BY JOAQUIN COTLER | A preliminary injunction was granted to the residents of 173 Henry St. on Monday, preventing the building’s landlord from shutting down the elevator for five months to replace it. The ruling came on the heels of a federal restraining order filed on behalf of tenants of the 43-unit Chinatown apartment building.
Earlier this month, Legal Services NYC and Asian Americans For Equality filed a federal lawsuit, which led to the restraining order preventing the landlord, King Henry Realty Inc., from turning off the building’s only elevator. Immediately before the injunction hearing took place, a press conference was held at Foley Square in Lower Manhattan to raise awareness and protest subpar living conditions at the building.
Members of the 173 Henry St. Tenant Association rallied behind Chee Sum Ng, a 64-year-old rent-stabilized resident suffering from end-stage renal disease, who cannot reasonably climb the seven flights of stairs to his apartment. The demonstrators demanded that, in addition to the restraining order preventing the elevator closure, the landlord also stop harassment, which they said is intended to force them to leave their homes. William Xu of AAFE introduced the speakers and gave a general overview of what he called the illegal and dangerous actions taken by King Henry Realty.
“The landlord has continued to conduct construction without permits in the building as a form of harassment,” he said. “He has also failed to upkeep the building, and has allowed it to deteriorate into a state of disrepair, with substandard living conditions that pose a health and safety risk to our tenants.”
Following Xu’s remarks, AAFE’s Donna Chiu translated the statements of several non-English-speaking residents of 173 Henry St. as they gave their firsthand accounts. The tenants detailed a slew of violations that they face on a daily basis, such as broken plumbing, lack of heat, unreliable gas and hot water and open construction zones.
Brandon Kielbasa of the Cooper Square Committee, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving and creating environmentally healthy housing, noted that these conditions are by no means unique to 173 Henry St.
“It isn’t an isolated issue,” he said. “We’re experiencing it at record levels. Alarming levels. Negligent management of construction can be the most violent form of tenant harassment. I’m glad to be standing in solidarity with 173 Henry. We need to overhaul the system to combat construction as harassment. We need the Department of Buildings to be a proactive player in addressing this issue.”
Greg Holtz, representing the Stand for Tenants Safety Coalition, spoke about his experiences. A resident of 445 E. Ninth St., Holtz said that out of 10 units in his building, four have recently been vacated, their occupants forced out by unethical practices. Once vacated, the apartments underwent disruptive and unsafe renovation, which impacted the remaining residents. He had no gas in his apartment for more than nine months, and was tormented by dust clouds, debris, flooding and noise, he said. He tried for months to put a stop to the unlicensed construction, he said.
“What will it take?” he asked, “another building explosion? Ten, 20, 100 people with permanent breathing problems because of a renovation? Where is the Department of Buildings? Where is the mayor?”
Betty Eng, a 90 Elizabeth St. resident, cited her landlord’s unwillingness to post notifications in the languages spoken in her building as its own form of aggression.
“After I finally lost my patience, they posted notices in English and Chinese,” said Eng, who is Chinese and Cuban-American. “The problem is, I don’t speak Chinese. My neighbors upstairs don’t speak English or Chinese. They’re Latino!”
The demonstration ended with Councilmember Margaret Chin voicing her support for the tenants.
“Our city agencies have to be held accountable,” she said. “They have to work together and coordinate and make sure tenants are protected.”
After the rally, many demonstrators reconvened in Housing Court, to show support for Ng and the 173 Henry St. Tenants Association. According to Kate Whelan of Legal Services-NYC, the preliminary injunction was granted, preventing the landlords from removing the elevator without providing reasonable accommodations to Ng.
“[King Henry Realty, Inc.] is also stayed from harassing Mr. Ng in retaliation for enforcing his rights,” Whelan said. “The preliminary injunction is in place until our next court date on April 25 at 10 a.m.”
The landlord could not be reached for comment by press time.