Hilonka Saldana had just gotten her cooking gas restored when she got the eviction notice. It was the day before Thanksgiving.

Saldana and her three kids are one of about 20 families fighting to stay in and fix up their decrepit apartments at 60 Clarkson Avenue, a prewar Prospect Lefferts Gardens building that the city used as a contract homeless shelter until the end of October. The former shelter residents, along with a handful of the remaining rent-stabilized tenants, are suing owner Barry Hers, aka Barry Hersko, claiming the former shelter residents should be able to remain in their apartments as rent-paying tenants, and that Hers fraudulently inflated all the apartments' rents in state filings.

Saldana says she lost her gas without warning on November 3rd, around the same time that several other former shelter residents and lawsuit plaintiffs also had their gas and/or power cut off. How exactly the utilities came to be disconnected is unclear—residents suspected sabotage by people working for Hers; his lawyer blamed the Department of Homeless Services for pulling out. It took Saldana and resident advocates most of the month to get her gas restored.

In the meantime, she says she was forced to spend the bulk of the money she receives from public assistance on takeout food. Her autistic seven-year-old son is a picky eater, and it was difficult getting him to eat fast food, she said.

"It was really hard not being able to cook," she said.

Saldana wishes she had gotten a heads up that could have spared her the ordeal.

"If I had, I would have had no problem putting [the gas] in my name," she said.

She finally reopened the account for her apartment and got the gas turned on last Tuesday. Then, on Wednesday, she received the eviction notice under her door, as did all the other former shelter residents, according to Tenants and Neighbors organizer Jennifer Berkley. When Hers and a service-provider nonprofit founded by one Isaac Hersko called We Always Care first moved to push out all the residents with fewer than 24 hours notice, they did so the Monday before the Fourth of July weekend.

"It seems to be in line with a pattern of taking legal action before long weekends," Berkley said. "That irony is not lost on any of us."

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60 Clarkson Ave. (Nathan Tempey/Gothamist)

The latest eviction notice gives more lead time, demanding residents leave by December 31st, but it's still alarming. Several families that signed onto the lawsuit and remained after the shelter wound down have since left, having found apartments with the help of rental vouchers, or returned to the shelter system. The prospect of returning to the PATH shelter intake center in the Bronx and starting the whole process over frightens Saldana.

"It’s not like a full guarantee here, and that’s scary," she said. "It’s scary to be stuck in the shelter for years and have to go back to PATH because the system failed, basically. It’s not all Barry Hers. It’s also DHS."

The city had been paying Hers as much as $3,000 a month per apartment as part of its troubled cluster site program, despite major leaks, collapsing ceilings, and rampant mold, vermin, and roaches, allegedly anemic service provision by We Always Care, and the fact that the scheme was taking regulated housing off the market, possibly forever. DHS continued moving families into 60 Clarkson even after it announced its intention to stop using the building in July. It is still paying Hers to run at least three other cluster site shelters nearby in Prospect Lefferts Gardens and Ditmas Park. Hers, also a conventional landlord, has been sued in housing court by tenants and the city 52 times since the 1990s, court records show, and many more suits have been filed against the numerous LLCs he controls, mostly regarding substandard conditions in apartments or entire buildings.

The eviction notices were made out in the name of We Always Care director Yechezkel Tabak, with the organization listed as an "over tenant." This seems to run counter to We Always Care Manager Taofeek Owoade's insistence last month that the organization is not coordinating with Hers and that, "As of October 31st, We Always Care has nothing to do with 60 Clarkson."

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Tyquasia Davis, left, and Ravan Huddleston inspect the building's meters and circuit breakers, which they believe the landlord tampered with to kill their electricity. (Nathan Tempey/Gothamist)

Despite the uncertainty of the looming eviction and what she says are continued utility shutoffs and intermittent losses of heat, Saldana cooked Thanksgiving for her kids, waking up at 2 a.m. to get to work on a big spread. She was thankful to have the gas back, at least.

"It was good," she said. "It was me and the kids and I cooked them a big dinner. We ate and watched a movie afterwards."

Actually, she clarified, they watched two movies: Hotel Transylvania and Hotel Transylvania 2, cartoons about a high-end resort run by Dracula.

On Monday, Legal Aid lawyers filed for a preliminary injunction to prevent Hers from taking any action against the residents and tenants until the lawsuit is settled. Berkley said a judge put off a decision on that request, but issued a temporary restraining order pausing the eviction clock until an early January hearing.

In the meantime, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development is paying the electricity of four households that lost power, and is helping others sort out account issues, according to a spokeswoman. A National Grid spokeswoman declined to comment on how residents' cooking gas came to be shut off, saying customer information is confidential. A Con Edison spokesman could not immediately determine how residents came to lose electricity.

A spokeswoman for Public Advocate Letitia James, who received $350 in contributions from Hersko during her 2013 campaign, said that James is working closely with Legal Aid to help residents. The spokeswoman declined to comment on whether James knows Hers or if she plans to return the contribution.

Hers and Tabak did not respond to requests for comment. Hers's lawyer Meryl Wenig declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

More than half the 83 apartments in the building are now empty, which Saldana thinks is spooky, but not as distressing as not knowing what the new year will hold.

"It’s kind of stressful not knowing what’s going to happen," she said. "It’s scary."

Correction: A previous version of this story referred to Isaac Hersko as an alias of Barry Hers's. This was believed to be the case by residents of 60 Clarkson Avenue and lawyers representing them, and Hers did not refute it in correspondence with Gothamist, but subsequent investigation by the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal's Tenant Protection Unit showed that Isaac and Barry are in fact two different people.