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Gutted: Landlord seeks to evict tenants - Renovation could leave ’em homeless

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About 20 rent-stabilized tenants in Downtown Brooklyn and Prospect Heights face eviction if their landlord succeeds in finding a loophole to get them out of their apartments. The Manhattan-based Penson Group, which owns the buildings, filed an application with the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) to do gut renovations of their properties and evict the current tenants. “We received the owner’s application to the DHCR to demolish the interior of the building,” said Barbara Callender, a rent-stabilized tenant who lives at 188 State Street, one of the buildings in question. “Within a week [in late August] after that, we received their application directly from DHCR to refuse to renew our leases and/or to proceed to evict,” she added. Other buildings involved in the action are 182 and 186 State Street, and 100 Clarke Street in Downtown Brooklyn, as well as at 217 and 219 St. Johns Place in Prospect Heights. The Penson Group did not return several calls for comment. Callender said that after receiving the notice, she began organizing with other tenants. They have retained the South Brooklyn Legal Services for legal representation. Callender also contacted the Met Council of Housing and tenant activist Bennett Baumer. “The DHCR has jurisdiction over rent-stabilized tenants and there is a provision in the housing code giving the landlord a right to demolish a building,” said Baumer. In the past, the landlord had to show financial ability to demolish and rebuild, but under the Pataki administration the DHCR has broadened this definition in favoring landlords, said Baumer. DHCR spokesperson Dan Irizarry did not return answers to questions regarding Baumer’s allegations or to the decision on the applications at press time. All the buildings in question located in Downtown Brooklyn are part of the Brooklyn Heights Historic District, meaning the façade cannot be altered. Brooklyn Heights Association President Judy Stanton said that, in the case of 100 Clarke Street, under the previous landlord the building was so badly deteriorated that tenants had to be evacuated while renovation work was being done. Stanton said the state needs to come up with some way to enable historic preservation efforts to continue that somehow is not at the expense of rent-paying tenants. “We have a landlord that wants to do the right thing in renovating the buildings and at the same time tenants need protection for their stabilized rents. It’s sort of a Catch-22. I don’t have the answer,” said Stanton. However, several elected officials, including State Senator Martin Connor and Assemblymember Joan Millman, have written letters opposing the “phony demolitions.” “This is a clear case of a ‘phony demolition application,’ in which landlords apply to DHCR to evict their rent-stabilized tenants claiming that they intend to demolish a building, when in reality, the owners plan only to renovate the buildings and use the premises for market-rate housing or other higher profit yielding ventures,” Millman wrote to Community Board 2 Chair Shirley McRae. Millman called the DHCR application a renovation project disguised as a demolition, allowing for the depletion of current affordable housing units in order to transform the buildings into luxury housing. Callender said that, at this point, any negotiations between tenants and the property owner will be handled “lawyer to lawyer.” “This mass eviction is so distressing because there’s no place to go in the area. Where does one find affordable housing at this time?” she asked.

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