Displaced W'burg tenants eager to return after four years
by Andrew Shilling
Aug 21, 2013 | 793 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The tenants of 172 N. 8th St. with legal counsel Romy Ganschow and attorney Martin Needelman.
The tenants of 172 N. 8th St. with legal counsel Romy Ganschow and attorney Martin Needelman.
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Anna McCusker in her apartment after four years of displacement.
Anna McCusker in her apartment after four years of displacement.
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Workers move gravel to the basement as part of the final stages of the repair process.
Workers move gravel to the basement as part of the final stages of the repair process.
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It has been four years since the tenants at a Williamsburg apartment were abruptly forced to leave their homes, and they are ready to finally move back in.

In 2009, tenants in the eight-unit building at 172 N. 8th St. got a knock on their door to vacate the premises because it was suddenly unsafe.

According to reports, inspectors from the Department of Buildings (DOB) evicted the tenants after the new landlord Jamal Alokasheh started illegally digging up the basement without a permit on multiple occasions.

“He really doesn’t care, which is why it’s nice the courts took over, but now the construction guys aren’t doing anything,” said Anna McCusker, a young woman who first moved into the apartment building in 2006, at a rally last week outside the building.

Bouncing around from apartment to apartment since her eviction four years ago, McCusker joined the four other remaining tenants to put pressure on the construction company to complete the final stages of repair, which she said has had a two-week completion window for nearly six months.

“The contractor says he can’t get the work done because he’s not being paid,” said Martin Needelman, project director and chief counsel for Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, which has been working with the displaced tenants. “We need this done now.”

Regardless, McCusker brought over a carload of her stuff to move back into her residence over the weekend.

“I got tired of waiting,” she said, standing outside of the building with her legal counsel and remaining residents. “You kind of live in suspended animation when you don’t know when you’re moving or you don’t know where you’re going to live.”

When the original landlord died, a successor sold it to Alokasheh in 2009. Three days later, he began illegally digging up the foundation.

McCusker first found out she couldn’t return to her apartment after arriving home from a day’s work at an insurance company, and inspectors from the DOB told her she wasn’t allowed in.

“I ran upstairs and grabbed some pictures of my grandma and my cat because I didn’t know what to do,” McCusker said, remembering the day she was locked out. “I couldn’t find my Social Security card and the Building’s inspector is just like, ‘get out.’”

Although they all moved back one-year after the original eviction, they were forced to leave again when Alokasheh knocked down another wall, according to McCusker.

Despite a 2010 court decision that sided with the tenants and took away Alokasheh’s right to repair the building on his own, he has reportedly made attempts to slow the process.

“Everybody had the same problem,” said Weronika Korecki, an elderly Polish woman who first moved in in 1962, and has a rent-controlled lease for 30 years at $300 a month. “He said we could move in last Christmas.”

Some tenants speculate Alokasheh was hoping that frustrated tenants would just leave the rent-stabilized building so he could ultimately charge more.

“It’s really just a sad situation, and a sickening situation,” said Needleman. “Landlords are not allowed to do criminal acts to destroy the building for the perks of getting them out to make much more money by having a vacant building that he can make a complex.”

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