The landlords of 1214 Dean Street in Crown Heights are facing a lawsuit from the city over allegedly harassing and attempting to evict tenants in early July — at the height of the coronavirus pandemic and during the eviction moratorium.
The lawsuit was filed by the city’s Law Department, working with the Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants, against landlords Gennaro Brooks-Church and Loretta Gendville on Tuesday.
The property owned by Brooks-Church and Gendville was home to nine young roommates, many of whom were queer, Black or Brown and working low-wage service jobs. All had been severely affected by the pandemic and were unable to pay rent during the early months of the eviction moratorium, The Cut reported in August.
Brooks-Church and Gendville attempted to evict the tenants in July, and were met with more than 100 protestors who gathered to support the tenants.
The city said in a press release its Law Department responded with a Cease and Desist letter sent to the landlords on July, after they “blatantly harassed the tenants of 1214 Dean Street, illegally evicting at least four tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Today’s lawsuit, the city said, was a show of it taking steps to help tenants facing unlawful eviction, saying this case was an example of how tenant harassment during this crisis would not be tolerated.
Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants Deputy Director Ricardo Martínez Campos said the city would take forceful action like today’s lawsuit to make that very clear
“For landlords who think they can rely on these tactics and make them part of their business model, know that you are on notice, and we will not hesitate to bring you to Court.”
Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants Outreach and Engagement Coordinator Greta Aiken thanked the tenants for working closely with the city to bring the case, saying they had to recount their difficult stories time and again.
“It is our hope that this case will have implications that reach beyond 1214 Dean Street and will make clear that tenants should be treated with dignity and respect, and that their rights under the law must be observed.”
The city is seeking civil penalties for violations of the NYC Unlawful Eviction Law, a finding of Tenant Harassment against defendants, correction of construction code violations — including unpermitted construction and illegal conversion — and civil penalties for those violations.
The city is also working with Attorney General Letitia James, whose office has an active investigation into the actions of the Brooks-Church and Gendville.
James said inflicting additional trauma onto those struggling to stay afloat during a pandemic by threatening eviction without process was not only immoral, but illegal. “No one should fear having their home taken away at a time when their very life depends on social distancing and staying home; and no one should live in fear of reprisal from their landlord for asserting their lawful rights,” she said.
The Unlawful Eviction Law allows the city to advance tenants’ rights, even when tenants are unable or too intimidated to bring their own action before a court. Mayor Bill de Blasio created the Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants in 2019 to coordinate the city’s range of tenant protection efforts.
Councilmember Robert Cornegy, Jr., whose district covers the Dean Street home, thanked the grassroots activists who pushed for a legal resolution, and also organized fundraisers to support the tenants. “The Crown Height Mutual Aid raised nearly $10,000 for them, and they have been instrumental to make sure the tenants of 1214 Dean get the support they deserve,” he said.
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