Feb. 13, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
Tenants at a Williamsburg loft are demanding that the city step in and force the landlord who has locked them out of their building for years to make the repairs needed so they can return.
Tenants at 79 Lorimer St. say they haven’t been able to get back inside their lofts in years because their landlord, Jacob Hoffman of Bushburg Properties, has not worked to repair the six-floor building since a full vacate order was issued in late 2014. In the interim, pigeons have gained access to the building and destroyed their property.
Building records show that weeks before the vacate order was issued, an inspection detected inoperable sprinklers and illegal gas lines, making the building unsafe to occupy.
The residents, mainly artists and artisans who ran their businesses within the building, expected to return in a few weeks, counting on the landlord to make the repairs. Instead, weeks turned into months, and eventually years.
“We had confidence that situation would be resolved and the landlord would bring the building to compliance,” said Arthur Purvis, a fourth-floor tenant.
Nine tenants took the issue to the New York City Loft Board in 2015, hoping for the agency to establish that they are legally protected occupants of the building, and are entitled to certain rights. In 2017, after a two-year legal battle, the board ruled that tenants can occupy the building without a certificate of occupancy.
The building, however, has yet to be made safe, and the vacate order remains. But in late 2017, tenants were allowed to return to their lofts for just a few hours— the first time entering their units after the Loft Board’s decision—and were horrified by what they saw.
Tenants claim their units had not only been broken into and their belongings ruffled through, but that the landlord broke open the windows to the lofts and let pigeons in to destroy their property as a way to get back at them for the legal proceedings. Video footage from one of the tenants shows coats of droppings widespread through their loft.
“Imagine being told…you’re not able to return for three and a half years, and when you do return, your entire apartment is covered in bird excrement,” said Councilmember Stephen Levin (D-Williamsburg). “All of your stuff—ruined—after fighting to get back for three and a half years.”
Tenants expressed their frustration with the multiple city agencies they reached out to about the prolonged wait to return to the building and the damage to their property, including the Department of Buildings, Housing Preservation and Development, and the mayor’s office.
“The mayor came out several months ago and said he was going to support tenants,” said Michael Kozek, the lawyer representing 79 Lorimer St. tenants. “We haven’t seen any of that. We want to see the mayor follow through for what he said he’s committed to do for loft tenants.”
In a statement, the DOB confirmed that the landlord filed permits to install a sprinkler system over a year ago in January 2017 which would make the building safe to occupy, and that the agency granted them the permits at the end of the year.
“The landlord needs to meet their responsibility to the tenants and their legal obligation to make the building safe,” said a spokesperson for the DOB. “DOB will continue to monitor the situation, so that the landlord lives up to these obligations.”
The DOB added that Hoffman owes the city roughly $52,000 in penalties as a result of enforcement actions taken by the agency.
David Brody, a lawyer representing Jacob Hoffman, said the sprinkler system is underway to being fully installed. “Once the work is finished we will go to the DOB and it is up to them to lift the vacate order,” Brody said.
Brody added that the claim among tenants about Hoffman bashing the building’s windows to let pigeons dirty and destroy property was false, and that it was the tenants that left the windows open.
“I know my clients and I believe that to be untrue,” Brody said. “They were telling me that the tenants were leaving the windows open to cause damage to a building where they don’t like the landlord.”