Assemblyman Vito Lopez is staking considerable political capital and effort into saving the homes of tenants in an illegally converted loft — despite receiving round-the-clock treatment for a recurrence of cancer.
Lopez hosted a meeting in Williamsburg last month that brought Department of Buildings officials and the NYPD face-to-face with tenants that the agencies vacated after the group applied for rental protections under state law.
The extension of the Loft Law, which grants additional rights to residents of illegally converted manufacturing buildings, ranks among Lopez’s greatest legislative accomplishments.
“What Vito did behind the scenes was commendable,” said Chuck DeLaney, a member of the city’s Loft Board. “He put everything he had into this issue.”
But Lopez didn’t stop with passing the bill.
His office has continued to advocate for tenants’ rights, including the residents of a two-story former belt factory in Bushwick who are currently embroiled in an ugly landlord-tenant dispute.
On Oct. 8, the FDNY cleared tenants from their Jefferson Street building due to a complaint made by their landlord about the tenants’ “illegal occupancy,” several days after the tenants applied for Loft Law coverage.
The city allowed them back into their homes on Oct. 20. But when the tenants returned, they found that someone had broken into their units and poured cement down all the shower drains and removed the bathrooms’ fixtures.
“I’ve been taking showers in my sink,” said Ted Partin, a tenant in the building. “Fortunately the hot water came back last Friday night.”
Lopez and tenant organizers proclaimed the building a “test case” for the new Loft Law — and urged the NYPD, the city, and tenants to keep the pressure on the building’s landlord.
“If this landlord gets away with this, it will embolden other landlords,” said Lopez. “If this landlord doesn’t get away with this, maybe other landlords will think twice about [harassing] tenants.”
Tenant advocates commended Lopez for advocating for loft dwellers amid other worries.
“This is where Vito shines,” said Ryan Kuonen, an organizer with Neighbors Allied for Good Growth. “He’s been working on the loft law issue forever. He’s the only one talking about it and pushing it.”
©2010 Community News Group
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