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Landlords, Eviction and Gentrification in Brooklyn

Me in the kitchen with my dogs as puppies Photo: Rod Morrison By guest blogger Karen Malpede After nearly 24 years as good tenants, sometimes even friends, our landlady has chosen to take us to housing court in order to evict us from the Clinton Hill
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Me in the kitchen with my dogs as puppies Photo: Rod Morrison

By guest blogger Karen Malpede

After nearly 24 years as good tenants, sometimes even friends, our landlady has chosen to take us to housing court in order to evict us from the Clinton Hill house she wishes to sell at peak market value.

Several months back, I had asked her for a proposal so that we would know when we had to move. She responded with silence. She doesn't live on the property, but rents the lower two floors to us and the upstairs "apartment" rather illegally, it seems, to an ever-changing group of unrelated single people who occupy separate rooms in what is zoned as a two family house.

They, too, have been sent the same letter saying: "I need to follow a formal legal practice, which protects both our rights." I happened to run into our landlady scurrying, rather rodent like, down the porch steps two days ago as I was coming home with the dogs from their late walk. She had, she quickly explained, just dropped the letters on the mail table. What rights, exactly, are we able to protect in housing court?

One lawyer suggested I "bat my (dark Italian) eyes" at the judge so he would give us six to eight months to move. Another lawyer more committed and less sexist (we have known her in fact since she was a child, and who does housing law to protect the elderly) said, "Unfortunately tenants in small buildings have essentially no rights. You have the right to be evicted in housing court."

Her interest, though, has been piqued by the illegal living arrangement above our heads; she wants to research whether or not, a very long shot, our landlady has actually created a rent-stabilized situation by renting what is zoned as an apartment essentially as an SRO against the housing code for 30 years.

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My husband, George Bartenieff, and myself, at the Federal Court House Gallery opening of Susan Rowland's art show, which we co-organized along with neighbors in 2013 Photo: Zoe Babian

This would be a game-changer, obviously, as then, she could not evict anyone. But, as we know, it's not terribly likely fate, or the law, will deal us such a kindly blow. Meanwhile, our landlady has lawyered up, with a Park Ave. firm. One wonders why she couldn't simply have my answered by question months ago, and offered some sort of realistic, even, compassionate, agreement to people she has known for so long, whose monthly rent checks she has cashed. Might her, if not out-right illegal, at least quite shady, renting of the upper two floors make her nervous, as our lawyer friend suggests?

Or does she worry that we two senior citizens being thrown out of an affordable home we have lived in for nearly a quarter of a century, are not above batting eyes at judges or doing whatever else might come our way? Her letter to us states that we will "receive notice from my attorney's office in the next few days and it will say that our tenancy is 'terminated' as of October 31, 2014."

I might add in court between batting my eyes (I hope the judge is also a senior citizen, of course) that we have received absolutely minimum maintenance of house and grounds for the past twenty-four years; there are rooms in our apartment that have never been painted, and all others have been painted only once, no appliance has ever been replaced, and the backyard, half of which she rents as a car park, is filled with lumber and other stuff that does not belong to us and has just been dumped.

Nevertheless, we garden there and my husband clips her bushes for her. I have a few other perhaps more pertinent things to say, as well. To be continued…

I'll be doing a running blog about our eviction story, but I also intend to interview and write about the plight of others. See the first installment on The Brooklyn Reader: "Our Home Is not our House."

Karen Malpede is a playwright whose newest play Extreme Whether opens Oct. 2 at Theater for the New City. www.theaterthreecollaborative.org/extreme-whether.



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