Park Slopers to Albany: Don’t let Prospect Park Residence fiasco happen again!

Attorney general: Undercover geezer behind Slope senior sting
Photo by Jason Speakman

State lawmakers must pass a bill that would stop the owners of old-folks homes evicting their elderly tenants on short notice, say Park Slopers whose loved ones were given just three months to scram from a notorious Grand Army Plaza nursing home.

Friends and family members of beleaguered Prospect Park Residence tenants will trek to Albany next month to share the harrowing ordeal they and their frail kin have been through since the landlord abruptly attempted to boot them out in 2014 so he could sell the facility for $76 million, and demand pols ratify the languishing legislation so it cannot happen again.

“It would not only allow elders to be able to plan with more options, but it would warn so-called ‘operators’ — who are usually property developers — that they cannot churn their buildings with impunity at the expense of the vulnerable,” said Sandy Reiburn, the daughter of a former tenant, who will meet with assistant speaker Felix Ortiz (D–Sunset Park) to discuss the bill on March 1.

The bill would place an immediate moratorium on any nursing homes closing for around two years while state officials launch a study into the stress that short-notice shutters place on oldsters. The results would ideally pave the way for a permanent law mandating owners give at least one year’s notice for any subsequent evictions, according to Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon (D–Park Slope), who re-introduced the measure last year after inheriting it from her predecessor.

Currently, retirement-home owners only have to give their residents 30 days’ notice to vamoose. Prospect Park Residence actually gave its wizened occupants 90 days’ notice to clear out, but even that was a huge burden for the oldsters — many of whom were more than 100 years old and dealing with chronic illnesses — said the daughter of one resident.

“It was absolute panic,” said Joyce Singer, whose mother Alice suffers from dementia. “I was afraid moving her would either kill her or affect her mental status.”

In the end, Alice Singer and a handful of other residents refused to leave, and are still living in the building while they fight the owner and state health department over the legality of the hasty closure — a battle that took on a life of its own after the holdouts claimed landlord Haysha Deitsch subsequently tried to harass them out by raising fees, feeding them moldy food, and turning off the air-conditioning.

But many of the 120-odd old timers who moved out when they were told to also suffered, according to a series of e-mails from family members to department officials — shared with this paper on the condition of anonymity — detailing the pain of watching their loved ones fall into depression and illness following the sudden upheaval.

“I am convinced that this decline was brought on by the shock of the forced move,” wrote the child of a former resident, claiming their mother began suffering memory failure and panic attacks after leaving.

The bill is currently crawling its way through the Assembly. The aging committee approved it in April last year, but the committee that handles finances still needs to check it out — a process the six advocates hope their face-to-face meeting will speed along.

Reiburn said she would rather see legislation that mandates the one-year minimum right off the bat — and will bring that up with lawmakers during the visit — but Simon said that would have to be an entirely different bill, and one she doesn’t think would gain much traction without the study to support it.

“The whole idea for the temporary study would be to investigate these issues,” she said.

Reach reporter Allegra Hobbs at ahobbs@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8312.