Councilman Antonio Reynoso led the charge last week as the caravan made its last stop at the Israel-owned property at 98 Linden St. in Bushwick, home to 24-year resident Michelle Navas.
Navas, who lives with her mother, stepfather and two young boys, said Israel had her kitchen destroyed nine months ago, an effort she believes was made to condemn the building and remove long-time, rent stabilized tenants.
“Because of the destroyed area, the rats have been eating up on the wall and the cats have been getting in through what used to be my kitchen area,” Navas said, pointing to a make-shift divider from her former kitchen to the current living space, now a converted kitchen.
Navas said her rent was decreased from $675 a month to $1 since she first started taking the case to court several months ago.
But as rents are on the rise in the neighborhood, Reynoso said now is the time to hold landlords like Israel accountable for compromising the integrity of the building and the current system in place protecting longtime residents.
“It is outrageous to let landlords adopt criminal tactics and undermine New Yorkers’ most fundamental right to dignified housing conditions without immediate consequences for these behaviors,” Reynoso said. “We must give the city the means to protect tenants’ rights and preserve affordable housing.”
Martin Needleman, chief counsel of Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, said situations like the one on Linden Street are all too common in communities like Bushwick, and are typically followed by an arduous process in the courtroom.
“As gentrification continues to sweep across North Brooklyn, landlords seeking to capitalize on rising property values are increasingly turning to tenant harassment and un-permitted demolition to force rent regulated tenants from their homes,” Needleman said.
He added that there is hope in court if tenants can prove circumstantial evidence.
“The workers go in and lock the door, which only they have a key to, unload two barrels with cement and earth and they had to undermine the structure of this building and they created a vacate order,” Needleman said.
Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez joined the rally and toured the buildings with Reynoso and other tenants from around the community.
“New Yorkers have a fundamental right to safe, livable and affordable housing,” Velazquez said. “This landlord’s treatment of these residents is abhorrent and we must work together to ensure the laws are enforced to protect tenants from these abuses.”