A Crown Heights family battling eviction from the home they have owned since 1951 had a “crucial win” in court Monday, allowing them to legally stay in the house while they fight to prove they are victims of deed theft.

After 18 days of Brooklyn tenant advocates and neighbors keeping a round-the-clock watch at 964 Park Place to prevent any eviction attempts, Queen Afua Helen Robinson and her daughter Sherease Torain were restored to legal possession of their home by a Feb. 28 court order.

“Today is a good day,” Robinson said Monday, as she thanked advocates for their help in kickstarting the “political machinery.”

A crowd rallies for the family earlier this month. Photo: Jessy Edwards for BK Reader

“It’s an opening to come out of the landlord-tenant court with the support of the judge and all the lawyers who took part in this.”

Deed theft allegations

The order comes more than six years after the family lost possession of the title of the house to landlord Menachem Gurevitch.

Without today’s ruling, Gurevitch could have legally kicked the family out of the house thanks to winning a Feb. 8 warrant to evict.

The Robinsons were the first Black family on the block, they say, and both Torain and her mother were born in the property, which Torain’s grandfather bought after fleeing Alabama in 1951.

A rally at the home. Photo: Jessy Edwards for BK Reader.

Robinson and Torain say the deed was swindled from the family matriarch Ida Robinson six years ago, when she was 92 years old. Ida, now 98, is currently recovering from COVID-19 in hospital.

The family is now taking their deed theft battle to New York’s Supreme Court.

According to a letter lodged in support of the Robinson’s deed theft case by Brooklyn attorney Adam M. Birnbaum, the case bears the marks of a “foreclosure rescue scam,” in which a company pretends to prepare “refinancing” documents to help owners at risk of foreclosure.

“The true owners, who are almost always Black and usually elderly, are not told that they are signing away title to their home,” the letter says.

Over the past half-decade, Torain said she had approached countless organizations and law enforcement agencies to report deed theft, but no one had been willing to take up the complex case.

“There has been no process, there has been neglect from the bench and everyone has turned the other cheek,” she said Monday.

“The problem is that we are Black women. We are disabled, we are Black and we are women. If that had not been the case, people would have done their job.”

Housing advocates kept watch over the property. Photo: Jessy Edwards for BK Reader.

In Monday’s order, Brooklyn Housing Court Judge Jack Stoller said it would be up to the Supreme Court to decide who legally owned the title to the house.

In the meantime, he was “loath to” end that course of action for the Robinsons by denying their motion to be restored to legal possession of the house.

Fighting to be heard

The order comes after tense scenes on Park Place over the last two weeks as the landlord’s representatives tried to forcibly enter the property to evict the family.

Torain was admitted to hospital for surgery in early February, and returned to find the locks changed.

After taking up the case, tenant advocates from Crown Heights Tenant Union and Brooklyn Eviction Defense organized protests and physically blockaded the landlord from entering the property, even sleeping on the stoop overnight in frigid temperatures to keep watch.

At times, the situation bubbled over when landlords tried to forcibly reenter the home, including reportedly trying to break in through the roof.

On that night, the Robinsons contacted Councilmember Chi Ossé who went to the scene, and who then contacted New York Attorney General Letitia James, who also immediately went to the house, and later opened an investigation into the case.

On Monday, Ossé said the power of combining activism and local government had been proven by the ruling.

“I commend the Crown Heights Tenants Union for their tireless, months-long organizing, and thank the Attorney General for her partnership,” he said.

“The first Black Family on this Brooklyn block, three generations later, can continue to stand their ground.”

Meanwhile, Crown Heights Tenant Union Cofounder Joel Feingold heralded a “victory,” while adding that he and the family needed to get some rest, now.

“The movement has done the impossible,” Feingold said. “Now, a long fight to return the deed.”

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Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is a writer based in Bushwick. Originally from New Zealand, she has written for the BBC, Rolling Stone, NBC New York, CNBC and her hometown newspaper, The Dominion Post, among others.

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  1. If the deed was indeed stolen & the current landlord bought it unknowingly from the owner who stole the deed, how does he/they get restitution? Ostensibly the “bought” the property & laid out their own money not knowing it was stolen. How do they recoup that if the deed gets returned?

    1. they will have to go after the listing company and lender for reimbursement because it was a false encumbrance on the Title which you supposed to research before purchasing it’s happening all over USA and it’s sad greed

  2. This article is laughable. “The landlord tried to forcibly enter”?! The landlord legally evicted the tenants. The former tenants were the ones that FORCIBLY ENTERED the premises after eviction in violation of the law!
    Do a little digging about the family and you will find out this is not about compassion.

    1. From someone on the ground: the eviction was illegally executed for multiple reasons, which is what the judge ruled Monday morning. The most important reason why the eviction was illegal: the ERAP case was still pending, and the LL didn’t give that info to the marshals (despite being legally obligated to) before hiring them to execute an expired warrant (which technically they are not supposed to do). Nobody with a pending ERAP case is legally allowed to be evicted.

      1. One more thing: the judge who made the decision to restore possession to the family is actually the same judge who approved the old eviction warrant, so the information that the family brought to light here was so compelling that the judge vacated his own eviction order!

      2. You are incorrect. There was no pending ERAP. Look at what the judge wrote. The issue with the ERAP was that the landlord needed to inform the court if an ERAP was filed. When the moratorium was lifted, the marshal confirmed the ERAP was denied and no appeal was in place. It was a technicality the judge relied on, not a violation of the law. And for the family to use Covid relief for an issue that has absolutely nothing to do with Covid is sad

        1. The ERAP *appeal* was indeed pending when the “landlord” hired the marshals to execute the old warrant. Please stop spreading misinformation. It’s especially gross when you’re spreading misinformation in defense of a reprehensible deed thief who hired a violent goon squad to try to invade the house when the eviction plan failed!

          1. You have no idea what you talking about! You are falling for the lies that the former owner’s rich daughter is espousing.
            The marshal would never have evicted without proof the ERAP was not in motion

  3. It appears they are trying to get back the house on a technicality. Nobody has yet said why an 92 year old would need a 450K loan that she was behind on. What the public doesnt know is Mrs. Robinson had other properities in Brooklyn that were mismanaged by her family. There are grandchildren and children that are not mentioned in any of the articles. I wonder why. Sounds like elder abuse since the loan was orginally paid off in 1991.

    1. Spot on! The family is the one that swindled their elderly mother/grandmother. If you read the court documents in the case with 964 Park Place LLC, it clearly states that family members were with her when she signed this deal in the attorney office.

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