Crown Heights tenants accuse prominent landlords of harassment, illegal eviction attempts

dean street
Tenants of 1214 Dean St., and landlord Gennaro Brooks-Church.
Photo by Ben Verde

Tenants living in a house owned by a prominent Brooklyn family say their landlords harassed them and attempted to illegally evict them from their Crown Heights townhouse. 

Four tenants say the landlords — Loretta Gendville, owner of Area Yoga and Planted Cafe, and her husband, Gennaro Brooks-Church — have attempted to evict them from the Dean Street house without any paperwork from housing court, and have tried to forcibly move into the house while their tenants are still living there. 

“Gennaro walked into my room while I was asleep and started demanding rent and asked for my other roommates — that’s not okay, I don’t have to say that,” said Manar Balh, a tenant since August 2019. “They’re very hostile, very rude, very condescending — they make us feel like we’re the crazy ones for being hurt.”

The tenants said the landlords originally agreed to stop charging rent in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic after many of the residents lost work. 

However, Scout Gottlieb, a tenant since April, said that the landlords later demanded back rent, telling tenants they would be selling the building and that they needed to move out. 

Earlier this week, the remaining four tenants — who do not have a lease and have been paying rent month-to-month — said they reached an agreement with the landlords that they would have one month to vacate the building unbothered. Days later, the landlords walked into the dwelling unannounced with their entire family, two maintenance men and a dog in tow, the tenants said. One tenant was recovering from brain surgery at the time of the barge in, the residents said. 

Gottlieb alleges that Gendville swung open the door to her bedroom while she was getting changed and placed her hands on her when she tried to shut the door.

“I was startled and ran to go close [the door] and what she did was essentially grab my wrist to prevent me from closing the door,” Gottlieb said. “I was terrified.” 

Gottleib also claimed that Gendville brought a crowd of people into the hallway outside her bedroom whom she had to push past to get away from her landlord.

“I was essentially pushing past all these people afraid for my life because I honestly did not know if they were physically capable of hurting me,” she said. “I sprinted up the stairs and started screaming, ‘Help! Help!’” 

New York State law mandates landlords give 24-hour notice before entering a tenant’s dwelling for any reason. It also states that landlords must prove in court that tenants without a written lease owe rent before eviction proceedings can begin.

Out of the seven tenants who once lived in the building, only four are remaining — and those four are making arrangements to leave as soon as they can, the tenants said, as Brooks-Church has now moved into one of the house’s empty bedrooms and is making the remaining tenants feel unsafe. 

On Tuesday, several dozen locals gathered outside the Dean Street building to rally alongside the tenants.

Protesters chanted “Hey hey! Ho ho! Gennaro Brooks has got to go!” while Brooks-Church sat on the stoop of the building in flip-flops and basketball shorts, alternating between recording the protesters and taking phone calls. 

Protesters eventually moved onto the stoop and into the house, where they were technically allowed in as “guests” of the tenants. 

Brooks-Church left the scene around 9:30 pm, but sent locksmiths to the building to change the locks. The locksmiths allegedly assaulted multiple protesters, before they were driven off according to Imani Henry, a local organizer with the group Equality for Flatbush. The activists were eventually able to stall the eviction for the time being.

Brooks-Church is well known in Brooklyn for being a “green” contractor and for his eco-friendly home — a Carroll Gardens brownstone he turned into a “living wall” made of plants. Gendville is the CEO of a chain of wellness-focused stores in Brooklyn, including Area Yoga, the children’s boutique store Area Kids, and Planted, a vegan cafe on Smith Street. Gendville was arrested in 2017 for shoplifting over $1,000 in merchandise from a Gowanus Whole Foods, according to DNAinfo. 

Neither landlord responded to requests for comment.