2017-02-22 / Front Page

Tenants Sue NYSUM For Eviction Notice

(L. to r.); Sateesh Nori, Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Practice at The Legal Aid Society’s Queens Neighborhood Office; tenant Linda Lane Smith (behind Simotas); Assembly Member Aravella Simotas; state Senator Michael Gianaris; City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer; Marie Torniali, Executive Director of the Central Astoria Local Development Coalition Photo Vinny DuPre(L. to r.); Sateesh Nori, Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Practice at The Legal Aid Society’s Queens Neighborhood Office; tenant Linda Lane Smith (behind Simotas); Assembly Member Aravella Simotas; state Senator Michael Gianaris; City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer; Marie Torniali, Executive Director of the Central Astoria Local Development Coalition Photo Vinny DuPreThe Legal Aid Society joined New York State Senator Michael Gianaris, New York State Assembly Member Aravella Simotas, New York City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, community groups, local residents and others on February 20th in announcing a lawsuit to protect low-income tenants of the New York School of Urban Ministry (NYSUM) dormitory residence from unlawful eviction.

Last November, NYSUM – a Christian nonprofit organization in Astoria – delivered eviction notices informing all 39 tenants that they had to vacate the property by December 31st, 2016. NYSUM has said that it can’t afford to maintain the dormitory and it will convert the property for a new owner – an undisclosed charitable organization.

The lawsuit will be filed by the Tenant Rights Coalition of The Legal Aid Society's Queens Neighborhood Office. In the complaint, the tenants allege that their apartments are protected by the Rent Stabilization Law. This law gives all tenants the right to renewable leases for their apartments. NYSUM is attempting to shield itself from this law as a charity, but it does not meet any of the legal requirements for an exemption.

“What we have seen with this residence is another brazen example of landlord harassment that unfortunately is not unique to this part of Queens, but is an epidemic in every borough,” said Sateesh Nori, Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Practice at The Legal Aid Society’s Queens Neighborhood Office. “The Legal Aid Society stands with our elected officials and community organizations committed to helping these tenants fight an unjust eviction and stay in their homes.”

Senator Gianaris said, "For months, I have stood by these hard-working Astoria residents and encouraged them to fight for their rights and stay in their homes. I am proud of their decision to take a stand against a non-profit that puts its self-interest ahead of those it is supposed to serve. These residents have been through enough and should not be victimized any further by an organization looking to make more money off of their misery.”

“The New York School of Urban Ministry has been talking out of both sides of its mouth. They have received the benefits of tax-exempt status – as a religious school – and are now attempting to claim that they are a charity and should be exempt from the city’s rent stabilization law which protects tenants from being thrown onto the street. When you quack like a duck, walk like a duck and look like a duck, then you’re a duck, which in this case means that NYSUM is plain and simple a landlord, actually a bad landlord trying to evade the law. I am proud to stand with my colleagues and the Legal Aid Society to make sure that we in western Queens are not taken advantage of by people abusing the law,” said Assembly Member Aravella Simotas.

“Not only is it incredibly cruel and heartless for NYSUM to evict these tenants, many of whom have resided here for years, it is, quite possibly, illegal,” said City Council Majority Leader Van Bramer. “As a charitable organization, one would hope that NYSUM would have a modicum of basic human compassion for these low-income residents. It’s clear that this is not the case. That’s why I stand by The Legal Aid Society as they file this lawsuit on behalf of the tenants, and my constituents.”

“The New York School of Urban Ministry’s attempt to evict residents from their homes and leave them out in the cold is not just unlawful, but downright shameless,” said Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens, the Bronx). “Their unscrupulous tactics are exactly the type of behavior we ought to be protecting our communities against and I’m proud to join the collective effort of our local elected officials and The Legal Aid Society to ensure we’re able to do right by these New Yorkers and keep them in their homes,” said Congress Member Joe Crowley.

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