BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
Shortly after Thanksgiving, tenants of Astoria’s New York School of Urban Ministry (NYSUM) received an eviction notice from the development’s executive vice president. Seven months later, the tenants continue their fight to stay in the building.
Although the Legal Aid Society announced in February that it had filed a lawsuit to protect residents of the Astoria building, located at 31-65 46th St., residents allege that the management has been using harassment tactics to get the 28 tenants at the site to vacate the premises.
The Legal Aid Society’s lawsuit, which argues that the tenants are protected by the city’s Rent Stabilization Law, led to a settlement conference in March with NYSUM. But instead of the building’s management’s attempting to negotiate in good faith, residents were offered money to move out.
Since then, NYSUM has been accused by residents of resorting to harassment tactics, such as intimidating them to vacate their apartments, threatening to cut their utilities and calling and texting tenants repeatedly.
According to a resident named Amy, a three-year tenant at the building, Executive Vice President Pastor Peter DeArruda has allegedly been showing the apartment units to prospective buyers, despite the active lawsuit. Since the building is owned by the ministry, a long-term rule at the property—where the floors are divided by gender—has been that tenants have been required to inform their neighbors if they invite guests of the opposite sex to their apartments. However, DeArruda has allowed prospective buyers to walk around the building with no prior warning, residents allege.
“It’s bothersome,” Amy said.
Amy, who is an actress, added that a recent incident that occurred while she was rehearsing in the basement was particularly troubling.
“I was down there singing and heard someone violently pounding on the door as hard as possible,” Amy said.
She said that her singing in the otherwise quiet bathroom in the basement made it clear that the room was occupied—however, the building’s head of maintenance started banging loudly on the door.
When she announced that she was in the bathroom, she said that he unconvincingly told her, “Oh, I didn’t know someone was in there.”
Amy said that her work keeps her busy and she sympathizes with other tenants who are currently unemployed and are, therefore, forced to deal with the building’s management more frequently.
“I know so many of them who just walk in and out of the building and are harassed right there and then,” she said. “This whole lawsuit is stressful, so I sympathize with them more.”
According to the Legal Aid Society’s lawsuit, NYSUM shouldn’t be speaking directly to the tenants.
“It would be nice if they would stop the harassment and just let us be and follow through the particular channels the lawyers created,” Amy said. “They should speak through our lawyers instead of cornering people and catching them off guard. Those of us who are left are firm that we are staying until we get our day in court.”
Sateesh Nori, the attorney-in-charge at the Legal Aid Society’s Queens Civil Practice, said that it is illegal to harass tenants.
“These tenants are pretty unique,” Nori told the Queens Tribune. “They are very religious people who believe in right and wrong. Many are former missionaries and work with NYSUM on missions work all over the world. Because they felt that NYSUM was supportive of them and were on the same path, they are hurt that this institution has turned on them and is acting in a way that they feel might be dishonest because they are very religious, very straight forward people [who are] not looking to get a benefit or something they aren’t entitled to.”
Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x144 or firstname.lastname@example.org