BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
After a nearly yearlong fight against Astoria’s New York School of Urban Ministry (NYSUM), the building’s tenants are taking the landlord to court.
This week, the Legal Aid Society—which is representing the building’s remaining 27 tenants—announced that it had filed an injunction in Queens Civil Court in response to a recent series of incidents during which the landlord allegedly harassed tenants in an attempt to force them out of the building.
According to Legal Aid Society lawyer Sateesh Nori, NYSUM management allegedly recently removed furniture and computers from shared living rooms in the building, disconnected the building’s Wi-Fi and is currently ripping apart a vegetable garden that the tenants grew in the building’s backyard.
Nori said that both management and representatives from the NYSUM board have paid visits to the tenants, and one representative became frustrated with a woman tenant and allegedly smacked her on the arm and asked, “What about you, what are you going to do?”
“They just want to live in peace,” said Nori. “To smack them when they feel frustrated is unacceptable. She felt violated and scared.”
Nori said that a judge at Queens Civil Court has granted the tenants a temporary restraining order, which would force NYSUM not to harass its tenants until Nov. 16, when the tenants and landlord are expected in court.
If NYSUM harasses any tenants prior to the court date, the landlord would be violating a court order, Nori said.
NYSUM could not be reached for comment by press time.
Shortly after Thanksgiving 2016, NYSUM’s executive vice president, Pastor Peter DeArruda, sent all 39 of the building’s tenants an eviction notice, demanding that they leave the property, which is located at 31-65 46th St., by Dec. 31, 2016. At that time, DeArruda had announced plans to sell the property to another owner.
The tenants contacted the Legal Aid Society in February, which told them that the apartments were protected by the city’s Rent Stabilization Law. Since then, a number of tenants have moved out of the building, alleging that NYSUM management had harassed them.
“It’s unfortunate that management continues to bully and intimidate our clients to squeeze them out of their homes,” Nori said. “We expected NYSUM management to comport themselves in a compassionate and empathetic manner—especially as employees of a Christian organization. Instead, management is operating not from the ‘good book,’ but from the book of dirty tricks.”
Nori said that the tenants merely want their rights to be respected and for NYSUM to discontinue its allegedly underhanded tactics.
Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x144, firstname.lastname@example.org or @reporter_ariel.