The battle over a Bowery building continues as tenants who were evicted from their Chinatown apartments last week say they’ve since been put in a Brooklyn hotel that is infested with rats and bedbugs.
Residents of 85 Bowery have been staying at the Kings Hotel, located at 2416 Atlantic Ave. in Brooklyn, since they were told to leave their homes on Thursday evening after a judge in a lawsuit between the tenants and landlord ordered the city to conduct an inspection of the building that revealed safety violations.
The tenants were given little notice of the vacate order issued by the Department of Buildings and were only able to leave with what they could carry, according to Jinming Cao, a representative of the 83-85 Bowery Tenants’ Association.
Since then, the Red Cross and city Department of Housing, Preservation and Development (HPD) have placed the tenants, some of whom have small children, at Kings Hotel until necessary repairs to the interior stairwell and exterior fire escapes could be made. But on Tuesday, five days after the initial eviction, no apparent repairs had been carried out, Cao said, and the families were so fearful of the living conditions at Kings Hotel that many sent their children to stay with relatives.
“The conditions are pretty bad. It’s very dirty, moldy; old food still in the fridge,” Cao said, adding that tenants have also reported large rats, bedbugs and a lack of toilet paper at the hotel. The Red Cross, which said it provided temporary shelter for the residents through Monday before handing the responsibility over to HPD, did provide extra blankets after the first night at the hotel, according to Cao, but the tenants had to pool their money together to buy enough toilet paper.
Isase Nketiah, manager of the Kings Hotel, denied the tenants’ claims, saying the accusations of bedbugs and no toilet paper were “completely false.”
“I personally let them into their rooms. I personally gave toilet tissue to every room,” Nketiah said on Tuesday. “The Red Cross is supposed to provide them with additional help.”
The Red Cross had been in contact with the hotel’s management to address the concerns regarding supplies, a spokesman for the organization said.
“The safety and well-being of the residents we serve are our priority,” spokesman Michael de Vulpillieres added. “After this vacate, we thought it was important for the residents to be housed together and therefore utilized the Kings Hotel because they were able to accommodate a large number of residents in a very short period of time.”
A spokesman from HPD said the agency was working with the DOB and Red Cross to make sure tenants feel secure.
“Our top priority is to ensure the health and safety of the city’s residents, and we will continue to keep close watch on this situation to find a solution that is in the best interest of the tenants,” spokesman Matthew Creegan said.
The Red Cross regularly evaluates the hotels used to house displaced families during disasters to make sure they meet the organization’s standards, de Vulpillieres said, and it will continue to do so.
The Red Cross only typically provides housing for displaced residents for two or three days before HPD takes over and provides temporary housing, but a recent spate of fires and vacate orders in the city has left HPD shelters at capacity, according to the agency.
Both HPD and Red Cross said a language barrier between the tenants and Kings Hotel management that prevented some people from being able to obtain toiletries has since been resolved.
“But the main thing is we want to go back home,” Cao argued.
The DOB partially rescinded its vacate order at the building on Monday so that repairs could be made and tenants could retrieve more of their belongings, but Cao claimed no work has been done and the building’s owner, Joseph Betesh, is not cooperating.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for Betesh and Bowery 8385 LLC refuted that claim, saying crews have been removing “obstructions” and preparing the site to be in compliance with the DOB’s standards. A previous statement issued on Wednesday alleged the tenants had illegally converted apartments in the building.
“The safety of tenants of 83-85 Bowery is our top priority and we are working with the DOB and the mayor’s office to repair building infrastructure and make the property safe for habitation,” the spokesman said in an emailed statement. “We are providing updates on our progress to the DOB and local elected officials and will continue to do so.
“Any reports claiming that we seek to demolish 83-85 Bowery or replace it with a hotel or condominiums are false. We all share the same goal — moving families back into their homes as quickly as possible. As we have been saying for years, and as we believe all parties would agree, those homes must be safe.”
The tenants’ association is involved in an ongoing lawsuit with Bowery 8385 LLC regarding whether the apartments are rent-stabilized. Cao alleges Betesh is not making the repairs in an attempt to get the low-income tenants to leave permanently so he can turn the units into market-rate rentals.
Rather than wait for Betesh to complete the repairs, the tenants’ association wants the city to step in and make them so that families can return to their homes.
“Once they repair the staircase and fire escape, all tenants can go back home,” he added. “We want the government to take over the repairs. We all know the landlord isn’t going to repair it.”
The tenants’ association planned to rally for their demands to be met outside of HPD’s office on Gold Street in lower Manhattan on Wednesday.