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Hillcrest apartment complex tenants angered

Trouble is brewing in a Hillcrest apartment complex.

Several tenants in the complex once known as Parsons Gardens say that some of their landlords want them out of rent-stabilized apartments so they can jack up prices for unsuspecting new tenants.

Others say some landlords and owners have neglected to keep up the property. These landlords and owners could not be reached for comment,

"We're being educated on so many violations going on," said Derek Walker, a tenant who says his landlord tried to raise the price on his mother-in-law's rent-stabilized apartment by $100. "It's going to take all the help we can get."

On Monday night, Councilman Jim Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) showed up at a tenants' meeting for the complex, which lies on 75th Road and 76th Avenue between 160th Street and 162nd Street, to listen to their gripes. He promised to help.

Many of the buildings have been sold in the last few years and some of the new owners, tenants say, have offered them about $5,000 each to get out or face paying higher rents. Almost all of the problems, including maintenance issues, come from the east side of the complex.

One 84-year-old tenant who wished to remain anonymous said her landlord offered her $10,000 to leave. Facing harassment, she was confused about what to do. She finally went to a human rights agency for help and after refusing to leave her rent-stabilized apartment she eventually was left alone.

"It's a shame. People work hard and they're living here 30 or 40 years and then they ask them to leave," Walker said. "Where are we going to go? They don't care."

The apartment complex was built shortly after World War II mainly for African-Americans, and it probably was rent controlled, Roberto Marrer, a tenant lawyer speculated. When rent controls on buildings were abolished, the apartments became rent stabilized, meaning small rate hikes each year were legalized.

The residents now are trying to research the status of their apartments and their legal rights to avoid rent hikes and evictions. There are some technicalities that can nullify the rent-stabilized status of apartments, such as the number of boilers and water mains going into each building. If technicalities exist, only long-time residents that occupied an apartment when it was rent stabilized still have that classification. Newcomers do not.

Gennaro, Flushing Suburban Civic Association President Ken Cohen, Queens Community Civic Corporation member Florence Fisher and attorney Victoria Brown who lives in the complex, are looking into the problems.

"We need to keep coming out in numbers" and continue to investigate and organize, Brown said.

Building maintenance is the other major issue. The lawns are either overgrown or lacking any grass. Garbage often is piled up from construction that is performed in the evening or late at night, tenants allege. They say the building owners have failed also to fix leaky faucets, chipped paint and broken gutters, among other problems.

In one building on 76th Avenue the residents believe there is some sort of paint or construction business being run in the basement, which is emitting strong odors.

Some tenants even allege that some landlords or owners may be Israeli immigrants trying to rent apartments at high costs to other people from their country who are fleeing the tension in the Middle East. They say smaller apartments are being divided to fit two or three immigrant families that are desperate to find housing.

One tenant, Jeff Newstat, alleges that his Israeli landlord "is trying to throw those people out because they pay $600 and bring in Israelis who pay $1,000 or $1,200."

Brown and Marrer think they may be able to fight the poor maintenance problems because the Parsons Gardens complex may have some historical value to the city and country. Both jazz greats Dizzie Gillepsie and Billy Holiday lived in the apartments and there are plaques to commemorate their lives on the grounds, Brown said.

The city or federal government may have maintenance standards for buildings with such history, they said. Still, as with the rent-stabilization issue, the tenants are not sure about the historical value of the buildings and must investigate the issue.

The tenants also have requested the help of State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, and Gennaro thinks he may be able to put pressure on some of the city's agencies.

"Let's see if we can move this forward," Gennaro said. "This is atrocious."

You can reach reporter Brendan Browne by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 155.

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