All over New York City, the Department of Homeless Services has been placing homeless shelters, particularly in the City’s most affluent neighborhoods. Front page articles went on for months discussing these homeless shelters, the prostitution and drug use and trafficking that come along with such shelters, as well as the incompetency of the services provided to the men and woman that reside in the buildings. In each part of the City, legal battles ensued. No opposition group in any part of the City had won a court case despite that many cases tried, including a few high profile cases that were decided by the Appellate Division, First Department. Political battles were won but not until almost one year after the hotels moved over a thousand homeless people into these shelters. Many homeless shelters remain in operation. These homeless shelters had to leave their traditional operating areas after the City sued the operators for rent regulation status for the homeless residents which ended the traditional relationships that had gone one for decades.
A group of owners hired Adam Leitman Bailey hoping to prevent over a hundred former convicts and homeless women from moving into one of the most opulent zip codes in Manhattan. The Department of Homeless Services start with one nearby hotel and then expand into the area. I met with the leaders of the group and explained to them that as an expert in New York City’s Single Room Occupancy Laws I had been consulted on many of these projects and therefore was familiar with the history and current crisis. I told them that filing a court case may be a good idea, but not for the same reasons that other very large firms likely had in mind when they muscled their way in.
Befriending the Current Residents living in the Building
The government chose a building that was not suited to house so many new residents. I met with each tenant of the building individually and explained that I would be working for them to protect them and that another organization would be paying my legal bill. I became deeply concerned for these 6 residents as they all presented with different ailments, are elderly and clearly would not do well and may not survive the influx of such chaos. We developed a close relationship that carried on to many attorneys and staff members at the firm and led to pizza events to learn about their lives. They each come from a different background and experiences. Some are veterans who have traveled the globe while others are chess or literary aficionados. All of the tenants have called the building home for several decades.
Stopping All Construction on the Building
After touring the building on several occasions, the ALBPC team observed that several of the tenants’ units were already in states of utter disrepair. ALBPC sought the opinions of various environmental and health safety experts to run tests and surveys of the building. These experts concluded that the building was fraught with unsafe conditions, specifically high levels of asbestos and lead paint. At this point, the ALBPC team knew that the proposed conversion must be stopped, as any construction ran the immediate risk of exposing the tenants to dangerous levels of disturbed asbestos and lead paint. This type of exposure could prove to be life-threatening for these elderly individuals.
Without wasting any time, ALBPC immediately commenced an emergency proceeding in New York County Civil Court and demanded that the Court direct the landlord to refrain from moving forward with the construction until the proper safeguards, inspections, and testing are done to ensure that the tenants are protected from exposure to asbestos and lead paint. This request included monitoring and testing of all work that was being done to remedy chipped tiles, flaking paint, and other unsafe conditions that already existed in the tenants’ apartments.
Over the course of several months, ALBPC tirelessly litigated this proceeding and advocated for the tenants. The ALBPC team filed various motion papers, prepared expert affidavits, and participated in several court conferences to advocate for the tenants’ rights. ALBPC also used savvy lawyering to join relevant city agencies in the case to ensure that that any work performed in the building was done in accordance with applicable health and safety guidelines. ALBPC found this measure to be necessary to protect the tenants from exposure to harmful substances and materials.
Besides improving the lives of the tenants, the landlord mistakenly checked off the box that the building had been checked for asbestos. The building was full of asbestos and no work could begin or any work started had to stop. We were not in Housing Court battling over the repairs and asbestos. Over the course of several months, ALBPC tirelessly litigated this proceeding and advocated for the tenants. The ALBPC team filed various motion papers, prepared expert affidavits, and participated in several court conferences to advocate for the tenants’ rights. ALBPC also used savvy lawyering to join relevant city agencies in the case to ensure that that any work performed in the building was done in accordance with applicable health and safety guidelines. ALBPC found this measure to be necessary to protect the tenants from exposure to harmful substances and materials.
Keeping the Case Going
For as long as the asbestos existed in the building, the Homeless Shelter Could Not Be Built. We wore the landlord down in court. We were relentless.
Proving that this Hotel Could Not be Made to Fit Over 100 New Residents in its Present Form
Stemming from the landlord’s failure to disclose proper asbestos abatement as part of its constructions plans, we accessed the initial plans and effectively caused DOB to examine the plans for several reasons including the mistake in claiming the building was scoped for asbestos. We engaged engineers and architects to study the constructions plans to confirm our suspicion that the plans violated the building code and presented life and safety issues that put both the current tenants and the proposed future occupants of the building at serious life or death risk.
We drafted a lawsuit that was never filed but sent to the landlord’s attorney asking for a declaration that this hotel never be allowed to be occupied by over 100 residents with its present structures. We harped on the life and safety problems. We demonstrated that the building and the proposed building were to suffer a fire, its current structure could potentially trap the residents inside, for example, and that the proposed plans completely disregard the accessibility requirements for people with disabilities. Eventually, the government and the non-profit agency backing the program terminated their relationship with the owner. The hotel is no longer going to become a homeless shelter. Our clients’ homes have been repaired and still other necessary repairs are in process. This is the first victory against the Department of Homeless Services, before residents were moved in and since these programs started. Now, in full disclosure, we do not know what caused our victory or even if we were the cause of it. We do know that we had an impact and there is a very good chance that we did cause the government and this particular non-profit agency to look elsewhere. We know that we effectively organized the community, we were able to advocate for the existing tenants, and we did validly show that it would cost the hotel significantly to make it a safe home for residents. I was proud of our team for their incredible work and thoughtfulness.
Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. successfully represented the community organization against a homeless shelter, as well as the tenants living in the building. Adam Leitman Bailey, Carolyn Rualo, and William Pekarsky represented all of the above in court, in meetings, working with the experts, working with the tenants and the different governmental agencies.