Legal Aid, Elected Officials Decry Landlord Harassment of Tenants at NYSUM Dormitory in Astoria; Management Threatening, Intimidating Tenants to Vacate Their Apartments
FRIDAY, JULY 07, 2017

The Legal Aid Society, Congress Member Joe Crowley, New York State Senator Michael Gianaris, New York State Assembly Member Aravella Simotas, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer and Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks released the following statements today following a series of tenant harassment incidents at the New York School of Urban Ministry (NYSUM) dormitory in Astoria, Queens.

Last November, NYSUM, a Christian non-profit organization in Astoria, delivered last-minute eviction notices informing tenants that they had to vacate the property by December 31, 2016. NYSUM has said that it cannot afford to maintain the dormitory and it will convert the property for a new owner, an undisclosed charitable organization.

The Tenant Rights Coalition of The Legal Aid Society's Queens Neighborhood Office, funded by the City’s Human Resources Administration, filed a lawsuit in February seeking to stay the eviction. In the complaint, the tenants alleged that their apartments are protected by the Rent Stabilization Law which allows them the right to renewables leases. NYSUM has attempted to shield itself from this law as a charity but it does not meet any of the legal requirements for an exemption.

NYSUM tenants and management entered into settlement conferences in March but those conversations fell through as management failed to negotiate in good faith, offering residents a pittance to leave their homes that would afford little chance for them to secure safe and affordable housing.

Since the negotiations, management has resorted to vicious tactics to bully NYSUM tenants from their apartments including:

  • Stalking tenants at their homes intimidating them to vacate their apartments;
  • Threatening to end garbage pickup, custodial cleaning and other services;
  • Threatening to cut electricity and other utilities;
  • Inviting unknown people to wait in the common areas of the building;
  • Actively showing the apartment units to prospective buyers despite pending litigation;
  • Contacting pastors of tenants and asking them to persuade the tenants to meet with NYSUM individually and discuss move-out plans;
  • Calling and texting tenants repeatedly even though tenants have either ignored the messages or advised him to contact them through their attorneys.

The Legal Aid Society is also considering litigation against NYSUM if management does not immediately cease with this behavior.

“This is textbook landlord harassment,” said Sateesh Nori, Attorney-In-Charge of the Queens Civil Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “Especially after being sued by the tenants, it’s illegal and unholy to harass tenants by cutting services and threating to make their apartments virtually uninhabitable. NYSUM management should take a long look in the mirror to reflect on how their actions are hurting their stated mission.”

“The tactics that the New York School of Urban Ministry has resorted to, after looking to evict its tenants and leave them out in the cold, are downright reprehensible and indicative of the type of landlords we ought to be protecting our communities against,” said Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens, the Bronx). “There is nothing charitable about the way they’ve conducted themselves and we will not allow them to continue to intimidate and harass these residents. Now more than ever we need to make sure we’re doing everything possible to keep people in their homes, and I will continue to stand alongside our local elected officials and the Legal Aid Society to ensure we’re doing right by these New Yorkers.”

"The New York School of Urban Ministry needs to stop it's unscrupulous behavior and stop it right now. Threatening and intimidating residents is just as low as claiming financial hardship to pressure low-income tenants out of their homes," said Senator Michael Gianaris. "Bad landlords are not, and never will be welcome in western Queens."

Assembly Member Aravella Simotas said, “The New York School of Urban Ministry (NYSUM) boasts of its mission to “reclaim cities for Christ” but those are hypocritical and empty words. NYSUM’s cruel and possibly criminal actions threaten to make their low-income tenants homeless in a city already in the grip of a homeless crisis, so tell me, how is that “reclaiming cities for Christ? Shame on them. NYSUM’S head, Rev. Peter DeArruda, needs to re-read his Bible and he’ll find that it says “Love thy neighbor…” not “Harass they neighbor…”

“For months, the tenants of an Astoria apartment operated by the New York School of Urban Ministry have had to endure intimidation, threats, and abusive tactics designed to drive them out of their apartments and onto the street,” said City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer. “After these actions, it is absurd that NYSUM continues to claim to be a faith-based charity. In the City of New York, tenants have rights that protect from abusive landlords like this, and I will continue fighting to defend the rights of my constituents alongside the Legal Aid Society.”

“We are proud to stand with Legal Aid and the other legal service providers we partner with in seeking justice for tenants facing this unconscionable harassment,” said Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks. “HRA’s Office of Civil Justice exists to ensure that low income New Yorkers have a voice in court, and cannot be threatened into relinquishing their rights.”