FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 3 , 2003
Press contact: Carol Abrams (212) 863-5176
QUEENS BUILDING OWNER JAILED FOR CIVIL CONTEMPT OF ORDER TO CORRECT HAZARDOUS CONDITIONS IN TENANTS' APARTMENTS
Building owner Norman Beckford was arrested on October 28, 2003 for contempt after he violated a Court Order by failing to repair hazardous conditions in his tenants' apartments. New York City Sheriffs took Mr. Beckford into custody at Queens Housing Court and brought him to the Manhattan House of Detention, where he remained for three days until another hearing at which he pledged to make the required repairs.
"Landlords who violate the law will be held accountable," said Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) Commissioner Jerilyn Perine.
HPD issued violations for hazardous conditions at 109-63 134th Street, a two-unit house owned by Mr. Beckford in South Ozone Park, Queens. The conditions cited in the violations included an inadequate supply of hot and cold water, a lack of electricity, a non-working oven and bedroom windows where the frame is separating from the glass, creating a peril that the glass will fall out. Tenants sued Mr. Beckford in Queens Housing Court when he did not repair these conditions.
While the case was taken to Housing Court, HPD repaired the water supply in the house, abated a leak in a bathroom, and retiled bathroom walls. HPD attempted to install window guards but was refused access by Mr. Beckford. The costs of emergency repairs have been billed to the owner and will become a tax lien on the property if the owner does not pay.
HPD's Housing Litigation Division, which handles more than 13,000 cases per year to enforce the City's Housing Maintenance Code, entered the case. At a trial before Queens Housing Court Judge Gilbert Badillo, HPD Housing Litigation Division lawyers sought to compel Mr. Beckford to make the required repairs and to impose monetary penalties for his failure to comply with his legal obligations as a landlord. After trial, Judge Badillo issued an Order directing Mr. Beckford to correct the hazardous violations. When the violations were not corrected, Judge Badillo began a contempt hearing, but adjourned it to allow Mr. Beckford another opportunity to comply with the prior Order by performing the necessary repairs.
More than a month after the contempt hearing, Mr. Beckford had still not complied, and Judge Badillo found him to be in Civil Contempt of the Court's Order. Judge Badillo issued a Judgment and Warrant of Commitment on October 3, 2003 and also imposed civil penalties of over $3,000.
Mr. Beckford went to the Housing Court on October 28th seeking to vacate the Civil Contempt finding and the Judgment for Civil Penalties, but did not claim that he had complied with the prior Order. Judge Badillo had Mr. Beckford detained until a hearing two days later regarding his continued incarceration. Judge James R. Grayshaw presided over that hearing, at which Mr. Beckford indicated that he would comply with the Court's Order by making the required repairs. Judge Grayshaw released Mr. Beckford, but conditioned his continued freedom on compliance within one week. HPD will conduct an inspection on November 7th to determine whether Mr. Beckford has complied. If HPD finds that he has not complied, the agency will ask the Court to return him to jail.
HPD is the nation's largest municipal housing preservation and development agency. A major responsibility of the agency is to encourage preservation of affordable housing through education, outreach, loan programs, and enforcement of housing quality standards.