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Tenant groups brand local landlord one of city’s worst - Dean St. building owner refutes harassment allegations

A landlord on the Park Slope/Carroll Gardens border had the dubious distinction of recently being named one of the 12 “Most Abusive Landlords.” Julia and Carlos Guzman, who own the building at 268 Dean Street between 3rd Avenue and Nevins Street, were nominated by the non-profit tenant advocacy organization Fifth Avenue Committee (FAC) at a convention on the issue of unscrupulous landlords. The Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD), a membership organization consisting of 90 neighborhood-based affordable housing groups, sponsored the Manhattan event naming the landlords. The Guzmans were one of the three borough landlords of the 12 citywide who were named “Most Abusive Landlords.” The other Brooklyn landlords called to the mat included David Melendez who owns property in Bushwick and Adam Mermelstein who owns property in Williamsburg. According to FAC Executive Director Michelle de la Uz, the Guzmans have been harassing tenants since they bought the rent stabilized SRO (Single Room Occupancy) in 2003. Originally, the building had 10 units and now it has eight, she said. de la Uz said since buying the property, the Guzmans have constantly told the tenants they must leave, despite their rent stabilized status. Despite this harassment, the landlords received a “Certificate of No Harassment” from the city’s department of Housing and Preservation Development (HPD) in 2004, commented de la Uz. She added, the Guzmans then applied for and received permits from the Department of Buildings (DOB) to convert the SRO building to a 4-family house. de la Uz said the landlord did not make any plans for the tenants in notifying them they were being kicked, and in 2006 they began extensive renovations in the building. Still tenants refused construction workers access to their apartments, whereupon the Guzmans used the police to force tenants to grant access to work crews that were coming in to tear walls down, she said. de la Uz said later in 2006, with the help of the FAC and South Brooklyn Legal Services the tenants were able to stop the landlords in theirs tracks with court actions charging harassment. In December of 2006, the landlords served “Termination of Tenancy” Notices on the tenants, announcing they would seek the building for “personal use,” de la Uz stated. “The fight continues in 2007 as these tenants plan to defend their homes in court, if and when the landlords make good on their threat to bring an owner use case,” she concluded. Carlos Guzman responded that this is the only property he owns and he wants to renovate the building so he and his family can move into the house. “I will take all these people to court. They won’t even call me up. I’m just a guy with one house and want it for my family. I’m not kicking anybody out. I want to live there,” Guzman said. In the meantime, the ANHD is lobbying the City Council to pass legislation creating a private “cause of action” that tenants can use to seek protection from the court against harassment. According to an ANHD handout on the issue, landlord harassment is a major contributing factor to the rapid loss of the city’s affordable housing stock, with about 10,000 rent-stabilized or rent-controlled apartments removed annually. The listed kinds of harassment include “frivolous” legal actions against tenants, fraudulent legal notices, threats based on the tenant’s immigration status, denial of essential services, verbal and physical threats and repeated pressure to accept a buy-out. According to the printout, tenants currently have little legal protection against these forms of harassment. The ANHD wants the city council to pass legislation that would allow tenants to utilize “cause of action” and raise harassment as a defense in eviction cases and pro-actively sue their landlords for harassment. But the Rent Stabilization Association (RSA), which represents about 25,000 landlords who control about 1 million housing units citywide, maintains that no additional legislation is needed. There’s already at least four different statutes that tenants can avail themselves of to take an owner to court for harassment,” said Frank Ricci, the RSA director of government affairs. Ricci said the first is the Unlawful Eviction Law in which the city acts as a lawyer for tenants. The second is the right of any citizen to file harassment charges with police, and the third is the Rent Regulations Reform Act of 1997, in which the state puts in heavy penalties for harassment. The last remedy tenants can take against landlord harassment is the Rent Stabilization Code Administrative Procedure, in which the state hears arguments concerning harassment, concluded Ricci.

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