A crucial step toward returning tenants into their former building at 202 Franklin Street in Greenpoint was taken in Housing Court in downtown Brooklyn last Friday, as a judge issued a bond order for the landlord to follow to make necessary repairs to the building.
The bond order, at $275,000, followed a prior consent agreement made between the tenants and the landlord, Toolcham Singh, this past July. Both parties must agree to the consent order, which states that the landlord must post the bond if he defaults on payments during the period that he is making the repairs. If he does default, the court will issue an order for St. Nicholas NPC, a community-based housing organization in East Williamsburg, to finish the repairs.
“We were looking for an amount about double that, but the judge’s thinking is that, if the landlord defaults, he will have completed some of the work. St. Nick’s would not be starting from scratch,” said Joann Koslofsky, lead counsel on the case with Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A.
The building has been in disrepair for four years, after a fire badly damaged the three-story rent-stabilized building in 2004. Tenants were vacated from the building and have spread out across Brooklyn, though many hope that they will be able to return in February 20, 2009, which is when the landlord must complete all repairs to the building.
Of the two orders, the consent order is the most significant because it explains the requirements and benchmarks for making repairs to the building. The landlord is not allowed to reconfigure any of the apartments during the reconstruction or make individual improvements to an apartment above one-fortieth of the cost of rent without consent of the tenant.
“This situation doesn’t happen,” Koslofsky said. “I’ve never been in a situation where the judge ordered a bond to be posted. It’s been unusual in every respect. Usually with an order to correct, if the landlord doesn’t make the correction, the tenants can move and the city takes over responsibility.”
According to Koslofsky, the deal has additional safeguards included, which have brought in another agency in case the landlord fails to make the necessary repairs in the time the court allotted him. Department of Housing and Preservation Development (HPD) inspectors will be making inspections for each benchmark to make sure the renovations are completed at each stage. For the first benchmark, which concerns the structural repair work to the house, the tenants’ pro bono architect will be conducting inspections in the coming weeks.
“It’s very unusual to have the landlord agree to it but also to have the court order that. I think it has everything to do with the fact that there’s litigation for four years that has been unsuccessful,” Koslofsky said. “It’s been a long time coming. Because of all of the pressure that’s been brought to bear, it made the court and the landlord more amenable to litigation.”
Attorneys for the landlord, the tenants, and HPD were also in court this past week regarding a contempt motion filed by HPD against the landlord on a previous matter. A decision on that motion was made, but was not revealed by the time this article went to print.
Martha Vargas, a tenant counselor with St. Nicholas, was pleased with the rulings and hoped her tenants would return to their home without further delay.
“So far we have been crossing our fingers,” Vargas said. “Everything has been going well. The tenants are happy with the progress and we think it will be done. Hopefully in four months it will be completed.”
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