A group of local attorneys held a forum for Sunset Park seniors on Wednesday, March 16 after they noticed a spike in local residents voicing their concern about some landlords trying to force them out of their homes through various illegal methods.
Co-counsel and legal representative for the Village of Sunset Park Christopher Robles was joined by local attorneys Delvis Valdes, Richard Villar and Patrick Hayes at the United Senior Citizens Center, 475 53rd Street, to educate seniors in attendance, discuss their individual issues, and offer free advice.
“A lot of the times, there are illegal evictions that are happening in Sunset, and the tenants have rights but don’t know any better,” said Robles.
Villar discussed the lengths to which some landlords will go to complicate the lives of tenants. “Some of them are shutting off water, turning off the boiler or take forever to make repairs,” he said. “There’s a bunch of tactics that people use. They pick on a certain group and they know they can get them out if they don’t speak English or are not aware of the law.”
During the forum, several of the attendees discussed their individual issues. One woman stated she had applied for affordable housing and has already waited six years.
“There’s such a long waiting list for housing, we need a comprehensive plan in New York City,” replied Robles. “There are many people waiting many years for housing and we don’t have enough public housing for people that can’t afford rent.”
Another senior claimed that her landlord has been trying to get her out of her home. “I live in a co-op. I’m one of the last tenants there,” said the Sunset senior. “It’s a nice apartment so what they’ve done is harass me to get me out. The stove doesn’t work too well, and they broken all the walls inside my apartment.”
“Landlords try to get people out by turning off services, making them uncomfortable,” responded Robles. “But, in six families or more, you’re rent stabilized and that protects you. You can’t be thrown out for just any reason, especially if you’re 62 or older.”
A woman who has been living in a basement apartment also discussed her subpar living conditions.
“An illegal basement apartment in a two family house is very common in Sunset Park and it’s a double edged sword because they’re not supposed to do that,” said Valdes. “A lot of conditions need to be repaired but the landlord can say if you complain I’m going to throw you out.”
It all boils down to what has become a growing problem in the neighborhood. “This place has become so desirable to live in that the housing has just gone out of sight, outside the affordability for many seniors and low income people,” stressed Robles. “There’s an element of unfairness, especially for a senior that has always been living in this community and is retired on a fixed income and now is being forced out.”