Time to tighten rules on evictions by owners
The effort by Alistair and Catherine Economakis to evict 24 residents from 11 apartments in a six-story E. Third St. tenement building is a glaring example of the problems with the owner-occupancy provision.
The landlords claim they plan to use the entire 15-apartment building for their personal residence. Under plans filed with the city, they would gut the building to create a five-bedroom, six-bathroom home for themselves, their infant child and live-in nanny. However, the tenants, most of whom have lived there for at least 20 years and who pay from $500 to $1,000 rent, charge the owners just want to get them out, then sell the building for a massive profit.
Theres no system to track whether landlords who claim to be taking over their buildings for personal use end up living in them. And the penalties they face if caught having lied are minimal: If a landlord makes a fraudulent claim of personal use to take over an apartment, he forfeits the right to increase rents on any rent-stabilized apartments left in the building for three years.
Five of the 47 E. Third tenants have filed suit, and from the sound of it, Justice Paul Feinman, who is hearing the case in State Supreme Court, is taking a hard look at the Economakises plan. While, in the past, Feinman noted, owners of brownstones who have lived in an apartment in them have been allowed to take over the whole buildings for family use, this situation is different: The landlords, who live in Brooklyn, have never resided in the building; and it would amount to clearing the rent roll to evict the two dozen rent-regulated tenants in a real estate market increasingly unaffordable for lower- and middle-class residents.
This owner-occupancy eviction case simply sounds dubious, as do others currently in the works at 75 Jane St. and 12 E. 72nd St. Changes are needed to curb this growing problem. This kind of transparent scheme to throw longtime tenants out on the street cannot go unchecked.
West Village rezoning still doesnt make grade
Unfortunately, on Monday when the City Planning Commission certified its Far West Village rezoning plan several key modifications that the community lobbied strongly for were absent. Specifically, we refer to no downzoning on the Whitehall Mini-Storage and Superior Ink sites where large new developments are planned or on two one-story garages at Charles and Washington Sts. where another disproportionately large new project could easily be built.
Its unclear how much can be changed now following certification. Disappointingly and inexplicably, some of our local politicians were not very active before certification in lobbying to get these three problem sites downzoned. Why this was the case is a mystery.
Councilmember Christine Quinn says she has a chance to modify the plan through negotiations with the developers and in the council. We hope shes right. Until these problem areas are adequately addressed, the rezoning plan remains inadequate. Developers shouldnt be allowed to use loopholes to ruin the Far West Village forever for the rest of us.