BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
More than two months after the New York School of Urban Ministry’s executive vice president attempted to evict his tenants, a tenant rights group has filed a lawsuit to protect the residents at the Long Island City site.
On Nov. 28, tenants at the building, located at 31-65 46th St. in Long Island City, were sent a notice of termination that demanded they vacate the premises no later than Dec. 31.
Last week, the Legal Aid Society’s Queens Neighborhood Office joined state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria), Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and several local community groups to announce that the Legal Aid Society’s Tenant Rights Coalition would be filing a lawsuit to protect the low-income tenants at the 46th Street property.
“What we have seen with this residence is another brazen example of landlord harassment that, unfortunately, is not unique to this part of Queens, but an epidemic in every borough,” said Sateesh Nori, the attorney in charge of the civil practice at the Legal Aid Society’s Queens office. “The Legal Aid Society stands with our elected officials and community organizations committed to helping these tenants fight an unjust eviction and stay in their homes.”
Nicholas Suplina, the senior advisor and special counsel at the state Attorney General’s office, wrote a letter to the New York School of Urban Ministry’s executive vice president, Pastor Peter DeArruda, requesting that he rescind the eviction notices to vacate the existing tenants until a court or state agency reviews and determines whether the property falls under the city’s rent stabilization law.
According to Suplina’s letter, if the law applies, the 39 tenants facing eviction would be entitled to rent stabilized leases and their tenancy would be subject to the rules governing rent stabilization.
“Not only is it incredibly cruel and heartless for NYSUM to evict these tenants, many of whom have resided here for years, it is, quite possibly, illegal,” Van Bramer said. “As a charitable organization, one would hope that NYSUM would have a modicum of basic human compassion for these low-income residents. It’s clear that this is not the case.”
DeArruda could not be reached for comment.
Elected officials representing the community said they have attempted to set up a meeting with DeArruda, but have thus far been unable to do so. Gianaris, Simotas and U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) recently wrote a joint letter calling on state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to investigate the School of Urban Ministry’s attempts to evict the tenants.
“The New York School of Urban Ministry has been talking out of both sides of its mouth,” Simotas said. “They have received the benefits of tax exempt status— as a religious school— and are now attempting to claim that they are a charity and should be exempt from the city’s rent stabilization law, which protects tenants from being thrown onto the street. When you quack like a duck, walk like a duck and look like a duck, then you’re a duck, which in this case means that NYSUM is plain and simple a landlord, actually a bad landlord trying to evade the law.”
According to the lawsuit, which is dated Feb. 15, the tenants claim that the building, which is owned and operated by NYSUM, is subject to rent stabilization and, therefore, the tenants cannot be evicted pursuant to a 30-day termination notice. The tenants also state that DeArruda improperly claimed the building is exempt from rent stabilization laws.
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