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NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Eric Bederman (HPD) (212) 863-5176




HPD COMMISSIONER CESTERO WELCOMES NEWS THAT BATHROOMS HAVE FINALLY BEEN FULLY RESTORED IN TROUBLED WASHINGTON HEIGHTS BUILDING

After Years of Fighting, Tenants at 452 Ft. Washington Can Now Claim Victory As This Critical Step Helps Restore Their Homes To Safe, Livable Conditions

New York, NY – New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) Commissioner Rafael E. Cestero joined City Councilmember Robert Jackson in welcoming the news that after years of litigation, the bathrooms in the 2-line at 452 Ft. Washington Avenue have finally been fully restored. The property is a six-story building with 54 units located in Manhattan’s Community District 12. More than two years ago the property owner, Dorothea Levine, hired contractors who removed the bathrooms from each unit in the 2-line, purportedly to repair conditions caused by water damage. The bathrooms were never replaced. After years of constant litigation, in which HPD’s Housing Litigation Division (HLD) was actively involved, the court appointed Allan Heussinger as the 7A administrator to manage the property and make repairs to correct scores of housing code violations. Among those critical repairs was the replacement of the 2-line bathrooms which have helped to restore the tenants’ homes to livable conditions.

In 2008, the owners of the building caused work to be done in the building allegedly to repair bathrooms in the 2-line of apartments. The contractors removed all fixtures and gutted the floors, walls and ceilings of the bathrooms – creating not only a great inconvenience but also unsafe conditions for the tenants residing in those apartments. These tenants were left without functioning showers and bathing facilities; they were forced to find alternate accommodations, including the use of bathroom facilities in vacant apartments within the building. The removal of these services that many of us take for granted, caused an undue hardship for these tenants, especially the elderly and those with special needs.

“The Court’s decision to appoint the 7A Administrator was critical in bringing about this victory, but it was the perseverance and determination of these tenants that served as the heart and soul of our efforts to rehabilitate this building and restore their homes,” said HPD Commissioner Cestero. “There is no excuse when landlords force tenants to experience the hardships and deplorable conditions these families have faced. When a landlord jeopardizes the health and safety of their tenants, HPD will be there to step in and ensure that the job gets done. I thank Councilmember Jackson for his concern and support, and I commend the unsung heroes of our Housing Litigation Division who go to work every day to fight for New York’s tenants and uphold the laws that protect them.”

“The hardships endured by these tenants are, quite frankly, unimaginable. But their spirit and determination have been amazing. Their unity has inspired the entire tenants’ association,” said Councilmember Robert Jackson. “I am so relieved that after more than two and a half years they now have access to something most of us take for granted: a toilet and bathing in our own apartment.”

"After a long struggle, the tenants of the building's "2" line can finally bathe in their own apartments once again.  The tenants appreciate the efforts of the 7A Administrator and HPD to complete the project and look forward to continuing to work together to make the building a safe and healthy place to live,” said Bruno Bianchi, the tenants’ lawyer.

In September 2008, HPD’s Housing Litigation Division (HLD) became involved in the ongoing court proceedings. Earlier this year HLD petitioned in Housing Court to have a 7A administrator appointed to run the property, a move that was ultimately successful. HLD initiates 7A cases seeking the appointment of an administrator to manage a building pursuant to Article 7A of the Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law, which provides that management control of a building may be removed from an owner if a building's condition constitutes a danger to life, health and safety. The administrators act under Court Order to collect rents and use the money to provide essential services to the tenants and make necessary repairs.

Shortly after HLD initiated the 7A proceeding, a group of 15 tenants substituted themselves as petitioners, effectively becoming the plaintiffs, and HLD has repeatedly been to court in support of the tenants and their case. Early on HLD, the tenants, and building ownership took up negotiations for a period of time to try and expeditiously resolve the matter. There were several adjournments for possible settlement which were ultimately unsuccessful – the tenants have filed numerous motions for relief which were supported by HLD, and numerous witnesses were called. In response to the dangerous and unfit conditions they were forced to endure, and the lack of response by the property owner, the tenants undertook a legal rent strike in addition to their court action.

HLD Attorneys within HPD's Office of Enforcement and Neighborhood Services bring cases to enforce compliance with the housing quality standards contained in the New York City Housing Maintenance Code and the New York State Multiple Dwelling Law. In addition to initiating cases in Housing Court to force the correction of violations, HLD collects money judgments from owners.  In many cases, collection entails locating responsible individuals/companies and taking various steps, such as seizure of accounts and property, to enforce money judgments. In fiscal year 2010, HLD appeared in a total of 14,223 cases filed in court by HPD or by tenants, and collected $ 5,206,796 in civil penalties.

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About the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD):

HPD is the nation’s largest municipal housing preservation and development agency. Its mission is to promote quality housing and viable neighborhoods for New Yorkers through education, outreach, loan and development programs and enforcement of housing quality standards. It is responsible for implementing Mayor Bloomberg’s New Housing Marketplace Plan to finance the construction or preservation of 165,000 units of affordable housing by 2014. Since the plan’s inception, more than 108,000 affordable homes have been created or preserved. For more information, visit www.nyc.gov/hpd



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