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Followup: Residents Allowed to Enter 289 Grand

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Over the weekend, we posted an article about the scene on Grand Street Saturday afternoon, where some residents displaced by the devastating fire more than two weeks ago were allowed to go inside their apartments. We noted that there were  tensions between the landlord’s daughter-in-law and Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE), which has been representing some of the tenants.

Yesterday, we received a comment from a reader who signed up for a Lo-Down account under the name NYCmomto2. The commenter said he/she didn’t think the story was very accurate. I emailed the anonymous reader, asking if he/she wished to elaborate. This was the response:

All tenants were either on the second or third round of access since the fire–depending on their apartment.  According to the Dept of Bldng (sic) and the Engineer on site, Apartment Number 5, Vendola was actually in his apartment for 55 minutes- hardly the mere “20” you reported.  Apartment 13 was in their apartment for over an hour as well.  Two Wong family members helped #13 remove their articles.  Signorello wasn’t just saying she was working with the tenants- she gave up her earlier spot on the schedule for Apartment Number 3, Karen Lee.  Additionally, all of the Wong family brothers helped Karen Lee remove articles so that she was able to gather more in the allotted time.  Subsequently, Signorello-Wong’s time in their apartment was formally abbreviated by the Dept of Buildings.  To report fairly, you should not only consult with AAFE or even Signorello, but with some of the non-immigrant tenants as well.

I asked the commenter to reveal his/her identity and also to help us contact other building tenants. The only response was that a followup story would be “contrived,” “after-the-fact” and unnecessary.  On Saturday, we spoke briefly to the daughter-in-law, Dinine Signorelle-Wong (who lived in the building) and with any residents who agreed to be interviewed.

The plan for the weekend was spelled out in a memo from the Department of Buildings — two residents per apartment would be allowed to go inside the building, and they would be permitted to stay for 20 minutes. It’s possible the tenants actually got more than the allotted time. We don’t have any reason to doubt the assertion.

We did speak to the resident mentioned in the comment, Steven Vendola, on Saturday and again yesterday. He said AAFE has been helpful to the residents of 289 Grand, during an obviously difficult time. He added that Signorelle-Wong made the situation more turbulent than it needed to be. In fairness, we have heard second hand that at least some tenants liked their landlord, believed they were conscientious and wanted to continue working with the Wong family.

We’re not exactly sure what the commenter means by “non-immigrant tenants.” But we continue to have an interest in talking with any residents of 289 Grand, as well as the other buildings damaged in the fire. To contact us, click on the link at the top of our left sidebar.

One other note: after speaking with Signorelle-Wong on Saturday, I handed her my business card – told her we are committed to getting the story right – and encouraged her to contact me if there were any issues with our coverage. She expressed the opinion that media coverage of the story, especially in the Chinese press, had been unfair.  It’s an open invitation — if the landlord would like to tell their side of the story, we will accommodate them.

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  1. One thing the tenants might want to do is to consult with an attorney, When my wife and I were in a similar situation (we had been displaced by a fire in a rent-stabilized building) we formed a tenant group. Then, we contacted the firm of Himmelstein, McConnell Gribben et. al., a well-known landlord-tenant law firm, in order to make sure we could move back into the building once the necessary repairs were made.

    Our attorney took the case to court in order to have the judge set actual timetables for when work would be done, and to retain our tenancy – if I recall, each tenant paid $1 per month in rent in order to retain tenancy while we were displaced. The main thing we learned was that landlords will try to draw out the process as long as possible, hoping that tenants will give up and move away.

    Our landlord had to follow court orders or be faced with serious fines, and we were back in the building within 1 year.

  2. It’s a good point. AAFE has been setting up a Tenant Association. The tenants are also receiving legal counseling from MFY Legal Services.

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