New twist in decade-long landlord-tenant fight

Incarcerated tenant sublet unit and installed bidet, lawsuit claims

New York /
May.May 18, 2020 07:05 PM
42-07 34th Avenue (Credit: Google Maps, iStock)

42-07 34th Avenue (Credit: Google Maps, iStock)

After 10 years and two attempts to oust Abdelhakim Houmita from his rent-stabilized apartment, a Long Island City landlord is hoping the third time will be the charm.

In the saga’s latest chapter, Collpoint Enterprises, an entity tied to Ben and Frank Biordi, has sued Houmita, claiming he is illegally subletting his unit — despite being in federal custody for the past 18 months.

Among the landlord’s grievances is that Houmita installed a makeshift bidet.

Collpoint alleges that Houmita has turned his apartment at 42-07 34th Avenue into a short-term rental, charging more than double the legal rent for the stabilized unit.

The owner had terminated Houmita’s lease back in 2016 for allegedly running an Airbnb-type business out of the apartment. But Collpoint’s holdover eviction was interrupted when Immigration and Customs Enforcement took the tenant into custody, according to the lawsuit. Houmita has appealed a decision calling for his deportation.

The arrest did, at least, stop the “parade” of short-term occupants, according to the lawsuit. But as recently as March 1, several different visitors stayed at the apartment, arranged by a man who identified himself as Houmita’s cousin, the lawsuit alleges.

Eviction proceedings are halted in New York, but Collpoint wants an exception, claiming other tenants of the building “fear for their lives.”

“They don’t know or recognize these interlopers that are mostly foreign nationals,” Linda Gabriel, the building’s property manager, wrote in an affidavit. She cited an “incessant parade of unknown and unlawful occupants” into the apartment during the pandemic, causing noise and damage.

Attorneys representing Houmita didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.

The lawsuit alleges that Houmita caused damage to the apartment by, among other things, installing a makeshift bidet, breaking wall tiles with a hammer and running hot water in the shower for extended periods of time, which warped the floor and caused mold to grow on the walls and ceiling.

A tenant living in the apartment below Houmita’s wrote in an affidavit that the superintendent replaced his ceiling in March 2017 following water damage caused by leaks from Houmita’s apartment. The neighbor wrote that the apartment above started leaking again two months ago.

Under state law, rent-stabilized tenants must get permission from their landlord before subletting their apartment. Such agreements are often contingent on the primary tenant eventually returning.

Short-term rentals are a different story: State law bars renting out a dwelling for fewer than 30 days unless an owner or tenant is present. The de Blasio administration has been cracking down on short-term Airbnb rentals.

Court records indicate that Collpoint previously tried to evict Houmita, but in 2011 an appellate court upheld the case’s dismissal. In that case, Collpoint alleged that Houmita twice failed to grant the landlord access to the property. An attorney for Collpoint, David Rosenbaum, said he had no details on previous disputes.

“With the lawful tenants being hunkered down, the steady stream of unknown individuals who … access the building and apartment with keys has frightened them,” Rosenbaum said in an email. “Of course my client is concerned and is trying to ameliorate the situation.”

Write to Kathryn Brenzel at [email protected]


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