The Rent Is Too Damn High Guy Continues to Fight Landlord's Eviction Efforts
The Rent Is Too Damn High party founder Jimmy McMillan was scheduled to be evicted in February from his $872-a-month rent-stabilized apartment in the East Village. But the fierce affordable-housing advocate has still managed to stay in his home — at least for now — thanks to the intervention of the city's Adult Protective Services program.
McMillan, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, cites his war-related post-traumatic stress disorder and other medical issues — including memory loss and high blood pressure — as reasons for seeking help from APS. The stress of the long legal battle with his landlord and the looming threat of eviction brought back old battle wounds, he says. "I almost had a nervous breakdown," McMillan, 68, tells the Voice. He even called the suicide hotline. According to his attorney, John DeMaio, McMillan turned to APS after "all other legal remedies had been exhausted." A "renowned" doctor, whose name DeMaio did not disclose, examined McMillan and recommended the court's intervention in delaying the eviction.
The decision came as a disappointment to his landlord, Lisco Holdings LLC, which has been trying since 2011 to get McMillan out of his one-bedroom apartment at 107 St. Marks Place on the grounds that the apartment is not McMillan's primary residence. Even though the phone and electricity bills for the residence are in McMillan's name, Lisco argues that the former New York gubernatorial candidate violated rent stabilization laws by using an apartment at 1996 Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn as his primary residence. McMillan insists the Nostrand location is the office space of his party, the Rent Is Too Damn High movement. But for McMillan, the main issue is not the non-primary-residence claim but the fact that Lisco Holdings failed to comply with a housing court order in 2009 to give him a new key after he was locked out of the building. He has been using his son's key since 2012.
McMillan, whose family has occupied the apartment since 1977, claims the eviction is "racist" because he and his family are the only African Americans living in the building. Lisco Holdings purchased the building from its previous owners in 2006.
"It's been a nightmare in hell since the new owners took over," McMillan says. "You don't lock tenants out of a building, but that's what they did." His ex-wife Janice now lives in Maryland and his son, James Jr., currently serves in the military. In an attempt to fight the eviction, McMillan filed a countersuit against Lisco, claiming that the company defied the 2009 court order to issue him the key, but a Brooklyn federal judge threw the case out.
In 2011, Lisco gave McMillan a notice of non-renewal of lease, which was to take effect on April 30 of that year, and began returning McMillan's rent payments, doing so from April 2011 until November 2012, totaling $15,713.28. Declining to collect rents, letting them accrue, and then demanding the full sum at once is "an old landlord's trick," DeMaio says.
"Landlords use every legal remedy to obtain stabilized apartments," DeMaio explains. "In this case, they sued for 'nuisance' for a tenant who was current on his rent, [then they] waited a long time then demanded full [rent back]."
Lisco Holdings' attorney, Stephen Shulman of the law firm Borah, Goldstein, Altschuler, Nahins & Goidel PC, declined to comment for this story.
"If APS are successful and can reorganize his debt, he should be able to stay there indefinitely or for as long as he lives," DeMaio adds. The social-services agency generally intervenes in cases like these when the individual is a senior citizen and unable to manage his or her own affairs because of a physical or mental disability. As a rule, APS does not comment on individual clients for reasons of privacy, a spokeswoman told the Voice.
On March 3, both parties — Lisco's attorneys and the McMillan camp (DeMaio and an APS attorney) — met to determine whether McMillan should be appointed a guardian. DeMaio says McMillan now requires a guardian because of his physical and mental maladies. The court has postponed the case for "further review" until April 7, at the request of Lisco Holdings.
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