Harlem tenants put landlord on notice

Original at http://www.nydailynews.com/boroughs/brooklyn/2007/04/05/2007-04-05_harlem_tenant....

Thursday, April 5th 2007, 10:36 AM

It is not exactly cheap anymore, but East Harlem - or El Barrio - is still one of the few areas in the city where working class New Yorkers can afford to live.

But some powerful interests are doing their best to follow an all-too-common pattern: They want to turn this traditionally immigrant neighborhood into another absurdly expensive, gentrified area.

It's not going to be easy.

"We will not allow that any landlord to treat immigrant tenants with anything less than dignity and respect," said Juan Haro, leader of the Movement for Justice in El Barrio, a community organization that for over two years has battled for immigrant rights in East Harlem.

Haro's concern has to do with the fact that Dawnay, Day Group, a gigantic British corporation, just acquired 47 rent-stabilized and rent-controlled buildings in East Harlem for more than $200 million.

The transaction involves 1,141 apartments and 57 ground-floor retail spaces between 99th and 125th Sts.

Dawnay, Day "are thinking in terms of gentrification and raising the rents," Haro said referring to an interview with Ian Blakely, director of Dawnay, Day, published last week in The Times in London.

In that interview, Blakely made clear his intention to take advantage of lax tenant protection laws in New York to raise rents tenfold.

On Tuesday, the Movement for Justice in El Barrio staged a protest in front of the new landlord's office in East Harlem, and pasted a poster-sized letter on its front door with several demands.

Among them: That Dawnay, Day abandon any plans to raise rents - now around $1,000 for a one-bedroom apartment - and push immigrants from their homes; replace the abusive and disrespectful staff of the former landlord with trained, respectful professionals, and reverse what they say was the previous owner's longtime practice of harassing tenants with false and illegal charges and late fees by removing the charges from their accounts.

The letter also was sent to the landlord's London offices, although it has been reported that Blakely already has reacted to the protest. Dawnay, Day "cannot displace tenants nor increase rents above the legal regular increases if they are legitimate tenants in occupation," he said.

Fine, but many years of abuses - unresponsive landlords, freezing apartments, broken windows, peeling walls and ceilings - have made skeptics out of the people of East Harlem when it comes to dealing with building owners.

That is why the Movement for Justice in El Barrio has played such an impressive role in empowering the community through organizing tenants and educating them about their rights.

The former owner was Steve Kessner, a powerful slumlord who the tenants organization battled through protests, street marches and court actions.

The tenants forced Kessner to make hundreds of repairs and, finally, forced him out of East Harlem.

"Instead of the powerful landlord evicting the immigrants, the immigrants evicted the powerful landlord," Haro said at the time.

"We won over rich landlords in every building. People now see that together, we can make a difference."

They certainly do, as they made clear on Tuesday in front of the new landlord's office. Along with signs that read "Bienvenidos a El Barrio," (Welcome to El Barrio), the tenants also left flowers and fruit on the sidewalk for their new billionaire landlord.

But they also carried other signs with a very different message: "Aquí estamos y no nos vamos" - "We are here to stay and we won't go away."

Last edited on Sat, 2011-06-25 02:47