Tenants of three rent-stabilized apartment buildings in Prospect-Lefferts Garden are taking their landlord to court, alleging tenant harassment and illegal housing practices to push them out of their homes.
The long list of charges against the Shasho landlords, a family of building owners led by Miriam Shasho, include failing to provide heat and hot water, refusing to repair dangerous living conditions, filing baseless eviction proceedings, charging erroneous late fees, repeatedly offering unwanted buyout deals, pushing long-term rent-stabilized tenants out and converting newly vacant units to Airbnbs. Tenants allege the landlord has even installed separate heating and cooling systems in the Airbnb units while the long-term tenants suffer in the frigid cold.
“Sometimes I come home and the lights don’t come on,” said Digna Doesserie-Mitchel, a long-term tenant at 611 Flatbush Avenue. “In the wintertime, I freeze in my own apartment because there’s no heat. How is the landlord going to fix up these other apartments for Airbnb and not maintain the rest of the building? We actually live here. We pay our rent just like everyone else.”
The Shasho family has repeatedly made the Public Advocate’s Worst Landlord List. Over the last four years, the family has racked up a litany of violations in their three buildings at 611 Flatbush Avenue, 607 Flatbush Avenue and 599 Flatbush Avenue.
In addition to more than 220 open housing violations, the building owners have been cited for 207 Housing Preservation and Development violations for lack of heat and hot water, fire hazards and repairs; seven Department of Building violations for illegal construction practices; eight Environmental Control Board violations related to construction, the building’s boiler and electrical violations.
As one of NYC’s the most distressed buildings, the property at 607 Flatbush Avenue has been placed in the City’s Alternative Enforcement Program; If repairs are not made within four months of the initial notice, the City could file a tax lien against the property.
Now tenants, represented by Brooklyn Legal Services’ Tenant Rights Coalition, have filed a complaint in Kings County Supreme Court on Tuesday against their landlord to seek penalties and punitive damages and to put a stop to the long-term harassment and illegal housing practices.
“These buildings are unsanitary fire traps,” said Catherine Frizell, an attorney at Brooklyn Legal Services. “Not only is the landlord terrorizing these tenants to drive them out of their rent-stabilized homes, but they are actively putting the tenants’ lives at risk.”
The tenants also allege the landlord is illegally renting out units on Airbnb. They believe the landlord has listed at least five ads online with higher rent rates advertising the units as “new cozy, clean designer apartment” and “beautiful sun-filled space” while dangerous living conditions persist throughout the rest of the rent-stabilized units.
The residents are concerned about the constant stream of strangers in the building caused by the Airbnb units, which makes them feel unsafe. The Airbnb units also flout NYC’s fire and safety regulations which, the tenants fear, endangers both them and Airbnb guests.
“I fear for my life,” said Elizabeth Hayes who has been a tenant of 607 Flatbush Avenue since 1981. “This building is unsafe. Any time I smell something burning I think the building is on fire because it’s very possible. I lay awake at night hearing all kinds of noises from people in the building who I don’t know. This landlord clearly thinks he can get away with this, but not anymore.”
In response to complaints about deplorable living conditions and harassment, the landlord told one tenant, “It is a shit building and you are still here. You guys must love this shit.”
When a tenant notified the landlord that they were going to call 311, the landlord replied, “What are they going to do about it?” and later quipped, “What did reporting to the City do for you?” When the landlord has responded to tenants’ repair issues, the response was delayed and woefully inadequate. In one instance, the landlord provided a “refurbished” refrigerator to a tenant that contained a live rat after she complained her refrigerator was no longer working. Another received a refurbished stove infested with roaches and mice.
“The landlord also mocks, threatens and gaslights tenants when they request repairs or complain about the landlord’s illegal hotel operation, operating under the assumption that tenant protection laws won’t be enforced,” said Frizell. “But they are dead wrong. We won’t stop fighting until every tenant in this building gets the justice they deserve.”
Meanwhile, Airbnb issued a comment, distancing itself from landlords who harass tenants to free apartments and who then try to rent them through the company’s website.
“Airbnb strongly opposes landlords who evict tenants with the purpose of renting their space on a short-term basis,” said Liz DeBold Fusco, Airbnb’s Northeast press secretary. “There is an ongoing need for a comprehensive, statewide bill that would provide for strict recourse against illegal hotel operators while protecting the rights of thousands of regular New Yorkers who are responsibly sharing their home. Airbnb is supporting legislation that would create this necessary regulatory framework.”
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams called on Airbnb to remove listings related to three buildings now subject to the lawsuit.
“I’m disturbed by allegations of aggressive harassment made by tenants in Prospect Lefferts Garden,” tweeted Adams. We must preserve this affordable housing stock. I ask Airbnb to remove these addresses from their site amid Brooklyn Legal Services’ ongoing lawsuit.”