The Legal Aid Society, a nonprofit organization in the city, filed a lawsuit against the city Department of Buildings (DOB) and the state Department of Homes and Community Renewal (DHCR), as well as some individual landlords themselves, to prevent the illegal displacement of tenants at a building in Sunset Park.
The lawsuit has been filed in the New York State Supreme Court. Complainants are seeking to change DOB’s policies and prevent the agency from circumventing the DHCR in the future.
After a fire that occurred on Nov. 3 of 2021, tenants at 4228 5th Avenue were displaced and their landlords created plans to change the layout of the units and reduce the number of bed- rooms, overall decreasing the amount of space for families and children.
The landlords submitted the plans directly to the DOB without taking any legal approval process required to change he buildings. Under Rent Stabilization Code rules, landlords are required to obtain approval to recon- figure apartments from DHCR before the DOB can approve. The DOB approved the landlords’ submitted plans and issued permits without DHCR’s approval – a clear violation of the Rent Stabilization Code.
Individual landlords William Yang, Xiang Yang and Jane Yang are implicated in the suit for their role in the conflict at 42 28 5th Avenue. In December of 2021, the residents at the building filed an HP action to address living conditions that were ‘deplorable,’ according to the Legal Aid Society.
The landlords were compelled by the court to correct the conditions by March 31 of 2022 that led to a vacate order. To date, the vacate order has not been lifted and the tenants have not been restored to their apartments.
Tenants at the building were never informed of the layout change, until the Legal Aid Society filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the DOB to view the plans. The DOB responded on April 21, 2022 and the plans indicated significant changes to the tenants’ living environment; less bedrooms and family space overall, with new bathrooms that consumed space.
Legal Aid filed an Order to Show Cause signed on May 9, which mandated that the land- lords keep from “materially changing the layout or size of the apartments from the size and layout in existence on November 3, 2021.”
The landlords filed revised plans on May 24 that restored the number of bedrooms, but also changed the location of the bathrooms and slated a second bathroom. The tenants did not want the new bathroom as it would reduce space in the bedroom.
The attorneys for the landlords declared at court that the second bathroom had already been installed by the May 9 Order to Show Cause. If true, the landlords had already begun illegal construction at 4228 5th Ave. by May 9, as the plans including a second bathroom in the apartment were not submitted until May 24. If the plans were not submitted to DOB or DHCR before construction occurred — on top of the judge’s Order on May 9 prevent- ing the landlord from altering parts of the apartment pending a decision — then it would have been unlawful.
Legal Aid filed a suit on Sept. 24 to stop the illegal conversions once and for all