How Not to Pay Rent

The lofty ambitions of tenants of illegal apartment buildings

The legal landscape shifted in March 2005 with the court's decision in Czerwinskiv. Hayes, which held that housing courts should hear eviction cases in illegal apartment buildings as long as the landlord did not try to recover back rent. (The decision is only binding in New York's Second Department; in other parts of the city, landlords still can't go to Housing Court if their building is illegal.)

The precedent allowed Guttman to start kicking people out with relative ease. "His previous alternative was to go to Supreme Court, which takes significantly longer, probably two years instead of six months," says Guttman's attorney, Gerry Proefriedt. Last fall, after only one verbal warning months earlier, the roommates and tenants of three other lofts in the building were served with court summonses initiating holdover proceedings, a com- plicated type of eviction that does not dispute issues of rent.

Courtney and the Ruhe brothers hired Dalnoky, who asked for continuances that lengthened their rent-free living situation by several months. However, they eventually had to face the inevitable: Go to trial or agree to a settlement. As is often the case, a settlement was preferable to both sides since trial would mean months of lawyers' fees and the risk of the unknown. The other tenants who had been called to court chose cash settlements—one tenant got $8,000, another $5,000, according to Proefriedt. The Ruhes and Courtney chose time over money, and agreed to move out by July 31.


Now the roommates are caught in the chaos of moving. On a mid-June evening, Puge Ruhe sorts through a stack of old instruments, attempting to play a dented WWII bugle that's been passed down through his family. As he sorts through four years of accumulated CDs, books, mementos, and musical equipment, he says he is "absolutely unprepared" to move and has low expectations for finding a place he can actually afford. The experience of living in an illegal building has made him wonder at the strange phenomena of New York housing.

image
Looking out from 170 Tillary Street in apartment 405 onto a new construction site being built on Wednesday 12th of July 2006.
photo: Giulietta Verdon-Roe

"It begs the question of what you are actually paying rent for," he says. "Do you pay someone an astronomical amount of rent just to have a roof over your head, or do you pay for a certain amount of safety, or do you pay for convenience? Because we haven't had any safety or convenience living here."

The court has turned a blind eye to the landlord, who continues to take rent from residents of the former sweater factory with a leaking roof and no fire escapes. "Usually nothing happens" after a case like this, says April Newbauer, attorney in charge at Legal Aid's civil practice in Queens. "We see the same units being rented out over and over. It could go on indefinitely like that. It is not an individual judge's job to become a whistle-blower for future cases."

Meanwhile, Guttman probably won't have any trouble finding new tenants willing to pay loads of money for the soon-to-be-vacant loft. According to court documents, the landlord estimates the "reasonable value" of the loft is at least $3,000 per month. But then, "reasonable" is a relative term.

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2 comments
rensen
rensen

Kate Kuroda (underage Japanese Prostitute from Japan or Hawaii) and the pimp girlfriend (heterosexual man) Poemia Amy Castro, residing at 309 Lafayette Ave. Apt 9i zip code 11237; did not tip the waiters at Pershing Square Restaurant at 90 East 42nd Street in Manhattan because they are RACIST!

rensenbregar
rensenbregar

Poemia Amy Castro, residing at 309 Lafayette Avenue Apt 9i brooklyn, NY 11237, is not only a crooked landlord, but she used the rent money that I paid her to purchase prostitutes from a business run by WIlliam Thomas. He was arrested in the week of October 23, 2012 for running brothels at 4 different Manhattan locations (west 36 street, east 50th street, and maiden lane).  AMy brought "Kate" to the Lafayette Avenue apartment to bother me.  She wanted me to marry Kate (from japan?) so that she can get a green card.  I was very suspicious of the whole situation.  Amy told me her last tenant moved to his own apartment in Forte Greene.  I wonder if that was Thomas.  Amy was always looking at Upper East Side websites on her computer.  Amy and Kate took me to a bar near West 36 Street in Manhattan one night in year 2008.  Amy also brought illegal DVD movies from Northern Boulevard.  Amy works at a Hospice in Elmhurst Hospital.  Please Police arrest Poemia AMy Castro too.  She stole my passport back in 2008.

 
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