”
Betesh and residents have been involved in a lengthy legal dispute. The January vacate order was issued after the Department of Buildings concluded that 85 Bowery’s staircase was unstable. It’s now been replaced, but last month residents learned they would be displaced for several more weeks, after asbestos was found in the building. Betesh is paying for tenants to stay in a nearby Chinatown hotel.
Elected officials responded forcefully yesterday upon hearing about the latest skirmish. State Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou said:
Joseph Betesh’s actions today were beyond unacceptable. Carting out tenant’s belongings and dumping them into a garbage container on the street is not only disrespectful, but inhumane. 85 Bowery tenants had no option but to look through these garbage bags on the street and pick out personal belongings like medicine, books and even money. These families have been out of their homes for months now, and to be treated like this by their landlord is a slap on the face to not only them, but to everyone who has been working to get these tenants back home quickly and safely. Any efforts to move tenants’ property must be closely coordinated with tenants and the City, especially as asbestos mitigation continues at this building. I will continue to stand with the 85 Bowery tenants as we work to get them back to their homes.
City Councilmember Margaret Chin said:
Joseph Betesh’s haphazard treatment of his tenants’ personal belongings is utterly disgusting. For nearly three months, through no fault of their own, the families of 85 Bowery have been forced to live a nightmare, and continue to face what seems like a never-ending timeline of repairs. There is no excuse for being careless with people’s precious belongings. To Joseph Betesh, we have a simple message: our entire city is watching you, and we will hold you accountable for your actions.
Tenants have long suspected that Betesh’s real goal is to permanently displace them for their rent stabilized apartments. The landlord yesterday said he remains committed to moving residents back into their apartments as soon as possible.
UPDATE 4/13 After a day of bad press, Joseph Betesh released a new statement yesterday evening. A representative of Bowery 8385 LLC said:
Unfortunately, mistakes were made (Wednesday) by workers tasked with removing items from the building. We are taking responsibility for this situation and are investigating further to determine why usable items belonging to families of 85 Bowery were mistakenly discarded. Our initial review has made it clear that this work did not meet our standards and we have taken action to ensure it does not happen again. Items taken from the building as part of this process will be brought to appropriate storage facilities, where the families will have direct access to them. We will be reimbursing families of 85 Bowery for any items that were mistakenly discarded.
The residents of 85 Bowery have been looking forward to returning home, two months after the city slapped a full vacate order on their building. According to a court-approved timeline, property owner Joseph Betesh was to have finished replacing 85 Bowery’s staircases by the end of this month. But there have been complications.
According to a letter from State Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, asbestos has been discovered in the building, delaying the residents’ return.
The letter was sent yesterday to officials at the city and state departments of health, Buildings Department, Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Department of Environmental Protection, the mayor’s office and to the landlord. It was co-signed by U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez and NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer.
The elected officials expressed concern for the health of the tenants, and requested medical examinations to make sure they’re all ok. They also noted that the asbestos abatement can’t begin until DEP inspects the building. It could apparently take two weeks for that to happen. They’re urging a speedier timetable and new commitments from Betesh and city officials to complete the work as quickly as possible.
The city evacuated 85 Bowery Jan. 18 due to safety concerns. While the residents were initially housed in a Brooklyn shelter, Betesh eventually agreed to put many of them up in a Chinatown hotel.
Some of the tenants staged a hunger strike in the days before Lunar New Year celebrations began. Residents and Betesh have been engaged in a long-running legal dispute about the repairs and the status of their rent stabilized apartments.
We have contacted Betesh’s press representatives. This story will be updated if they have anything to say about the latest developments.
UPDATE 11:54 a.m. Here’s a statement from the landlord, 8385 Bowery LLC:
We are committed to safely moving the families of 85 Bowery back into their homes as quickly as possible. We have already taken steps to demonstrate that commitment by installing a new steel staircase ahead of the timeline agreed upon with city officials. In the process of investigating additional structural issues that predate our ownership, our team discovered asbestos inside the ceilings of the third and fourth floors. We immediately reported this finding to the Department of Buildings and are coordinating with relevant city agencies on a plan to abate the asbestos. We are taking this discovery very seriously and have conducted independent air-quality testing to ensure that it is safe for families to collect their belongings. We recognize how difficult this situation has been for the families and we will continue to provide high-quality hotel accommodations at our expense until the conclusion of work.
According to the landlord, the staircase replacement was complete and city inspections had been completed ahead of schedule (the court-approved timeline indicated a final inspection on Match 28). Because the stairwell repairs are finished, residents will be allowed access to their apartments to pick up personal items.
A spokesperson from the Department of Buildings tells The Lo-Down, “The asbestos remediation will take 30 days and the owner will be performing as much work as possible during that timeframe. We remain committed to ensuring the safety of the building for its tenants. ”
85 Bowery Letter from AM Yuh-Line Niou by The Lo-Down on Scribd
A rally was held outside HPD’s offices Feb. 2.
Following a court order laying out a timeline for the return of tenants at 85 Bowery, local elected officials are asking city agencies to come up with a detailed plan to move the displaced residents back into their apartments.
The Department of Buildings (DOB) ordered a full vacate order Jan. 18 due to a destabilized staircase. More than 75 tenants were displaced while emergency repairs take place. In a hunger strike that ended Monday, several tenants demanded a deadline for the renovations to be completed.
In a decision dated Feb. 9, State Supreme Court Judge Kathryn Freed established a timeline. It lays out dates by which the staircase on each of four floors must be completed. A DOB inspection is scheduled for March 28. If the owner fails to meet the deadlines spelled out in the court order, he must go before the judge to explain the cause of the delays. The court-mandated timeline was requested by the tenants and by city agencies.
In the letter sent yesterday to DOB and to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), City Councilmember Margaret Chin and several colleagues requested more specifics from the agencies. “Given the ongoing crisis of displacement and an extended timeline for the landlord to complete work,” they wrote, “we feel that it is imperative that your agencies compile a detailed and thorough plan for the return of residents. We are interested in working with you to provide the necessary input on the best way to achieve our shared goal on behalf of our neighbors, who continue to suffer terribly due to the negligence of their landlord.”
While Betesh was originally given two weeks to complete structural repairs, city agencies conceded earlier this month that the stairwell replacement would take six weeks. They indicated that two additional weeks might be required to address other safety issues. In this week’s letter, the elected officials stated, “it is unclear what the processes are to determine what these safety issues are, and where the tenants fit into the agencies’ determinations.” They asked for a meeting to clarify the plan and, as Chin explained in a statement, “to set this dialogue in motion and ensure the timely and coordinated return of tenants.”
In a lengthy court battle, Betesh has argued that building repairs could only be completed if tenants were temporarily relocated. In past statements, he has pledged to complete the renovations as quickly as possible, clearing the way for residents to come home. The tenants, however, are deeply suspicious of Betesh’s motives. They’re convinced he’s plotting to deprive them of their rent-stabilized apartments. While the hunger strike was ended so residents could prepare for Chinese New Year, tenants have left open the possibility of resuming their high-profile protests if the timeline slips again.
A spokesperson for the tenants, Caitlin Kelmar, told us this morning that the residents want a statement in writing from the city in support of the March 28 deadline. “They do not agree with the two week buffer period given to the landlord once the staircase is completed, and are negotiating to make it shorter,” said Kelmar.
The letter delivered to city officials this week was signed by Chin, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Public Advocate Letitia James, State Sen. Brian Kavanagh and State Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou.
Letter 2/14 Return of 85 Bowery Tenants by The Lo-Down on Scribd
Court Order 85 Bowery Timeline by The Lo-Down on Scribd
Photo by Karlin Chan.
Six residents of 85 Bowery are ending their hunger strike after four days. They’re holding a press conference at 3:30 this afternoon outside the offices of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to make a formal announcement.
“With Chinese New Year approaching this week,” read a press release sent out a short time ago, “the tenants have decided to pause their fast in order to celebrate (Chinese New Year) with their families. They have experienced so much suffering since their eviction, and want to be with their loved ones for the celebration.”
On Jan. 18, at least 75 tenants were displaced after inspectors from the Department of Buildings concluded that a stairwell in the decaying tenement was unsafe. The residents have been engaged in a long battle with Joseph Betesh, their landlord. Repairs at the building are expected to take at least eight weeks. When the hunger strike began, the tenants demanded a commitment from the city to take over repairs if Betesh failed to get the job done at an agreed upon time. Today the tenants say some of their demands have been met.
Over the weekend, local elected officials announced they have asked the state attorney general and New York City district attorney to explore a possible investigation of the property owner. State Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou and State Sen. Brian Kavanagh wrote the letter, which was co-signed by U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Councilmember Margaret Chin.
The letter read, in part:
Tenants of 83-85 Bowery have felt preyed upon for years. They have taken to the streets, met with elected representatives, and gone to court. Now, they have been displaced for a period that is expected to extend for weeks, after being evacuated for their safety. Residents have expressed to us that they want justice for their suffering. We urge you to review this matter and determine whether a formal investigation is warranted.
In a press release, Niou stated:
The events at 85 Bowery over the past several weeks have made it abundantly clear that Betesh is an unscrupulous landlord who needs to be held accountable for his actions. In 2016, the courts ordered Betesh to repair the stairs at 85 Bowery. Since the beginning, Betesh has argued that the deteriorating structure of the building is an inherited problem. He neglected to make the repairs ordered by the courts and let what was clearly a dangerous situation fester for years until weeks ago, the building was deemed uninhabitable unless the stairs were fixed.
In a separate letter to constituents, Councilmember Chin said she pressed HPD about taking over the urgent renovation project at 85 Bowery through the agency’s Emergency Repair Program (ERP). HPD resisted this option, saying it would only delay the repairs, which are reportedly underway. “If I find that there is any credible evidence that the landlord is stalling the repairs,” said Chin “or intentionally delaying the residents’ ability to return home, I will call on ERP to take over and charge the landlord for the repairs.”
A spokesperson for 8385 Bowery, LLC (Betesh’s real estate firm) said this morning that the landlord is committed to making repairs as quickly as possible. “We will remain focused on providing a safe building for those families,” said the property owner, “regardless of any false perceptions that others may have about us or our company.”
The tenants are convinced that Betesh orchestrated last month’s vacate order to deprive them of rent stabilized apartments. They say repairs could have been made long ago without the need to evacuate the entire building. The landlord continues to push back against this argument:
Ever since we took over ownership of 85 Bowery, we have been telling the City that temporary relocation was required in order to address the structural instability of the building and ensure the safety of the families living there. We are now able to safely address these issues and are diligently performing the work needed to make the building safe for habitation. As the City is aware, it would be extremely unsafe for families to reside in the building while that extensive work takes place. To that end, we are providing quality hotel accommodations in Chinatown for the duration of our work because we understand this is an extremely difficult time for families of 85 Bowery.
After the tenants spent several days at a hotel in Brooklyn, Betesh agreed to pay for 18 hotel rooms in Chinatown. According to Councilmember Chin, “four additional rooms at the same hotel (the Wyndham Garden) were made available (Friday), allowing the remaining families housed in Brooklyn to return to Chinatown for the duration of repair work.”
According to today’s statement from the tenant association, “The tenants and their thousands of supporters will continue to pressure the City and both agencies to stand up for the residents of 85 Bowery against a criminal landlord with a clear track record of eviction attempts and harassment. The tenants will announce their next steps in demanding the City give a firm deadline by which the necessary construction is finished so that they can return home.”
Feb. 2, 2018. Protest at the offices of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development on Gold Street.
Some of the residents of 85 Bowery will be staging a hunger strike at the offices of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) in Lower Manhattan beginning at 11 a.m. today.
It has been three weeks since city inspectors ordered a full vacate order on the 16-unit tenement due to structural stability concerns. The owner, Joseph Betesh, is in the midst of replacing a stairwell and making other critical repairs. The tenants, who have been fighting Betesh in court for several years, say the vacate order was merely a ploy to deprive them of their rent stabilized apartments. While city officials initially gave the property owner two weeks to fix the building, they now concede tenants will be displaced for at least eight weeks.
A hunger strike was announced at a rally this past Friday, and it’s set to begin later today. The 83-85 Bowery Tenant Association has made the following demands: a firm deadline for residents to return, a promise to prosecute Betesh if he fails to meet the deadline, a promise from the landlord not to make alterations to apartments without consent from tenants and confirmation that the vacate order will be lifted when the staircase is replaced. There are at least 75 tenants at 85 Bowery. We were told 11 would be taking part in the hunger strike, although later reports indicated 6 were actually camped out in front of HPD’s offices. The action is being supported by a local advocacy organization, the Coalition to Protect Chinatown & the Lower East Side.
“The fact that human beings,” wrote the coalition in a Facebook invite, “are being deprived of their basic right to housing, and must resort to such extreme measures is egregious. We ask that you support and stand in solidarity with the Bowery Tenants in these critical moments. Your support is your way of fighting displacement across the city.”
Yesterday we heard from two local elected officials who are among those trying to help the displaced tenants. Along with several colleagues, they wrote a letter to city and state officials Jan. 26 that raised many questions about the handling of the situation at 85 Bowery. The agencies responded in the past several days (more about that in a moment).
State Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou said in a statement:
The tenants of 85 Bowery continue to be without a home, and it’s critical that repairs be done quickly and safely so families can return to their homes as soon as possible. I understand tenants’ skepticism on repairs given the landlord’s track record of willful neglect, and I will continue to push both the City and landlord for accountability and speedy construction. It is a positive step that the City is exploring taking over repairs should the landlord fail to meet construction milestones. However, the pressure must be kept as we approach three weeks since the vacate order left dozens of families homeless. Lunar New Year is about a week away, and it’s a shame that my constituents will welcome this significant holiday without their homes. I will continue to stand with tenants and keep pressuring for quick repairs at 85 Bowery.
State Sen. Brain Kavanagh added:
My office and our colleagues in government have been working every day to ensure that City and State agencies are taking all appropriate steps to hold the landlord accountable, protect the tenants’ rights, and enable them to return to their homes. I appreciate these written responses to our ongoing advocacy and particularly the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s efforts to clarify the City’s approach. It is disappointing to me and to the tenants that they will not be home for Lunar New Year. I remain committed to supporting them during this crisis, and to working with the City and with my colleagues to ensure the repairs are completed and the vacate order is lifted as soon as the building is safe.
In its response, HPD delivered the unwelcome news that repairs are expected to take eight weeks (six weeks to replace the stairwell, two weeks to address other other safety issues, including the removal of, “unsafe partitions that are blocking means of egress.”) HPD said repairs are underway and that inspectors from the Department of Buildings are visiting the building daily. “If the owner,” wrote HPD Assistant Commissioner Francecs Marti, “does not continue to do the work necessary to rebuild the stairs and the DOB issues an Immediate Declaration of Emergency, HPD will be prepared to contract out the necessary work to restore the building to occupancy.”
The landlord, tenants city agencies are due back in court today. At that time, the city will seek a court order to ensure that Betesh carries out construction, “on the agreed-upon timeline.”
A spokesperson from 8385 Bowery LLC, Betesh’s holding company, said in a statement:
Our team is working diligently each day to repair and replace the severely damaged infrastructure of 85 Bowery and make the building safe for habitation. Any reports claiming that we seek to demolish the building or replace it with a hotel or condominiums are false. We all share the same goal – moving families back into their homes as quickly as possible. We understand this a very difficult time for families of 85 Bowery and we are providing quality hotel accommodations in Chinatown, for the duration of repairs, so families are able to remain in the local community while our work continues.
Although the tenants were initially relocated to a shelter/hotel in Brooklyn, Betesh eventually agreed to provide 18 rooms at the Wyndham Garden Chinatown, a hotel just up the street from 85 Bowery. Not all of the tenants are staying in the hotel, however.
HPD Response to 85 Bowery by The Lo-Down on Scribd
DHCR Response to 85 Bowery by The Lo-Down on Scribd
After two weeks in a Brooklyn hotel, at least some of the residents of 85 Bowery have been moved to the Wyndham Garden Hotel in Chinatown at their landlord’s expense.
The Department of Buildings slapped a full vacate order on the Bowery building Jan. 18, ordering property owner Joseph Betesh to replace an unstable stairwell within two weeks. This past weekend, Betesh told city officials that the project would not be completed by the Feb. 1 deadline (today).
It’s been a major hardship for the families to be sheltered in another borough, removed from local schools and other community services. Tenant advocates have demanded that the landlord pay to lodge residents somewhere in Chinatown. In the past day or two, he’s complied, providing 18 rooms at the Wyndham Chinatown, which is right up the street from 85 Bowery.
In a statement, Betesh’s company (Bowery 8385, LLC) said, “We are providing these quality hotel accommodations for families of 85 Bowery to ensure they are able to remain in the local community while our work continues. Our team is working diligently each day to repair the severely damaged infrastructure of 85 Bowery and make the building safe for habitation. We all share the same goal – moving families back into their homes as quickly as possible.”
A spokesperson with the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) told us this evening, “HPD and DOB in coordination with City Hall have been working closely with the tenants’ representatives to get displaced families back to their community and homes as soon as possible. The owner is working to make needed repairs and has now agreed to pay for hotel rooms for most of the tenants, until the building is safe for them to return to. He has much more work to do, and we will be closely monitoring his progress.”
Yesterday, City Councilmember Margaret Chin released a letter sent to Betesh on Tuesday. “I demand relief for dozens of tenants,” wrote Chin, “who have been displaced from their homes since a court-ordered inspection determined that the building’s structural integrity posed substantial life-safety hazards…. I urge you to make immediate arrangements to cover hotel accommodations in Lower Manhattan for all displaced tenants for the duration of repairs.”
Tonight, Chin’s chief of staff, Paul Leonard, told us the Councilmember has, “urged HPD and the landlord to come to an agreement to house (in Lower Manhattan) all of the tenants that have been displaced.” Later, Chin released a statement, saying, “I was encouraged to see that the landlord heeded my demand for better living conditions near their workplaces, community support network and children’s schools. Now we need to ensure that this relief is offered to all families who will be displaced for an extended period of time while this necessary work is taking place. I am calling on HPD to take the lead and make sure that no family is left behind.”
A spokesperson for the tenant association, Vincent Cao, said 18 rooms is clearly insufficient to house the 75 people displaced from 85 Bowery (the tenement has 16 legal apartments). “We want more rooms,” said, Cao, “and we want to get back into our permanent homes.” He called on the city to take over from Betesh, who tenants believe is plotting to dislodge them from 85 Bowery for good. Cao also rejected any notion that Councilmember Chin helped secure the Chinatown hotel rooms. [The tenant association has for several years been at odds with Chin, having mobilized against her in last year’s City Council election]. “Our lawyer made sure we got those rooms,” said Cao.
City officials say they are working with the landlord to make sure that repairs happen as quickly as possible. The work, they report, includes replacing structural supports, stairwells and partitions that were illegal and dangerous. The tenants’ attorney provided the owner with a list of residents and family members in need of hotel rooms in Chinatown. HPD has committed, we were told tonight, to finding temporary housing in Lower Manhattan for any remaining residents who can’t be accommodated at the Wyndham Garden.
Meanwhile, a structural assessment of 85 Bowery has been completed, with the Department of Buildings concluding that the work required at 85 Bowery is extensive. The stairwells must be completely replaced and other structural issues addressed. The city has approved architectural and structural plans. According to city officials, Betesh has hired contractors to complete the work.
Tenants of 85 Bowery and community activists plan a rally at HPD’s office tomorrow afternoon at 3:30. The agency is located at 100 Gold St.
Nine days ago, the Department of Buildings (DOB) ordered the evacuation of 85 Bowery, and required the property owner, Joseph Betesh, to replace an unstable staircase within two weeks. Last night, Betesh notified city agencies and local elected officials that the deadline cannot be met.
Nearly 100 people, including 17 children, were displaced from the five-story building. Most of them have been staying in a Brooklyn Hotel, where living conditions are less than ideal. The landlord and tenants have been engaged in a long legal battle. The Buildings Department imposed an emergency vacate order after conducting a court-ordered inspection Jan. 18.
A letter dated yesterday (Friday) from Betesh’s holding company, Bowery 8385 LLC, stated, “it has become clear that safely removing and replacing the stairwell will require additional time beyond February 1 (DOB’s deadline). We have been advised that acting too hastily to remove and replace the stairwell would be counterproductive and do additional damage to the structural stability of the building, thus making it even more difficult to get families safely back into their homes.” The landlord says contractors have been working, “diligently each day, including weekends, to clear out debris, remove obstructions and prepare the site in compliance with the DOB’s rigorous structural stability requirements. ”
An accompanying letter from a structural engineer stated that many of the support beams in the building as well as the staircase, “from the ground floor to the roof,” would need to be replaced. The engineer, Eduard Grinfeld of Construction Management & Safety Consultants, Inc., wrote, “I have determined that it is not possible to safely remove and replace the 85 Bowery staircase by Feb. 1 in a manner that meets the NYC Department of Buildings’ structural stability requirements.”
A spokesperson from the Department of Buildings told The Lo-Down today, “DOB and our fellow agencies are pushing an aggressive plan for repairs at 85 Bowery. The owner must be held accountable and must meet his responsibility to provide a safe building for his tenants.” The agency also noted that the owner has, in fact, already completed structural stability shoring on several floors and hired a firm for the stairway replacement project.
State Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou and State Sen. Brian Kavanagh sent a letter of their own Friday to city and state officials regarding the troubling developments at 85 Bowery. Recipients of the letter included the commissioners of the Department of Housing Preservation & Development, the Department of Buildings, New York State Homes and Community Renewal and the New York State Tenant Protection Unit.
They noted that a housing court judge ordered the landlord to make repairs more than two years ago, and that the problems at 85 Bowery were widely known. In light of these facts, they wrote, “It is not clear to us why, despite your agencies’ awareness of the situation for many months, events unfolded as they did on January 18th.” They cited the hasty nature in which the evacuation was conducted and the lack of adequate translators to communicate with Chinese-speaking tenants. “Tenants were scared and confused, and misinformation spread among them,” wrote the elected officials. “Many thought they were being evicted rather than evacuated for their own safety.”
83-85 Bowery; Jan. 18.
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. But city officials have reportedly questioned that recommendation. This is one of the concerns expressed in the letter, which was co-signed by U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, NYC Public Advocate Letitia James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer:
…the process by which tenants were notified of the emergency evacuation suggested to the tenants that they, not the landlord, were responsible for circumstances which lead to the vacate order. Currently, residents still have little assurance that they will be able to return to their apartments, particularly because the agencies are not on the same page regarding the rent protections at the building. For years, tenants at 85 Bowery have felt preyed on by their landlord; they have met with advocates and elected representatives, but on January 18th, they still had to leave their homes with little notice, doubting that the landlord would be held accountable. We find this troubling, and we ask that you work to ensure that Mr. Betesh is held accountable for his actions so that these tenants can return to their homes.
In the aftermath of the building evacuation, the owner alleged that the tenants’ illegally converted many apartments to SRO’s, creating safety hazards in the tenement. In a statement released earlier this week, the landlord added, “Any reports claiming that we seek to demolish 83-85 Bowery or replace it with a hotel or condominiums are false. We all share the same goal – moving families back into their homes as quickly as possible. As we have been saying for years, and as we believe all parties would agree, those homes must be safe.”
This afternoon, City Councilmember Margaret Chin chimed in regarding the latest developments, saying, “This landlord needs to keep promises to his tenants and complete these repairs ASAP. Any delay should further incentivize landlords to cover temporary housing costs so that tenants would not have to pay the price for their negligence. I’m calling on the City to ensure that tenants have the flexibility to use vouchers for hotels near their homes, children’s schools and hospitals, and will reintroduce legislation urging the City to hold landlords responsible for these temporary housing costs.”
Sen. Kavanagh added, “No one should accept the landlord’s claims in this letter at face value, and we’ll be asking the City agencies involved to address them promptly, to ensure the repairs are completed as quickly as possible, and to work on the longstanding safety issues at 85 Bowery so tenants aren’t further displaced. The simple fact is that the unsafe conditions at this building are not new. They were the result of a long-term failure by the owners to maintain the building in a safe and habitable condition — and it is completely unacceptable that the tenants are now suffering the consequences.”
85 Bowery Owners Letter 1.26.18 by The Lo-Down on Scribd
85 Bowery.elected Officials.january 2018 by The Lo-Down on Scribd
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.
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.”
City officials at this hour are in the process of evacuating a Chinatown tenement, 85 Bowery, after the Department of Buildings (DOB) declared the property unsafe earlier today.
According to a DOB spokesperson, at least 75 tenants are impacted (that number is expected to rise). There’s an ongoing legal dispute between the tenant association in this building and Joseph Betesh, the property owner. As part of that case, State Supreme Court Judge Kathryn Freed ordered a city inspection.
In the inspection, DOB engineers found that the main stairwell is structurally unstable. The city spokesperson said that the agency issued a commissioner’s order requiring Betesh to replace the stairwell within two weeks.
Meanwhile the American Red Cross is offering relocation assistance to anyone who needs it. DOB dispatched a Chinese translator to the scene, and the Fire Department is on site to coordinate evacuation efforts. State Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou also has a representative on site. We understand from her office that the Red Cross has secured hotel rooms for the tenants until Monday. Niou’s team is reaching out to city agencies and non-profits to help with longer-term housing. City Councilmember Margaret Chin has staff on site, as well, helping with Chinese translation and coordinating with city agencies. The Councilmember spoke with residents at 85 Bowery and met with tenants, who gathered at M.S. 131 on Hester Street.
Last month, the State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) recommended to Judge Freed that the building be declared rent stabilized (that issue has been the subject of a long-running dispute between the tenants and landlord).
Christopher Marte, a former City Council candidate, has been advocating for the tenants. He first alerted us to the situation at 85 Bowery this afternoon. The plight of the 85 Bowery tenants has been a major cause for Chinese Staff and Workers Association, a local advocacy organization.
UPDATE 8:05 a.m. Susan Ahn, an advocate for the tenants, told NY1:
The landlord told the Department of Buildings that the building is in disrepair. The tenants have been trying to get the landlord to do repairs on this building for years, and he has refused and has been trying to evict them. Now the city is doing the landlord’s bidding and kicking these tenants out onto the street on a cold winter night. There’s old ladies, there’s babies. They won’t tell them anything about where they’re going to go. It’s ridiculous.
See an update to this story here, including a lengthy statement from the property owner.