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City waffling on mansion fixes: Tenants

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A dozen residents forced from their College Point home six months ago accused the city of playing ping−pong with their lives Monday as they seek to have emergency repairs made to their historic house in time for the holidays.

City Councilman Tony Avella (D−Bayside) held a news conference with several tenants of Schleicher’s Court Monday at Queens Borough Hall to denounce the inaction by the city Departments of Buildings and Housing, which they said has been neglecting the building and its allegedly negligent owner.

“We pay your salary. Do the right thing and take care of us,” said Schleicher’s Court tenant Edna Rodriguez, referring to the city agencies. “All we want is to go home. We’ve been separated from our kids at times. Parents shouldn’t have to go through that.”

In July, an antiquated and dangerous electrical wiring system prompted the city to issue a full−vacate order for the 19th−century mansion, at 11−41 123rd St., leaving the seven families who called the historic structure home scattered across the city at shelters and relatives’ homes.

Over the course of the last few months, the tenants said they have been bounced back and forth between the DOB and the Housing Department as they try to have the vacate order lifted.

“We have a classic example of — I don’t even know what you’d call it at this point — malfeasance on the part of the city,” Avella said. “All the city has to do is issue a contract and they can get these people back into their apartments. It’s absurd.”

The Housing Department has a program that allows the agency to make emergency repairs to homes and subsequently bill the property owner if they deem it necessary. The DOB said it cannot lift the vacate order until it is notified that a contract has been signed to do the repairs.

Schleicher’s Court tenants Kalvis Macs and Rita Douglas said they were told on Nov. 27 by the Housing Department that a contract had been awarded to make repairs on their building, but four days later were informed that the process had been stopped when it got to the department’s Manhattan offices for authorization.

“They lied to us,” Macs said. “Why get our hopes up over Thanksgiving? Now it’s December and you’re going to tell us that they stopped the contract. It’s an outrage.”

Calls made to the Housing Department for comment were not returned.

The tenants have also sought out the services of the Legal Aid Fund, who hope to enforce a court order issued in July that demanded the property owner, Eva Rohan, to make repairs to the building by the end of October.

“The work has to be done one way or another and a judge can order contempt for those responsible,” said Legal Aid Fund attorney April Newbauer.

Rohan could not be reached for comment. Voicemails left for Macs by a woman who identified herself as Rohan, however, accused the tenants of not paying their electric bills.

“You son of a gun, what do you think you’re doing?” the woman said. “Nobody gets electricity until everyone there pays their bill.”

She adds, “You’re stupid. And don’t worry, I will sue you.”

The tenants flatly deny the bills have not been paid. A turn−off of service noticed delivered to the address, dated Oct. 2, said Rohan owed $5,413.27 in outstanding electric bills at 11−41 123rd St.

Avella, who said he reviewed the tenants’ Con Edison bills, added that regardless of what is owed to the utility, it should have nothing to do with Rohan’s obligation to make the repairs. A Con Edison spokesperson said while they do not comment on customer bills, it would have no bearing on a city−issued vacate order.

“She’s been getting away with a lot,” Avella said. “She should be put in jail.”

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e−mail at sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 6:38 pm, October 10, 2011
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