East Williamsburg residents are taking a stand against their new landlord, who they say has been threatening them and using illegal construction to get them to leave their apartments.
The tenants of 272 Stagg St. were joined on Tuesday by dozens of housing advocates with St. Nicks Alliance and the Stand for Tenant Safety Coalition as they rallied against landlord Silvio Cruz outside of their building.
“The tenants feel very unsafe,” said St. Nicks Alliance deputy director Rolando Guzman, who has been providing counseling services to the tenants. “Before the construction started, the landlord’s contractor told one of the tenants, ‘you need to move out or you will be put in shelters.’ ”
Since Nov. 14, the building has racked up 17 complaints from the Department of Buildings, two of which remain open, as of Tuesday. The complaints ranged from construction without a permit to cutting off gas to part of the building and an inadequate tenant protection plan, according to DOB records.
Guzman said the tenants have been filing complaints about Cruz and the construction work since November, when he bought the building.
Emidio Sierra, 48, has lived in the building for 20 years. He said construction on the basement and the first-floor apartments began on the same day the building transferred ownership.
“We have been living with that. It’s been hazardous and unsafe and scary,” Sierra said, adding that he has been offered a buyout on his apartment on four separate occasions — a practice that is considered tenant harassment by the city.
The tenants were forced to get hot plates after their gas was shut off, Sierra said, and recent construction caused the building to vibrate so violently that some of the tenants got stuck inside their apartments.
“On the second and the third floors, my neighbors couldn’t open their doors. The building is [not] level now,” he added. “The floor is cracking. I’m not even sure if I’m safe here stepping on my floors.”
A stop-work order and a 24-7 fire watch were issued for the building on Feb. 9 following an inspection by the DOB, FDNY and Department of Housing, Preservation and Development, according to the tenants and DOB records. But that hasn’t stopped construction crews from doing work anyway, St. Nicks Alliance spokeswoman Elise Goldin said.
“The building had stop-work order signs on the building and the workers took them down to do ‘some work’ around the building,” she added, pointing to a construction worker who was packing up a truck on the block near the rally Tuesday afternoon.
An HPD spokeswoman said 13 hazardous violations were filed into the city’s system following the inspection, and if Cruz does not correct them in a timely manner, the agency would consider litigation or emergency repairs.
The tenants have also enlisted the help of attorney Rachel Nager, who works for Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, to file a case against Cruz in housing court on Tuesday. They hope the court will issue fines relating to tenant harassment and illegal construction.
“We met with the tenants for the first time last week. When there is an emergency condition such as this, we are expecting a quick turnaround [in housing court] because the tenants are unsafe,” Nager said.
Last August, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a package of 15 measures to better protect tenants from illegal housing practices by landlords.
The new laws increased the minimum fine against a landlord for harassment from $1,000 to $2,000. If a landlord has been previously fined for tenant harassment within the past five years, the fee jumps to $5,000. The measures also expanded the definition of tenant harassment and set up new DOB policies to prevent landlords from dragging out construction.
A requests for comment from Cruz was not immediately returned.
With Laura Figueroa Hernandez