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.

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.

Join the Conversation


  1. I don’t agree with the title of the article. It seems as though the writer wants to draw readers by titleing the article in an “explosive” manner. Gentrification happens when a race or culture which is indigenous to an are are “replaced” by another race or culture. In your photos, you look like an Caucasian female. If your landlady is Caucasian, then what are we talking about here. I am already questioning your motives by the title of this article. Seems a bit ingenuous to “harp” on an actual plight that is going on in the city just so you don’t have to fork over extra rent money. Just sounds like someone who wants to clear out their house for the purpose of selling. People can sell their house to whomever they please. No controversy there!

    1. Sorry, but your definition of “gentrification” is slightly off the mark. Gentrification is the shift that occurs when wealthier residents move into a traditionally poorer neighbourhood, pushing up property values and significantly altering the community and the amenities. Possibly, in the USA, this has been distinguished by race, but gentrification is primarily socio-economic.
      I live in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, which has experienced such gentrification. It used to be considered “artistic and bohemian”, so the lawyers and stockbrokers moved in and now the artists can’t afford to live there.

    2. Gentrification isn’t about race, it’s about class. It’s about working and middle class natives being pushed out by wealthy transplants.

      And I do not believe the landlord is within her rights to throw elderly people out of their homes unless her name is SItting Bear or something like that.

      And I am willing to help the writer unevict herself even if it means going to jail.

      Death to landlords.

  2. Move on and be grateful, Karen.
    This article is a discredit to your work.
    Inspired by your playwriting, but not this.
    –signed a property owner, 14 months behind in NYC property taxes

  3. Dear Karen:
    Life goes on after living in Ft. Greene. I wasn’t forced out of Ft. Greene, I left willingly due to over development of the neighborhood. In my new location, I don’t feel anxious about: my landlord going bonkers raising rent every two weeks, parking, trying to get to work on time in overcrowded trains and a late, late bus, my favorite shops suddenly closing, a steady stream of new people that aren’t very nice, and the non-stop movie shoots taking over the block.
    There are some great nabes literally just across the street from Ft. Greene. I found one that is relatively under the radar. It catches a a lot of bad press but I think it is an effort to steer folks to Ft. Greene/Clinton Hill/Crown Heights/Willy-burg and the Slope. It isn’t bad at all. In fact, I like it better because I could afford to buy, it isn’t crowded, people are neighborly and I can get to anywhere in NYC simply by adding extra 15-20 minutes to train commute time.
    There is life after Ft. Greene!

  4. Wait there are racial rules to gentrification? They should not fight for their home because there are other “nabes”?

    Folks Karen has the human right to fight for “her” preferred arrangements; and, the right to fight her dignity. The landlord is being abusive and that is the best reason to fight her in court… Win or lose.

  5. You’ve had a sweet below market rent for decades and now your land lady, who you have at time been friends with, wants to sell and retire outside the city and you are posting vile hateful lies about her motives? Who calls someone a rat? Please move soon.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.