UPDATED, 10:37 a.m., Jan 22: The city has deemed a building in Chinatown uninhabitable following a court-ordered inspection, leaving at least 75 tenants without a home.
The FDNY on Thursday evacuated the building at 85 Bowery, where tenants have been fighting with their landlord Joseph Betesh for years, according to the New York Daily News. They have accused him of neglecting the building to force them out during repairs and increase the rents, while Betesh has said he wants the building cleared out so he can dramatically improve its infrastructure.
Public Advocate Letitia James had supported a settlement that would prevent the tenants from getting evicted and get them long-term rent stabilized leases, but the deal fell apart, and she stopped representing them in summer 2016.
Engineers from the city’s Department of Buildings found that the building’s main stairway was unstable, and they are giving Betesh two weeks to replace it.
“The staircase has always been slanted, but there’s never been any kind of accident,” tenant Raymond Wong told the News. “There are a lot of old people and children in there. I don’t know what they’re going to do.”
A spokesperson for Betesh accused tenants of doing “illegal renovation work” that damaged the building, such as converting apartments into single-room-occupancy units.
“This unauthorized renovation work was done without our consent and put all the building’s occupants at greater risk by leading to dangerous overcrowding, blocked fire escapes and other safety hazards,” he said. “We were unable to prevent this activity because occupants and their representatives repeatedly denied us access to their units.” [NYDN] – Eddie Small
This post has been updated to include a response from the landlord.