New York Daily News: Queens Tenants Fight Religious Group Trying To Evict Them and Turn Building Into Homeless Shelter

Sateesh Nori – Legal Aid’s Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Practice at the Queens Neighborhood office – spoke to Denis Slattery of the New York Daily News about his team’s recent efforts to save Astoria residents from unlawful eviction.

New York Daily News
Queens Tenants Fight Religious Group Trying To Evict Them and Turn Building Into Homeless Shelter
By Denis Slattery
February 17, 2017

Queens tenants say they plan to file a lawsuit Friday against a nonprofit Christian ministry that wants to kick them to the curb and convert their building into a homeless shelter.

Legal Aid Society lawyers are expected to join several residents outside the 39-unit Astoria building Friday to announce the suit against the New York School of Urban Ministry. The lawsuit seeks to keep the tenants from being evicted and to have the building rent-stabilized. The organization has avoided rent controls by claiming it uses the site for charitable purposes.

“This is a landlord who is taking advantage of the housing crunch in the city and taking advantage of a building they own and squeezing out the tenants,” said Sateesh Nori, attorney-in-charge of civil practice with Legal Aid’s Queens Neighborhood office. “What makes it more insulting is that this landlord happens to be a religious organization.”

The evangelical ministry school founded in 1984 tried to toss tenants out of the dormitory-style complex during the holiday season.

Tenants showed the Daily News letters from the Rev. Peter DeArruda that they said didn’t follow the proper legal procedure. Some letters threatened legal action.

"We feel so incredibly blessed to have the legal team that we do," said Amy Burgmaier, a 39-year-old actress. "We are ready to fight."

City officials said at the time they were approached about using the building as a homeless shelter but backed away when they realized there were long-term tenants. Many of the residents pay $400 to $500 a month for their single-occupancy rooms.

“The deeper we dig into this issue, the worse it looks for the landlord,” said state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens), who has been advocating for the residents.

“I promised months ago to fight like heck for these people and we all just want a happy ending.”

A lawyer representing the ministry and DeArruda, who lives in a $600,000 home in Whitestone, said he had yet to see the suit.

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sent a letter to DeArruda on Thursday calling for a halt to the evictions until the court has time to review the lawsuit.

Residents and their supporters hoped the ministry school would have a change of heart.

“As a charitable organization, one would hope that NYSUM would have a modicum of basic human compassion for these low-income residents,” said City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Queens).

"NYSUM have given us letters at different times and used scare tactics," Burgmaier said.

"At this point we have faith in our legal team and we are holding tight."