City Council bill would make landlords pay housing costs of displaced tenants

The landlord of a Bowery apartment building whose tenants were forced to evacuate due to safety violations will pay for some of the families to stay at a Chinatown hotel until the repairs are complete, a spokesman for the building owners said on Thursday.

The move comes a day after three council members on the Committee on Housing and Buildings – Margaret Chin, Robert Cornegy Jr. and Carlina Rivera – said they will push for a bill that would force landlords to pay the housing costs of tenants forced out by vacate orders.

Twenty-nine families are still unable to return to their apartments at 85 Bowery, as critical renovations to replace the staircase and structural supports continue, according to city officials.

The tenants are involved in a lawsuit with their landlord, Joseph Betesh, and the owners of the building, Bowery 8385 LLC, over whether the units are rent-stabilized. The tenants contend Betesh and Bowery 8385 LLC are trying to push them out so that the units can be turned into luxury, market-rate apartments – a claim the owners vehemently deny.

“We are providing these quality hotel accommodations for families of 85 Bowery to ensure they are able to remain in the local community while our work continues,” Bowery 8385 LLC spokesman Sam Spokony said in an emailed statement. “Our team is working diligently each day to repair the severely damaged infrastructure of 85 Bowery and make the building safe for habitation. We all share the same goal – moving families back into their homes as quickly as possible.”

The proposed City Council bill would apply to landlords “with an egregious history of negligence and abuse,” Chin’s office said.

“Tenants who pay their rent every month should not have to pay for the consequences of negligence by irresponsible landlords,” the councilwoman said in a statement. “This legislation is a common-sense measure to provide badly needed funds to tenants who have been unjustly targeted by unscrupulous landlords.”

Chin and the other city leaders said the bill would incentivize landlords to complete repair work faster.

“By holding landlords more directly accountable for the cost of displaced tenants, this bill will provide an important tool to help combat both nefarious landlords and the lack of affordability in this city,” Cornegy said in a statement.

The city initially ordered Betesh to make repairs to the staircase and fire escapes of 85 Bowery by Thursday, according to Chin, but that deadline was not met.

A structural assessment recently completed by the Department of Buildings showed the damage was more severe than initially thought, a spokesman for the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development said on Thursday. Instead of repairing the staircase, the structure will need to be completely replaced.

The displaced Bowery tenants, meanwhile, have been staying at the Kings Hotel in Sunset Park, far from their jobs and their childrens’ schools, and they have struggled with transportation to Chinatown, Chin and the 83-85 Bowery Tenants’ Association said. Tenants also reported poor conditions at the hotel, including bed bugs and rodents.

Now, some of the families are moving to a hotel in Chinatown, where Bowery 8385 LLC is paying for a block of 18 rooms, according to the company. The families will be able to remain there for the duration of the repairs.

Tenants’ association spokesman Jinming Cao said the group plans to rally outside of HPD’s headquarters on Gold Street in Lower Manhattan around 3:30 p.m. on Friday because the landlord is not paying for all of the tenants to move back to Chinatown.

“We really believe that everyone came together for us,” Cao said of the elected officials who have been involved in their plight. “But it’s not enough, because it’s not enough for all of the tenants.”

The tenants’ lawyer provided a list of people who were looking to relocate, and HPD and the American Red Cross were in the process of reviewing the list against the initial registration of displaced tenants, HPD spokesman Matthew Creegan said. Any remaining residents will also be brought back to stay at a lower Manhattan hotel with help from the city.

“HPD and DOB, in coordination with City Hall, have been working closely with the tenants’ representatives to get displaced families back to their community and homes as soon as possible,” Creegan said in an emailed statement on Thursday. “The owner is working to make needed repairs and has now agreed to pay for hotel rooms for most of the tenants, until the building is safe for them to return to. He has much more work to do, and we will be closely monitoring his progress.”

The tenants’ association, however, would rather the city take over the renovations to ensure that residents can return to the building, Cao said.

“The city has power,” he added. “Just take over the repairs.”

A spokesman for Bowery 8385 LLC declined to comment on the City Council bill.