Rats, bed bugs, silverfish, collapsed ceilings and shared bathrooms flooded with smelly water: That's what nearly three dozen tenants are living with in their building in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Most of us wouldn't take more than a second to walk away, but these tenants aren't going anywhere -- because of the incredibly low rent. Some are paying less than $300 a month to rent in the Greenpoint Hotel (a mind-boggling amount for New York City, the most expensive city in the U.S.), and they say they simply can't afford to live anywhere else. So they're forced to live in squalor.
Now the tenants are suing their landlord, Jay Deutchman, DNAinfo.com and other news outlets reported. "It's the only thing I got," tenant Anthony Mirabal told New York's Daily News. Like other tenants of the Greenpoint Hotel, Mirabal lives in a single room with a communal bathroom, an arrangement widely known as single-room occupancy, or SRO. "The conditions are so bad. I am surprised that the health department hasn't shut this place down."
Mirabal and his fellow tenants say they're taking Deutchman to court because the building has become completely uninhabitable. Jeffrey Earnest (pictured at left), who lives across the hall from a defective radiator in the Greenpoint Hotel, says the place lacks "basic sanitation" and that tenants were becoming seriously ill. Their complaints were supported by documents from NYC's Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which revealed 514 violations connected to the Greenpoint Hotel. Conditions in the building were so bad, according to the HPD, that they, too, were forced to start litigation against Deutchman.
But according to Deutchman, he's done everything in his power to keep the building in order and has addressed each violation that he has been slapped with. In fact, Deutchman says, he's fulfilled all his duties as a landlord, and it's the tenants who are largely to blame for the building's squalor. "When I bought this place in 2009, there were 300 violations, and over the years I brought that down to 13. But I keep needing to address violations as they come, and many are out of my control," Deutchman told AOL Real Estate. "One tenant set another tenant's room on fire. So I had that handled, and the perpetrator [was] reported and arrested. I got the fire systems up to date. There were rodents, so I got an exterminator in and had that handled."
Deutchman added that he has also hired a plumber to come in and unclog the toilets "on a daily basis." But the bathroom flooding never gets remedied because the tenants continue to flush litter and other garbage down the toilet, he said. "I keep knocking violations off and keep handling these matters -- but they keep coming, because the tenants have absolutely no respect for the property," Deutchman added. "It's a battle that's difficult to win."
The New York Times reported in 2006 that the Greenpoint Hotel was one of the most dangerous single-room-occupancy hotels in NYC. It was a known residence for drug addicts, as well as the old and sick, and violence often erupted there, the newspaper said. At the time, federal prosecutors were trying to have the hotel foreclosed on and taken over by the government. Local blogs also have written about the hotel's notorious reputation.
Greenpoint Hotel Tenants 'One of Many'
According to Greg Hanlon, a spokesperson for St. Nick's Alliance, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit that focuses on neighborhood sustainability and tenants' rights, Deutchman's accusations that the tenants are at fault for the building's conditions ring hollow. "Did the tenants go out of their way to rip off the floorboards? Did the tenants deliberately turn off the heat and hot water for months on end during the winter?" Hanlon told AOL Real Estate. "No and no. These types of comments are an attempt to stigmatize these tenants to shift the focus from Deutchman's inhumane treatment of them."
While Deutchman has made repairs to the building, Hanlon added, the repairs are not thorough and the problems return almost immediately. Hanlon says that Deutchman's treatment of his tenants is but one particularly egregious instance of what has become a disturbing "epidemic" in North Brooklyn. Deutchman's actions, Hanlon says, are part of a growing pattern that's seen landlords in the area trying to displace longtime, rent-stabilized tenants by any means possible -- in order to make way for larger luxury establishments or even regular, non-SRO apartments.
"This building is a stone's throw away from [a proposed] luxury mega-development, and could bring him a lot more money than it does now with SRO tenants paying $250 a month," said Hanlon. "When there's gentrification, there's displacement. The tenants of 1109 Manhattan Avenue are just one of many."
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