JTS Tenants Still Fighting Evictions
by Vajra Kilgour
Tenants threatened with eviction by the Jewish Theological
Seminary are continuing their struggle.
While they await the results of the seminaryís appeal of Judge
Joan Maddenís dismissal of the first 15 cases, the remaining
eight are still in Housing Court. Most of these are in the
discovery phase; the seminary has been so reluctant to provide
relevant documents that the tenants are contemplating a return
to court to get it to turn them over. In October, the seminary
threatened to start eviction proceedings against a 77-year-old
retiree and his family, knowing full well that the family had a
right to a renewal lease; but some quick work by Catharine Grad,
the tenantsí lawyer, stopped that.
Meanwhile, on Nov. 18, the tenants staged a protest at the Hotel
Pierre, where the seminary held its annual fundraising dinner
and honored Citibank head John Reed for his "concern for social
justice and outstanding qualities of ethics and communal
During the 1970s and í80s, Citibank refused to make loans in
African-American communities, a practice known as "red-lining,"
while lending hundreds of millions of dollars to apartheid South
Africa. The Service Employees International Union has conducted
a boycott of Citibank since it replaced SEIU-member janitors
with nonunion minimum-wage workers. The bank is also under
investigation in Mexico for laundering over $100 million for an
alleged major drug trafficker, the brother of former Mexican
President Carlos Salinas Gortari.
"Itís not surprising that JTS would honor someone like John Reed
while they continue to try to make families and senior citizens
homeless, but it is shocking," said Mike Fleshman, a
human-rights activist who lives at 521 West 122nd St.
For the second year in a row, hotel officials tried to get the
police to prevent the tenants from leafleting, but the tenants
were able to distribute flyers to many of the guests attending
State Court Strikes Down Overcharge Award
By Robert J. Anderson
In yet another limitation on tenantsí ability to collect damages
for rent overcharges, the stateís highest court has ruled that
landlords who buy buildings at foreclosure sales are not liable
for the previous landlordís overcharges.
In Gaines v. New York State Division of Housing and Community
Renewal, handed down in October, the Court of Appeals reversed a
lower-court decision ordering the landlord to pay $13,000 to
tenant Germaine Gaines. The court argued that forcing the new
landlord to pay would hurt banksí ability to sell foreclosed
The case began when Gaines filed an overcharge complaint in
1991. Her landlord went bankrupt, and the building was acquired
by the Home Savings Bank, which continued to overcharge her.
In July 1992, the building was sold to 244 W. 10th Street Corp.,
which in turn sold it to ACB Realty in 1993.
The DHCR decided that Gaines had been overcharged by $13,000.
However, it also ruled that ACB, the present landlord was not
liable for this amount. As the original landlord was probably
bankrupt, this meant she would not be able to recover any money.
In 1996, the Appellate Division reversed the DHCR ruling. It
applied the rule that a successor landlord is responsible for
the overcharges of its predecessor. The only "limited" exception
is when the successor landlord buys the building at a
foreclosure sale and there are no rent records available. The
Appellate Division refused to allow the DHCR to extend this
exception to one who buys the building from a purchaser at a
foreclosure sale, as ACB Realty had bought it from 244 W. 10th
Street Corp. The court stressed the fact that even if there were
no rent records available, the overcharge proceeding was still
pending when ACB bought the building, and it could have easily
learned of this problem by simply contacting the DHCR. But the
Court of Appeals reversed that, holding that ACB should have
been covered by the exception which protects the original
purchaser. The court stressed the fact that it did not wish to
interfere with the way a state agency, in this case DHCR,
interprets its own regulations, unless that interpretation is
irrational or unreasonable. It said that to hold otherwise would
cause an "adverse impact upon marketability at judicial sales."
It also never discussed the Appellate Divisionís opinion that
ACB could have easily learned about the overcharge proceeding.
As a result, Gaines is out $13,000 and has an unenforceable DHCR
order, because the court felt it was more important to protect
the power of Home Savings Bank to profit at the foreclosure
Many tenants who have successfully litigated rent-overcharge
cases before the DHCR soon learn that obtaining a favorable
decision is only a small part of the battle. Enforcing the order
and collecting the overcharge award can be even more frustrating
and often impossible. This decision represents another in a
recent trend of Court of Appeals decisions which seem to favor
landlords, and will make it more difficult for tenants who have
been overcharged to recover any money. Hopefully, its effect
will be limited to cases that share its narrow set of facts.
AIDS--Housing Group Charges Giuliani Vendetta
State courts have ordered the Giuliani administration to hold
off on its crackdown on the AIDS-housing group Housing Works.
State Supreme Court Justice Emily Jane Goodman granted a
temporary restraining order Nov. 20, ordering the city Human
Resources Administration to pay rents necessary to prevent
residents in the group's scattered-site housing program from
being evicted, stop interfering with Housing Works' leases with
landlords, and immediately restore food stamps to program
residents who had had them cut off.
Late on Nov. 21, the Appellate Division denied an HRA appeal and
upheld the temporary order. Housing Works has had a contract
from the city to house people with HIV and AIDS since 1991. It
now holds leases for 180 apartments. But last June, the Giuliani
Administration let the contract lapse. The Housing Works lawsuit
charges that the Giuliani Administration conspired to strip the
group of apartment leases for its clients and deny them
Housing Works charges that letting the contract lapse was "a
calculated and orchestrated attack" to punish the group for its
outspoken criticism of Giuliani's AIDS policies. It Giuliani's
AIDS policies. It also alleges that HRA promised to extend the
contract and reimburse Housing Works for rents and other program
costs as they came due, thus leaving the group with a pile of
unpaid bills, and that city officials falsely informed clients
that Housing Works was abandoning the program and their
apartment leases. Housing Works is not the first nonprofit group
to claim that the Giuliani Administration has a vendetta against
its critics. Last summer, the city removed ACORN from two
housing-development projects. ACORN has been a leading opponent
of the Mayor's workfare policies.