Tenants are back in evacuated N. Eighth St building

Tenants who were locked out of their Williamsburg apartment building for nearly a year are finally back in on N. Eighth Street thanks to tenant advocates and the Buildings Department.

Tenants of the four-story building cut off the landlord’s padlock on the front door and returned to their apartments on Sunday, after the city lifted its vacate order.

The city ordered the building vacated after its landlord had done some shoddy construction work that undermined the foundation. When the city finally reversed its decision and allowed residents to live in the building, the tenants took matters into their own hands and cut off the lock.

Peter Pawlak, a resident of the building for nearly 13 years, spent his first night in his formerly vacant apartment on Sunday night. He described the experience as “hot” and said he felt like a “squatter” in his own home.

“We were in an empty building and there was no air conditioner,” said Pawlak. “Soon it will feel more and more like home.”

The rent-stabilized building, which is at Bedford Avenue, has been empty since last July, when its landlord, Jamal Alokasheh, excavated the building’s foundation without a permits. Sources said that Alokasheh was doing construction work with plans to refurbish the building and sell the units to wealthier tenants. He owns four buildings on the block, including Pops, a burger restaurant on N. Eighth Street, and wanted to add a commercial space to the building’s first floor to bring in more revenue.

The excavation undermined the building’s stability, so the city halted all work on the site, forcing the evacuation for safety reasons. For several months, tenants have been fighting with Alokasheh in housing court to return to the building.

On Monday, city inspectors found damage in the basement, where the northwest corner of the cellar collapsed. A neighbor made a 311 complaint that construction workers were working in the bottom floors of the building late at night.

Pawlak thinks that Alokasheh and his workers undermined the basement again.

“The entire floor was sprayed with water so that you don’t see any footprints,” said Pawlak. “This is not accidental.”

Calls to Alokasheh were not returned.

Tenant organizer Filip Stabrowski of the North Brooklyn Development Corporation characterized the situation as an “illegal lockout” caused by the landlord. He is pushing the court to strip the landlord of administrative status and confer management of the building to a nonprofit agency, which would restore the building’s essential services such as water, electricity, gas, and sewage. In the meantime, the city removed its vacate order allowing the tenants to make their move.

“The landlord has not recognized his tenants and we decided we would enter the building on our own [with the city’s permission],” said Stabrowski.

As Pawlak and other tenants return to their homes, the future of the building remains unclear. Alokasheh met with several tenants on Monday night to discuss the restoration of services. The two sides were set to return to court on Thursday to discuss the tenants’ request to appoint an administrator.

“By this point, what he’s been doing is so egregious, he’s just not fit to be a landlord,” said Brooklyn Legal Services’ Shekar Krishnan, who is advising the tenants. “He illegally forced out the tenants of this building and he has refused to comply with the court’s orders to restore services.”

Pawlak is cautiously optimistic that the situation will finally be resolved with few setbacks and he will be able to live in Williamsburg in peace.

“We hope he does the right thing, restore services, clean the building and make it habitable,” said Pawlak. “He goes out of his way to keep everybody out.”