Tenants Fight Displacement and Gentrification in East Harlem
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2015

Tenants at 2036 Second Avenue in East Harlem are fighting back against their landlord, Nikolaos Mastrominas, currently included on the City's "Landlord Watchlist" published annually by Public Advocate Letitia James. The tenants are supported by Tenants & Neighbors, Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, and the Tenant Rights Coalition (A Partnership of The Legal Aid Society and Legal Services NYC).

As East Harlem gentrifies, longtime residents are being denied basic living services. The residents of 2036 Second Avenue have been without cooking gas since June. On top of that, the tenants have long-suffered intermittent heat and hot water along with numerous hazardous living conditions.

In an attempt to displace tenants and gentrify this building, Mastrominas (acting through shell company Rhodes 2 LLC) began mass construction on 2036 Second Avenue and the three buildings next door. As a result, tenants were living in a dangerous construction site, with collapsed floors and ceilings and exposed wires among other hazards. Additionally, the removal of a critical support structure led to physical destabilization of the building and resulted in a three-day evacuation for the tenants. With the assistance of the TTRC, UHAB, and T&N, as well as support from elected officials and governmental agencies, the tenants have joined together to fight for their right to safe, decent, and habitable living conditions and to demand compensation for their suffering.

"I am frustrated, my family and I have not been able to live our lives normally due to the bad conditions,” said tenant Roberta Cartagena. “We couldn't celebrate Thanksgiving because how were we going to cook a large dinner without gas."

"All of these conditions have affected my family and I on an emotional and psychological basis,” said Olga Gonzalez. “To not have basic services in your own home, that affects you."

"Throughout all of this, the saddest thing is that my three year old daughter got sick,” added Judith Herrera. “She got pneumonia due to the lack of heat and the lack of other basic services."

“For too long, Nikolaos Mastrominas has deprived this building’s tenants of the safety and basic services they’re entitled to,” says Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “Every tenant has the right to live in a safe, clean, structurally sound home. Collapsed ceilings are just one of the symptoms of construction-as-harassment in this building, and I stand with this building’s residents, the Tenant Rights Coalition, Tenants & Neighbors, and the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board as they pursue legal action to hold the building’s owner, Nikolaos Mastrominas, accountable.”

“Forcing tenants to go without basic necessities like cooking gas, heat, and hot water isn’t just cruel, it’s illegal,” said Legal Services NYC Manhattan Staff Attorney David Fillingame. “This landlord is trying to force families out of their homes by making their lives miserable, but these tenants are determined to stand up for themselves. We are ready to take whatever legal action is necessary to hold Nikolaos Mastrominas accountable.”

“We are here today to stand with the tenant to ensure they can live with dignity and safety,” said Katie Goldstein, Executive Director of Tenants & Neighbors. “Tenants & Neighbors is standing here with the Tenant Rights Coalition and Urban Homesteading Assistance Board to show Nikolaus Mastrominus that tenants are fighting back.”

“The residents of 2036 Second Avenue and the other three buildings have too long been forced to live in unhealthy, unsafe and deplorable conditions; conditions which no person should have to endure,” said Quisquella Addison, Staff Attorney at The Legal Aid Society. “We will use all remedies available at law to force this landlord to fulfil his legal obligations and help these and other tenants in similar circumstances enforce their right to decent housing and get the compensation they are entitled to under the law.”

“Landlords like Nikolaos Mastrominas mistakenly believe they can deny these families their basic rights as tenants with little or no consequences,” said Kerri White, Director of Organizing and Policy at the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board. “They are dead wrong. Today the families in these buildings are here with their attorneys, advocates and local elected officials' offices to prove that this is not the case. Collectively we will support these families and take whatever action is needed to insure the residents of this building have a safe and decent home to live in.”