Legal Aid Raises Concerns About The Timing And Amount Of NYCHA's Rent Credits For Tenants Affected By The Hurricane

In an article in the Daily News, Judith Goldiner, the Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Practice's Law Reform Unit, called the New York City Housing Authority's plan to credit tenants affected by the Hurricane with approximately $159 towards their January 2013 rent as "too little and too late." Goldiner said that "[l]egally residents should not owe rent when essential services are not provided."

New York Daily News
Just days after Hurricane Sandy, NYCHA tenants with no heat, hot water or power get eviction notices
By Greg B. Smith
Sunday, December 23, 2012

Just days after Hurricane Sandy devastated public housing in Coney Island, the Housing Authority slapped eviction notices on apartment doors for nonpayment of rent, the Daily News has learned.

At the time, tenants had been ordered to evacuate, and those who stuck around had no power, hot water, heat or elevators. Elderly tenants were trapped in upper floors where toilets didn’t function.

“It’s really ridiculous,” said Edward Josephson, director of litigation for NYC Legal Services. “At the very time they were unable to send people out there to see if people were dying or not, they were able to send people to serve notice of evictions.”

Nearly 80,000 tenants at 400 NYCHA buildings across the city were affected by the storm, with thousands in Coney Island, Red Hook and the Far Rockaways living in miserable conditions for weeks without basic services. Tenants at developments most severely damaged by the storm complained that for more than a week, NYCHA staff failed to show up to help or let them know when services would return.

Yet a mere four days after Sandy struck, a NYCHA process server traipsed out to the devastated developments at Coney Island to go after tenants, plastering eviction notices on apartment doors in the Surfside Gardens Houses.

NYCHA spokesperson Sheila Stainback told The News the agency probably wouldn’t go forward with those evictions until next year. In late November, the agency implemented a temporary moratorium on evictions at Sandy-ravaged buildings.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio was still fuming. He said NYCHA’s priorities “are completely backwards.”

“It’s infuriating the Housing Authority couldn’t knock on doors to check in on seniors and the disabled after Sandy, but somehow found the resources to post eviction notices,” he said.

The storm hit Oct. 29. Surfside was deluged, its basements filled to the roof and first-floor apartments flooded to knee level.

For the next 11 days, tenants say only a handful of NYCHA workers were to be found. The authority, they say, left them to fend for themselves in an area devastated by the storm. Even obtaining food was difficult because nearly all the supermarkets and bodegas were shut down by the flood.

Yet on Nov. 2, process server George Rodriguez arrived at Surfside around 9 a.m. to hand out “Notice of Petitions for Non-Payment” to several tenants who owed rent prior to the storm. Records show he didn’t find anyone at home.

As required, he returned the next day to try again, starting on the 12th floor of a building at 6:09 a.m. and working his way to apartments on three lower floors. Then he walked to a 10th-floor apartment in an adjacent building.

Rodriguez placed his last notice by 7:03 a.m. Because conditions were so bad, he likely trudged up and down stairs in the dark during his eviction mission.

On Nov. 9 — a week after Rodriguez came and went — NYCHA set up a command post at Coney Island.

Last week The News tracked down some of the tenants whose apartments got notices. All said they were not home when the process server arrived.

Tenant Sandra Patton, who fled her 10th-floor Surfside Gardens studio the day before Sandy hit, found her eviction notice on her door when she returned about three weeks later.

“That’s a threat when they put something up on people’s doors,” she said. “On top of the nonsense I get from the storm, I get an eviction notice? What are you telling me?”

She immediately went to court, where the clerk told her to get documents showing that her rent was, in fact, up to date. She returned Nov. 29 with the paperwork, and now awaits NYCHA’s next move.

Tenant Leticia Ramirez, 25, said she didn’t see the notice Rodriguez slapped on her door when she and her 8-month-old daughter, Paris, returned a week after evacuating pre-Sandy. Shortly after, though, she got a notice in the mail.

“That’s kind of absurd that they would come and give something like this when people weren’t even here,” she said.

In fact, the notices require tenants to respond to the court within five days or face the possibility of being placed in default — the first step toward tossing them out on the street, Legal Aid lawyers said.

The eviction cases against Ramirez and other tenants at Surfside continued as NYCHA attorneys filed official paperwork in Brooklyn Housing Court on Nov. 14.

Around that time, tenants and Legal Aid lawyers began pressing NYCHA to postpone eviction cases against Sandy-affected tenants until basic services could return and residents hurt by the storm could get back on their feet.

NYCHA General Manager Cecil House agreed on Nov. 30 to suspend further housing court actions until next year.

But House didn’t mention that NYCHA was still pursuing eviction proceedings begun during the first two weeks after the storm. The last cases were filed Nov. 14 — a day before NYCHA promised to stop.

“It’s horrendous,” said Judith Goldiner of the Legal Aid Society, who helped negotiate the moratorium. “People in Coney Island Houses days after the storm had literally nothing. The idea that they would serve people with these court cases is unbelievable.”