Bad habit: Nuns booting immigrant tenants in Hell’s Kitchen

Dispute broke out when the sisters raised the rent by $150

TRD New York /
Dec.December 29, 2014 01:44 PM

More than two dozen immigrant women who have resided for years in a five-story single-room occupancy building in Hell’s Kitchen have just over a year to find a new home, an attorney for the residents said. And the landlord who’s giving them the boot? The Daughters of Mary of the Immaculate Conception.

The Connecticut order of nuns, which owns the St. Joseph Immigrant Home at 425 West 44th Street, between Ninth and 10th avenues, is locked in a battle with a group of the building’s residents who balked at a $150 rent increase imposed earlier this year by the sisters. To date, the nuns have filed 27 lawsuits in Housing Court to remove the women.

The residents are not protected by rent-stabilization regulations which cover most SRO buildings, because of an exemption for religious institutions using the building for a charitable purpose.

The landlord is offering to give the women, who have been living in the building for years, until January 2016 to move, said Clint Guthrie, an attorney with the Goddard Riverside SRO Law Project, which is representing nine of the 27 tenants. The others are represented by MFY Legal Services and Housing Conservation Coordinators. Other tenants in the building are new or have agreed to pay the higher rent.

“Our goal as an organization is that we see none of the women become homeless,” Guthrie said. The owners, “are not in any way offering that any of the tenants can stay long term. At some earlier point we thought that might be possible if they paid all or part of the rent increase.”

The building owner wants to raise rents in order to pay down $400,000 in loans and cover a $100,000 annual deficit, as well as return the building to an earlier mission, which is to give temporary housing to immigrant women, said Andrew Wagner, an associate with the law firm Rosen Livingston & Cholst. He is representing the landlord. The nuns did not respond to a request for comment.

“These financial obligations can only be satisfied from the rents it receives from its tenants. Even with the rent increases, which more than half of the residents are paying, it will take years for my client to erase this deficit,” Wagner said in an email to The Real Deal.

Wagner would not address the plan to give the tenants until January 2016 to vacate, saying he could not comment on pending settlement negotiations.

The website for the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s shows the building has 75 units, but attorneys for the tenants said there are several more.

Community Board 4 has been closely involved with the negotiations since the nuns pressed the tenants for a rent hike earlier this year.


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