Talk about a baby boom!
A Red Hook landlord who leased cheap apartments in a less-then perfect building is putting the lives of toddlers in danger as he jacks up rents and disregards necessary repairs, claim some long-time tenants who have procreated since moving in — and now expect a better living environment.
“People who have been living here for a long time have gone through major life changes,” said Kelsey Knight Mohr, who has resided in the former Monarch Luggage factory on Delavan Street between Dwight and Richards Streets with her fiance since 2011. “When you have to lug a stroller up four flights of stairs instead of just your own drunk ass, your priorities change.”
Residents claim many of the 98 units in the three buildings that make up the former factory lack a modern plumbing system, are not accessible to people with disabilities, and contain railings a small child could easily fall through. In 2012, owners Harbor Tech L.L.C. began spiking rents on renewed leases — sometimes as much as 35 percent — with no corresponding increase in living conditions, the group said.
Now, residents from 30 units in the former Monarch Luggage factory — who sued the landlord when rents started rising — are pressing the Department of Buildings to conduct a new inspection of the property in a bid to retroactively designate the building as rent-stabilized.
The former factory was built in 1920 and remained commercial until 2005, when the Department of Buildings approved it for residences, three years after a 2002 inspection. Building plans submitted in that application show a working elevator, accessibility ramps, and other features that residents say never existed. But the building passed inspection, and in 2014 a judge ruled against the tenants’ bid for rent stabilization, arguing that the city’s certificate of occupancy meant the building had been sufficiently modernized.
The tenants say that the buildings should never have been issued a certificate of occupancy in the first place. And what was a-okay when residents just wanted a place off the beaten path where they could live on the cheap and throw parties is no longer acceptable as they’ve grown up.
“When you have a kid you suddenly start paying attention to that unsafe railing,” Mohr said.
Still, Mohr insisted if the buildings were made more livable, the residents wouldn’t mind a increase in rent.
“Everybody is willing to pay predictable reasonable rent increases for a place that is maintained in a safe way,” Mohr said. “We’re not just looking for a sweet deal anymore.”
New York’s rent stabilization law mandates that landlords can only charge market rent on a building constructed before 1974 if it has undergone a complete infrastructure overhaul. The tenants hired their own architect to inspect the building, who reported that 14 out of 17 of the buildings systems — including plumbing, bathrooms, and roofs — have not been “substantially rehabilitated.” A lawyer for the group said the discrepancy casts doubt on the legitimacy of the 2002 inspection.
“The owner submitted drawings that show the building qualified, but the drawings don’t reflect what is at the premises,” said attorney Jack Lester. “Either they didn’t look at all or they were paid not to look.”
The inspector who examined the building no longer works at the Department of Buildings, a spokesman said.
In December, after almost two years of litigation — and shortly after the ruling in favor of the landlord — tenants involved in the lawsuit began receiving eviction notices. Since then the notices have come in waves, Mohr said, and now Harbor Tech has begun proceedings against all but three units involved in the suit.
Mohr and her fiance, who do not have children, received a termination notice in February, and in March, she said, her rent check was returned un-cashed.
“It feels like they’re trying to pick us off one by one,” she said.
Following repeated inquiries by The Brooklyn Paper, a Department of Buildings spokesman said the agency is preparing to conduct a new inspection and to audit the certificate of occupancy issued in 2005.
Management at Harbor Tech did not respond to requests for comment.