Volume 74, Number 24 | Octuber 13 - 19 , 2004

Villager photo by Jennifer Bodrow

Tenants of 47 E. Third St. are fighting plans to convert the building for sole use of the landlords and their relatives.

Tenants say landlords using loophole to evict them

By Nancy Reardon

Local politicians have stepped in to stop the eviction of residents in a 15-unit tenement building in the East Village because they believe the owners are trying to skirt the city’s rent-stabilization code.

Catherine and Alistair Economakis, owners of 47 E. Third St., say they want to renovate the building into a one-family home, but their opponents are skeptical.

City Councilmember Margarita Lopez accused the landlords of taking advantage of what she calls the “personal occupancy loophole” so they can get out of their rent-stabilization agreements and put the apartments back on the market at higher rates in a few years.

Assemblymember Deborah J. Glick pledged her support to the 47 E. Third St. Tenants Association in September and said she would support any legislation to close the loophole. Community Board 3 passed a similar motion last January.

But the Economakises insist that their renovation plans are legitimate and said they already have an architect. They described their plans for the property in the eviction letter to tenants. They intend to modify the five-story, 15-unit tenement building into a single home with five bedrooms, six bathrooms, a den, library, playroom, home study area, dining room, kitchen, living room and nanny suite, according to the letter.

“They say want to build a gym, swimming pool, amusement park all in this one building,” said Lopez. “I don’t believe them, and anyone who looks at the plans and does is totally from Kansas and is going to meet the Wizard of Oz.”

The city’s rent-stabilization code allows owners to take possession of units for themselves and immediate family members. Lopez drafted a resolution in the Council to sew up the “loophole,” but the legislation has to be passed by the state. Lopez said that the proposed changes will probably come too late to help the residents at 47 E. Third St.

“We will continue to fight the owner in any way we can,” said Lopez.

The residents started receiving their eviction notices last year as their leases expired. Robert Appleton, the first recipient and a resident of 30 years, said his notice was posted on his door on Christmas Eve.

Almost half of the residents in the building have lived there for more than 20 years, and Barry Paddock of the tenants association said some may face homelessness if evicted.

More than half of the residents have received their eviction notices already.

The tenants association obtained an attorney as a group, but the Economakises said they will only settle on an individual basis.

“It’s not possible to settle with the tenants association,” said Catherine Economakis. “Every tenant has a very different situation. Some tenants would rather have someone work with them to have an apartment to relocate to. Some would rather have a lump sum of money because they’re planning to move to Timbuktu.”

But members of the tenants association said they can’t afford lawyers on an individual basis. Some of them have had to leave work several times to meet with politicians and appear in court.

“It’s like having another part-time job,” said Paddock. “But this is their job,” he added of the landlords. “They can work full-time just to get this building.”

“We don’t know if we’re going to be out on the street,” said Miriam Garcia, a resident of 28 years, who said her youngest son has had anxiety problems from their possible eviction.

Dave Pulpz, a resident of 26 years, also called the Economakises’ plans into question. “This is an injustice,” he said. “It’s a flatly bogus claim and an abuse of the intent of the law.”

The Economakises deny that they have any dubious intentions for the property. “We view this property as a generational home for us,” said Catherine Economakis. “We currently ourselves live with three generations in the same home, and we’re looking to do the same with our children and our children’s children.”

The Economakises and their daughter currently live on the top floor of a brownstone on Pacific St. in Brooklyn.

Catherine Economakis declined to disclose a rent range for the building, saying she didn’t want to give any information that could contribute to the claim that their renovation plans are a hoax.

“If the main concern is that all of this is made up, we’re willing to guarantee in any way that’s possible to show we plan to live there,” she said. She said that they would consider a stipulation agreement stating they would live in the building for a certain amount of time.

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