By LOUIS FLORES and SUSAN LIPPMAN
Approximately 20 New York City housing activists and tenants from a rental apartment building demonstrated over the course of two hours Saturday night against a landlord, citing unacceptable living conditions.
The apartment building, located at 60 Turner Place in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn that is sometimes referred to as Ditmas Park, is supervised by a superintendent named Herchin Ablai. Tenants have accused Mr. Ablai of engaging in a pattern of harassment that includes the use of name-calling, the use of a body camera to conduct video surveillance of tenants, and, at least on one occasion, allegedly spitting in the face of a tenant.
The allegations of tenant harassment and misconduct committed by Mr. Ablai have been documented in a report published by Gothamist and in a news segment broadcast by WCBS Channel 2 News. To the consternation of tenants, Mr. Ablai continues to be employed by the building's management company, ADI Management.
Efforts to reach a representative of ADI Management were unsuccessful.
(ADI Management is the management company of the apartment building inhabited by the publisher of Progress Queens.)
During the protest, a reporter rang the superintendent's bell four times, but there was no answer.
Tenants said that they also had other reasons to complain.
A long-term tenant of 60 Turner Place, Reina Seedarnee, said she had been experiencing problems with the living conditions of her apartment after Hurricane Sandy. Leaks around one of her windows caused the wall to become saturated with rain water. Attempts to have the management company remove the mold and make repairs were unsuccessful. Ultimately, Ms. Seedarnee purchased a mildew-treating paint to apply on her wall. When a window latch facing the fire escape no longer worked, the management company inserted a screw into the window frame as a make-shift lock. However, Ms. Seedarnee said that in the event she would need to use the fire escape, she would need to find a screw driver to pull out the screw. When a water faucet stopped working properly, Ms. Seedarnee was told by the management company that, "You people keep breaking things," and the management company would not make the repair.
Normal wear and tear can be expected in rental apartments, particularly for long-term tenants, housing activists said. An officer of ADI Management, Herbert Donner, once complained in a letter to the editor published by The New York Times, that New York City building officials should assess violations on tenants instead of on landlords. Mr. Donner is the former business partner of the now late Leonard Spodek, known as "Dracula Landlord" for his notorious record of building violations.
Ms. Seedarnee said she has held meetings in her apartment for other tenants in the building. She said that she had noticed a similar pattern of complaints amongst other tenants. Tenants began sharing stories about how single women and elderly tenants complained about harassment, Ms. Seedarnee said.
At one point, Ms. Seedarnee said that her rent checks were not being cashed by the landlord. Eventually, Ms. Seedarnee was sued by the landlord for nonpayment of rent, a tactic used by some landlords to blemish the records of otherwise good tenants.
Ms. Seedarnee said that when she called Mr. Donner to speak to him about the nonpayment lawsuit, she said he screamed at her. She said she was not afraid.
"I have no problems going to Court," Ms. Seedarnee told a reporter, adding that she knew that she did nothing wrong.
Ms. Seedarnee said that she also heard from another tenant that the management company had told other tenants in her building that she had been sued for nonpayment of rent, even though she had mailed her payments, but the payments were refused by the management company.
Before the peaceful protest could begin outside 60 Turner Place, two police officers were already present and stationed near the front door to the building. The two police officers remained stationed beside the apartment building's entrance throughout the demonstration. When one police officer was asked by a reporter if the landlord had requested police presence for the tenant demonstration, the police officer would not identify how the request for police presence was originated.
During the demonstration, individuals looking for street parking stopped their vehicles in front of 60 Turner Place. Since there was a prohibition against parking, the police officers walked up to the motorists, to instruct them to move their vehicles due to the parking restriction.
Imani Henry, an activist with the group, Brooklyn Anti-gentrification Network, seized on the prompt police response to parking violators as indication of how police give preferential treatment to landlords. He also said he saw parallels between how both police officers and property owners and their employees are not held accountable for their misconduct.
"Police can move parking violators," Mr. Henry said, adding, "But when a superintendent violently attacks tenants, there is no police response, and there are no police records. When tenants say that they've been spit in the face, nothing happens."
Mr. Henry said that how the police appeared to serve the interests of landlords was an example of how the law can be exploited by landlords against tenants. "The judicial system is set up for people in power, in positions of privilege, and for people, who own property," Mr. Henry said.
The demonstration on Saturday night was organised by Brooklyn Anti-gentification Network.
According to the observation of a reporter, most of the tenants demonstrating outside of 60 Turner Place, at times, were Black. Charles Boyd, a tenant of 40 years next month, said he was one of the first Blacks to move into the apartment building. Mr. Boyd said that Mr. Ablai, the superintendent, was not allowed to enter his apartment.
Mr. Boyd said that he would probably hear from their landlord as a result of his attending the demonstration due to the landlord's fear of drawing unwanted attention from Government authorities.
"He's afraid of scrutiny," said Mr. Boyd, referring to his landlord.
ADI Management, the management company for 60 Turner Place, has, in the past, been the subject of a Federal civil rights investigation. In 2002, ADI Management was sued by the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's eastern district for having violated the Fair Housing Act. In 2003, ADI Management entered into a Consent Decree with the Government to settle the lawsuit.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office declined a request made by Progress Queens to interview a Federal prosecutor for this report.