Lofty victory: Court win for Gowanus artists a gamechanger for industrial dwellers

Charter territory: Artists evicted from Gowanus for school
Photo by Tom Callan

Brooklynites living in lofts have a better shot at fighting landlords who want to boot them from buildings, thanks to a ground-breaking court decision over a displaced group of Gowanus artists.

A city panel specializing in tenants rights is better suited than the court system to rule on whether a group of photographers and painters can keep living in a building zoned for manufacturing at Douglass Street and Third Avenue, a judge ruled in a precedent-setting decision late last month.

Kings County Civil Court Judge Katherine Levine’s ruling empowers longtime inhabitants of industrial buildings — and comes after a landlord last summer tried to evict roughly 100 residents and small business owners in order to convert 269 Douglass St. into a school.

“It’s the first decision of its kind — anywhere,” said George Locker, a lawyer representing the artists.

The decision will allow John Romano — a photographer who has lived in the building for more than 15 years and is its last remaining resident — to stay, at least for now.

“It’s exciting,” Romano said. “This is our home and our rights are being acknowledged.”

Now, the case will go before a city panel that rules on the so-called “Loft Law,” which grants some rights to longtime residents of buildings zoned for manufacturing.

The board is better educated on the particulars of the law than most judges, giving guys like Romano a leg up, tenant rights activists say.

“It’s an important ruling — if you need it,” Locker said.

Reach reporter Natalie O'Neill at [email protected] or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.