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.