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Italian American Museum Moves to Evict 85-Year Old Tenant

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adele sarno
Adele Sarno.

After a long battle, it appears that Adele Sarno, an 85-year old woman, will be evicted from her Little Italy apartment as early as this week. Her landlord is the Italian American Museum, an organization that purchased the three-story building, 185 Grand St. (Mulberry Street), in 2008.

Back in 2010, the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council organized a protest in front of the museum and helped Sarno make her case to the New York State Division of Housing & Community Renewal (DHCR).  But she lost when the agency determined that the apartment was not rent regulated, and a civil court judge in New York City affirmed the decision. Here’s a statement put out by Two Bridges this morning:

Adele Sarno, one of Little Italy’s oldest living residents at 85 years old, is facing immediate eviction from her Grand Street apartment by her landlord, the Italian-American Museum. A warrant for Ms. Sarno’s eviction has been issued and it is highly likely she will be forcefully moved from the apartment by the end of this week. Ms. Sarno claims she has lived in the apartment for the past 53 years… Ms. Sarno lives on an incredibly modest, fixed income: with only her monthly social security and a little help from her daughter (who lives in Wisconsin), she is just barely able to pay the museum the $820.00 she is currently charged per month for rent. Ms. Sarno claims that she has been a resident of 185 Grand Street since 1962, acquiring all the rights to the rent-controlled apartment upon the death of her father in 1976. In spite of the fact that other apartments have rent-control status within the adjoining museum-owned buildings, Ms. Sarno’s apartment, but for a bureaucratic technicality, does not. Having exhausted all legal avenues, marshals are set to forcibly evict Ms. Sarno from her apartment at the end of this week.

The non-profit advocacy organization concedes that Sarno does not have the law on her side.  She was unable to prove that she had lived in the apartment continuously and the museum provided information that Sarno might have occupied a different apartment in the neighborhood for a period of time. But Two Bridges President Victor Papa argues that there’s a larger point:

For an institution that purports to promote and preserve Italian-American culture, the museum fails profoundly in recognizing that among its most valuable assets are the long-term residents of the neighborhood. We are not going to besmirch the mission of the Italian-American Museum as it is stated, nor the donors who generously support that mission; nor will we besmirch the State Education Department which gave academic sanction to that mission. But Ms. Sarno’s continued occupancy as one of Little Italy’s oldest residents is also a mission. Many of the circumstances of her case bear too-close-for-comfort characteristics of those that community-based housing organizations readily recognize: vulnerable citizens being ousted by speculative landlords and developers abounding in Little Italy, Chinatown and the greater Lower East Side.

Italian American Museum, 185 Grand St.
Italian American Museum, 185 Grand St.Two

This afternoon, the Italian American Museum also released a statement:

After examining this case, a New York City Civil Court judge has determined, based on the evidence presented, that rent-regulation is not applicable to the dwelling in question. Governed by this order, the Museum will pursue its plans for expansion, and continue to serve as an anchor institution for the Italian American legacy in Little Italy.

The museum’s director, Joseph Scelsa, outlined a plan a few years ago to sell the property to a developer with the understanding that the current dwellings would be demolished and that an expanded museum would be located in a new mixed-use building.  Scelsa told the New York Times in 2013 that it was the only way to assure the institution’s survival. Today a spokesperson said no deal is in place as of yet but talks continue with various interested parties.

Built in 1885, 185 Grand St. once served as Banca Stabile, which lent money to Italian immigrants for their journeys to New York. A couple of years ago, local preservationist Mitchell Grubler submitted a request for evaluation to the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The commission declined, saying the building was ineligible for individual designation.

The museum spokesperson said it’s not yet clear when Sarno must be out of her apartment.

See an update on this story here.

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  1. Thank you for displaying concern for my Grandmother, she is a great woman who does not deserve what she is going through. We as a family appreciate the time that was given to her story.

  2. Sort of just glossed over just why she wasn’t subject to rent regulations, didn’t you? Perhaps she should just be happy that she illegally screwed over her landlords for decades, no?

  3. I truly hope that the Lo-Down will correct this article, or retract it entirely, once they have viewed the legal documents pertaining to this case. It is neither legal, nor possible, to evict someone from a rent-stabilized apartment if it is used as their primary residence.

  4. An 85-year-old woman who lives on a fixed income is about to be evicted from the home she has lived in for over 50 years and she should be “happy that she illegally screwed over her landlords for decades”? Exactly what happened to destroy the part of your brain that enables most normal humans to experience empathy?

  5. “the museum provided information that Sarno might have occupied a different apartment in the neighborhood for a period of time”

    thats just greedy and dnainfo should have mentioned this fact in their article

    I take back the offer to house her in place of my market tenants.

  6. It is not rent stabilized, that is the whole crux of this predicament. It meets none of the requirements for defining rent stabilization. That she has been there for over 50 years is technically irrelevant. It is a detestable and beyond shameful, and the irony is lost on absolutely no one. I could not imagine worse press for this museum. Count me among the doubtless many now, who hopes it goes out of business.

  7. I am so sorry for what your family is being put through. I for one hope this museum gets its due karma, which only partially includes going out of business.

  8. In 50 years she was unable to save for a house? Geez, she probably could have (should have,) bought one outright 20 years ago with the money she saved in rent.

  9. “might have?” “for a period of time?” What does that even mean? Clearly there are a lot of details left out of this story.

  10. From
    the NBC news story below:
    “…an administrative law judge in the
    Division of Housing and Community Renewal, which showed that Sarno
    couldn’t prove continuous residency at the apartment she shared with her
    father and that she was a tenant of record at another address, and so
    could not qualify for either type of rent protection.”
    Funny that the Lo-Down claims to report “actual facts, as they happen,” Hmmm.

  11. I’m not allowed to have two apartments, either. And I don’t know why she would be allowed that.

  12. What sane person would do this to an elder?
    Heads up voters . . . was the judge appointed or elected?

  13. look no one prevents anyone from taking a buyout AFTER a longtime landlord is put through the wringer by the tenant advocates and forced to sell to someone with deeper pockets – and that might have happened with Ms. Sarno if the museum hadn’t declared its desire to stay and anchor the district with its presence (Moca is not in Chinatown proper any longer) which means the museum is actually the threat to gentrification because it probably would be less likely to move if it can afford to run its property.

  14. is that true? because banco stabile is cultural hertiage – are they going to move the inside of the bank somewhere to preserve it? where is the proof that he is planning such a thing???

  15. AM News gives her explanation that it was a mistake and NBC news reported her defender saying “whats wrong with that”

  16. I don’t believe anything you say, you’ve already misrepresented information about this issue and repeated the misinformation several times. Now you don’t even include a link to the source of information.

  17. I don’t see anywhere in that article you linked to that says she was a tenant of record at another address.

    It says: “That civil court judge relied on the earlier findings of an administrative law judge in the Division of Housing and Community Renewal, which showed that Sarno couldn’t prove continuous residency at the apartment, and so could not qualify for rent protection.”

    Protest this Saturday at the Italian AMerican Museum at 1pm.

  18. IT DOES NOT SAY THAT SHE WAS A TENANT OF RECORD AT ANOTHER ADDRESS in the article you quoted. It says this:

    “Sarno couldn’t prove continuous residency at the apartment, and so could not qualify for rent protection.”

    This is not the same thing. Just because she lived somewhere before her divorce does not mean she had two apartments.

  19. The Museum is a threat to Italian Americans. Throwing out an Italian restaurant and now evicting an Italian American woman who has lived in the neighborhood for so long.

    The Museum has no support from the people in the community either:


    “Get the facts – the actual documents are on file with the city. You can
    also speak with the people who actually know the true story. Joe
    Scelsa, aka the President of the “Italian American Museum”, purchased
    the property as a private investor with two other partners with the
    intent to develop luxury condos. He used the “Museum” as a backdoor in
    negotiations with Dr. Stabile, who gave the “Museum” a good price (below
    market value). In fact, a well-known architect donated his time,
    thinking he was actually assisting the Museum, and prepared the
    comprehensive package that Dr. Stabile required before selling. This
    package was represented as being from the Italian American Museum.
    Nothing new here, but three greedy developers who want to cash in. The
    “Museum” was just a ruse. Get the facts. ”


    “The museum claims it does not receive enough income, yet is rarely open – CURIOUS !!”

  20. A house in Little Italy? Gee, I don’t see any affordable HOUSES there. Maybe she wanted to remain in her COMMUNITY.

  21. Yes, Matthew, shocking as it may seem, some people are just not savvy enough to afford to buy a house! Or go on vacations! Or send their children to private schools! There are a host of things that some people can’t afford. Losers right? Not like you right? Here’s the thing though..some women staked their lives on raising children and/or caring for elderly parents – unpaid labor – and have no social security to show for those efforts – since it isn’t counted as “work”. This entire society runs on the free labor of women who do that work – and they can’t afford a lot of things in their old age. Like, food sometimes! Ever looked around and seen elders collecting cans for the refunds? It’s how they make up the gap in their rent income. Of course there were those elders who did buy homes or renegotiate their mortgages in the recent “boom times” but they got screwed out of those houses by unscrupulous bankers – the “winners” we are supposed to admire. Big bankers are successful – they must be – they own several houses!

  22. What happens to the heirloom interior of the original bank? I thought that was the main thing that made that building worth preserving. Are you saying that the buildings are going to be destroyed?

    I don’t think that affects the issues of the tenant’s multiple addresses and the fact that the restaurant is past its lease – maybe the owner doesn’t want another food business. I am not Italian so I can’t claim great grief at the loss of the bank’s special interior and the history if that is what the owner wants to do away with – its his business – just like it was the Bowery owner’s business to want to tear down that really old and not too great looking three story that Margaret Chin supported. The Bowery was never valued until it became valuable.

    I find it strange that the museum is so willing to be pilloried in the press like this without protest – just like Samy Mahfar, Marina Nealis and Joel Israel – especially Joel Israel.

    I guess that rent control stores law has a lot of fans. :)

  23. So it’s the landlord – and not society itself – who gets screwed?

    Not to mention the time she lived on Mulberry street, huh? As in THE UNIT WAS NOT UNDER ANY RENT STABILIZATION. As confirmed by the courts. Twice.

    You disgust me.

  24. Too bad about that Mulberry Street thang, eh?

    Not to mention that twice it was determined that the unit was not under rent stabilization. By NYC courts. Which, as we all know, are out to screw tenants.

    Geez. Get a clue, Skipper.

  25. Hey. NY has rent control / rent stabilization laws. She violated them, as determined by the court. Twice. Gee, maybe she shouldn’t have done that.

    Ya think?

  26. Where does it say that? That is not in this article so you must have other information. Is there a source for your claim?

  27. It wasn’t SHE who wasn’t subject to rent regulations. It was the apartment. Maybe you don’t understand residency laws in New York City. You see, we don’t regulate the people here, we regulate the residential units.

  28. Fascinating to see you so passionate about the cause of wanting to throw an impoverished 85 year old woman out on the street. It’s heartwarming to see someone care so deeply about an issue.

  29. Nowhere does it say that she had two apartments. It says she “might have lived elsewhere for a time.” Jumping to conclusions to suit the narrative that makes you feel more comfortable?

  30. Where do you get this “twice” from? That is nowhere in the article. You can’t just make stuff up to support your opinion. Hey, if you don’t think that people who aren’t rich are entitled to housing, just be honest about it. You don’t know what laws she did or didn’t violate, if any. The article only say she “may have” lived elsewhere for a time. As in, she was married, lived elsewhere with her husband, her parents were still in that apartment and she moved back in with them when she got divorced and lived there for over 50 years. What laws does that violate?

  31. well, if you find that AM New York and NBC in addition to lodown do not mention that there was another unit that she was claiming albeit AM New York and NBC provided excuse, then reply back. I saved pdfs of those articles but maybe the articles have now been altered. I can send the pdfs mentioning the other apartment if you find that those news sources no longer have that information.

  32. I have had and still do have Italian Americans moving into our units – not intentionally – they just happened to be Italian. It’s not like the museum’s actions are a plague upon anyone of Italian ancestry blocking them from moving into the neighborhood.

  33. This is NOT ABOUT YOU. You have repeatedly posted about yourself and your issues and I’m not interested in you or your units or your life story or your take on general issues of housing.

    I’m interested in the actions of this Italian American Museum which is supposedly in favor of supporting Italian American culture while at the same time throwing out the very people who make up that culture and helping to hasten its demise.

    Obviously, the 85 year old Italian American woman who the Museum is evicting is on a fixed income and she will not be able to just move into any other building in the neighborhood as the rents will not be comparable to what she was paying thus she will be forced to leave.

  34. I saved the pdfs from the AM New York, NBC and the earlier Lo Down article that mention her claim to another apartment in the neighborhood. If you can’t find them, let me know and I will email them to you if the websites removed that information. Otherwise, you are on your own locating that information via a web search.

  35. Maybe they are doing really well and that would make the story look less pitiful. She looks like she has been a real winner in her life – with a strong family behind her and beauty recognized from an early age. Chinatown when it had only three ladies amidst the bachelors because of immigration laws had one lady who was the prettiest of the three but was genuinely pretty and not just by comparison and her daughter was exquisite. But I hated the son because he was a perv to me once.

  36. well given today’s NYCHA negative truth about the old and schizo latecomer tenant, I bet the city council will harangue albany to expand the rent regs for the elderly to all units – except the Mayor’s rental properties.

  37. Like the latecomer in NYCHA reported in the news today – she may have cynically claimed the premises after her parents passed away which has happened multiple times on our block to other landlords. It doesn’t matter if no one else was ever inside the apartment other than the caregiver, all you need to do is send bills in your name to that address and very passionately with or without the lovely NONPROFIT advocates beat it into the judge and via the press that this is your home and it would break your heart to lose it.

    It may be the case that Ms. Sarno is really a primary resident in which case I side with her in wanting her to stay in the neighborhood. I’m okay with that. BUT no way should there be no consideration whatsoever that there are two sides to every story. Owners’ reputations are unacceptably damaged by the strangely public rotten ones while tenant misconduct is NEVER reported.

  38. that’s worse but that can also be the excuse for the tenant advocates to remove the requirements of proof of tenancy from THE LAW (remember that thing we are all supposed to abide by?) and that would increase their voter base just like raising the income requirement increased the SCRIE qualifiers. Nobody in my family nor does our building make 50k a year.

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