The tenants of one rent-controlled Brownsville apartment building burst their way back into their homes on Tuesday after they say their landlord illegally evict them by locking them out.
Four residents of the six-unit building on Legion Street near Pitkin Avenue were forced from their homes earlier this year after a series of fires made the building uninhabitable, said Marty Needelman, the executive director and general counsel of Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A. But when the tenants, who paid only between $80 and $150 a month for their units, tried to return following repairs, they found themselves locked out by their landlord, Yuen Ip. According to Needelman, these fires—and the lock-changing that followed—were hardly a mistake.
"Rather than having to raise the rents, [the landlord] just took more effective and immediate action," he said, implying that Ip himself started the fires in attempt to forcibly evict his tenants. Needelman was quick to add that he has no proof that this was the case—only pointing to similar incidents around the city, including several in gentrifying Williamsburg, where landlords are often eager to replace longtime residents with wealthy newcomers willing to pay exorbitant rents.
Each of the four tenants were issued letters from the state's Homes & Community Renewal agency, ensuring that they were legally obliged to return to their homes once repairs were made. But instead, Needelman said, they found themselves locked out, their apartments having been fully renovated and Ip shopping for new, higher paying tenants. Though three of the original tenants were able to return to their apartments following Tuesday's intervention—which involved an attorney from Brooklyn Legal Services, police and a locksmith—the fourth found that is apartment had been leased for as much as $2,300 per month.
For now, the three tenants will be able to resume paying their original rents, Needelman said, but the battle will wage on.