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.