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

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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 noneill@cnglocal.com or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.

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Reader Feedback

Joey from Stuy Town says:
Does this make sense to anyone? Why does NYC have a law that not only allows, but protects tenants illegally living in commercial buildings?

Join market-rate tenants in discussing the absurdity that is the Loft Law, rent control, and rent stabilization: facebook.com/nycrenters
May 7, 2012, 3:43 pm
Giov from Bay Ridge says:
That's right. If you can't pay at least $10,000/mo for a thimble sized room you should get out of NY. Yeah!
May 7, 2012, 4:28 pm
PKJ from Bklyn says:
It is not absurdity. It provides for a stabile and diversified city. An many who are afforded the opportunity are long-term residents - who have served as the backbone of the city throughout its many economic and social changes. And, the fact that those who are not represented of this population, cry foul, because they are not recipients of the same benefits - though would not refuse if made available - is Absurd.
May 7, 2012, 5:11 pm
PkJ from Bklyn says:
Correction: Stable and diversified city
May 7, 2012, 5:22 pm
Steven from DUMBO says:
There are only 3.2 million millionaires in the USA...

NYC has a total of 8 million people... regionally, 14 million.... pretending like every apartment in NYC is going to cost $10k is a fallacy, there are literally not enough people in the country that can pay that.

All we need to do to bring prices down is BUILD, and build a lot... rent control schemes do nothing but reduce supply and drive prices up, as any Econ 101 student will tell you.

While we're at it, we should ban pied-a-terres and build more hotels...
May 7, 2012, 7 pm
Scott from Park Slope says:
Steven, as an alumnus of the Chicago School of Economics (University of Chicago), I would say you cannot reasonably apply economic theory to an economy whose very core has been designed (as we now know) to frustrate the very market forces acolytes deify. I live in Park Slope, and there has definitely been a surplus of space for years now that persists because developers are still demanding the prices they could command during the housing bubble. You see, they built, but their additional stock has not brought general prices down because they are holding their properties back at prices that the market can't and won't pay. And thanks to the write-downs and other elements in the law, they can sit and sit on those properties for a decade or more. Thus the market forces that would "correct" those developer misjudgements are short-circuited. And neighborhoods get to continue to experience shortages of affordable housing and empty buildings nobody can afford.
May 8, 2012, 9:49 am
Scott from Park Slope says:
The city has an interest in maintaining its diversity. A New York comprised entirely of accountants, lawyers, and stock brokers as the only residents who can afford to live there, would be dull indeed. A city that wants to have the artists and musicians and thespians who create a vibrant culture ought to make provision for them to exist here.

Brooklyn has developed an amazing artistic community because of available loft space. If they are priced out by greedy developers, the developer might see a quick payday but everybody else in Brooklyn loses something greater and harder to replace.
May 8, 2012, 9:55 am
Jean from NYC says:
NYC real estate is an investment market. Those who are wheeling and dealing in the market are not Americans, but also high-net worth foreigners, reits, private equity firms, etc. This is why the R.E. industry in this city appeared viable, when most other places dimmed.

Life will tell you there are no absolutes or one answers. A vehicle that controls rent and fosters affordability to those who would otherwise not be able to provide roofs over the heads of their families is not a disaster. It actually provides value to the many viable residents who contribute to our economy in taxes, workforce (gen'y service and low-wage) and our city's socialization. Morever, we did have a period, when our homeless population was horrific (80's-early 90's), and the viability of our city was daunting. NYC was in a terrible decline socially, economically and esthetically, which also contributed to our overall safety.

I question the viability of an overbuilt or over-populated city.

What we should note is the fact of how home ownership is nearly unobtainable for the layman and the various legislation and activities which has moved such to banks, high-net worth individuals, syndicates/ investors - "the minority few". Who will wield control over our being (early housing issues in this city).
May 8, 2012, 11:20 am
Jean from NYC says:
(Continued)

One good thing about the Occupy Wall Streeters is that they are taking their fight to the top wage earners (rattling their cage and garnering understanding and support). It appears they are not content with settling for the crumb drops (rent stabilized/ gov't subsidized - project housing, service level employment, working everyday with no chance of obtaining the "American Dream" - except fot a faint dream of winning the lottery). Bottom-line, trying to keep up with or take from the Joneses will only afford you with what the Joneses have or even less. Greed has always been a factor in this city's real estate market (burning bldgs/ communities down for insurance, allowing buildings to dilapidate and still collect rent and claim tax benefits, rent and housing costs that exceed income, the time of welfare hotels, 2008 real estate market collapse, etc.).

John Romano and his former neighbors undoubtedly made his current habitat a home, which contributed to the value of their building as well as the community being widely sought for development initiatives. Providing gov't/ stabilized housing programs to those not financially stable - promotes family stability and contributes to the economy and the city's viability. In addition, ensuring that the few are not the only ones to prosper makes for a society; that encourages hard work, ethics, ambition, prosperity, stability and social growth.
May 8, 2012, 11:22 am
gowanee from Gowanus says:
Artists moved into buildings that no one wanted to do anything to. The artists use their resources, work, money, vision, to do all the work fixing up the place. This endeavor should be protected. The building I live in was vacant and falling apart when we artists moved in. The current owner got it for 300,000 knowing full well we were tenants with Loft Law rights. He must have done some math and figured it was a worthy investment.
May 9, 2012, 4:05 pm
jay from pslope says:
I am always amused by landlords who argue that rent stabilization laws drive up rents for everyone else, since that IS exactly what a landlord would want to have happen so that they get a higher return on rents. NO landlord wants to see rents decline.
So, if you believe the rent stabilization means higher rent argument, do you REALLY think that landlords are a bunch of nice guys who are going to argue against their own interests and see rents decline?
Or is it more likely that said argument and the landlords are full of caca and just want rent stabilization to go away so they can raise rents across the board?
May 9, 2012, 9:39 pm

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