Greenpointers on the street after they say landlord killed the heat

Greenpointers on the street after they say landlord killed the heat
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

They can’t stand it. They know he planned it. They’re telling us all it’s a sabotage.

Tenants of a rent-stabilized building in Greenpoint say their landlord sabotaged their heat and electricity to put them out on the street — and now they’re trying to set it straight, this Watergate. In court.

The renters of 300 Nassau Ave. were forced to move out of their apartments in mid-December after someone smashed the building’s thermostat, electrical system, and boilers with an ax, prompting the city to padlock the building. The now-homeless former occupants say the building’s owner Aaron Israel masterminded the destruction to make way for new, higher-paying renters.

“He is harassing all of the tenants so that they move out,” tenant Catalina Hidalgo said of Israel, who owns the building along with his brother Joel. “They want all the rent-stabilized tenants out of here so they can raise the rent.”

Hidalgo is a lifelong Greenpoint resident and has lived in the building since 2004, she said. In early 2013, the Israels offered her $50,000 to give up her two-bedroom apartment, for which she says she pays $754, she said.

Fifty grand might sound like a lot, but consider that the average two-bedroom in Greenpoint rents for $2,676, according to MNS Real Estate. At that rate, the landlords could make their money back in just more than one year-and-a-half if they claimed to renovate the apartment enough to break through the rent stabilization ceiling. Or, if they managed to remove everybody, the Israels could raze the three-story row house and build an up-to-five story building in its place

The problems started last spring when her downstairs neighbors moved out and the Israels began renovating their unit, according to Hidalgo. Workers knocked out a supporting beam in the building, which caused Hidalgo’s bathroom to sag dangerously, she said. Hidalgo, who works in construction, also suspected that the renovation work was spewing asbestos into the air and filed a complaint with the city, which found evidence of the toxic particles and ordered the Israels to stop work. The landlords later violated that order and the city cited them again.

The city also half-kicked Hidalgo out in November, telling her that she and her twin toddlers could continue to live in the apartment, but they could not use the bathroom. She and her children resorted to peeing and pooping in buckets, she said.

“It was horrible,” she said.

Then, on Dec. 15, someone broke into the building under cover of night and disabled the heat and electricity, the tenants said.

The angry renters, with the help of the activist group Saint Nick’s Alliance, are suing the Israels to get the utilities fixed, claiming that the brothers are intentionally monkey-wrenching their own property. It is a common tactic, according to the organization.

“Landlords in these cases have let the building completely fall apart or have taken to damaging it themselves,” said tenant attorney Adam Meyers. “By the time they get the repairs done, the tenants have moved on. We don’t want that to happen in this case.”

The booted boarders are currently living either with friends or in homeless shelters, they said.

Housing Court Judge Marina Cora Mundy denied the tenants’ request to immediately appoint an administrator to repair the building, and instead ordered the landlords to allow the city in to inspect the building on Jan. 15.

The Israels are accused of taking similar measures at their other Brooklyn real estate, including at three buildings in Bushwick, said Meyers.

Aaron and Joel Israel did not return calls for comment.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.
End the lockout: A group of tenants displaced from 300 Nassau Ave. stand in front of the padlocked building with activists from Saint Nick’s Alliance.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini