Three months ago, a Crown Heights family was ushered by activists back into their home after being locked out by real estate operatives whom they accused of stealing it. But now they might be evicted again.
A housing court judge has agreed to hear arguments on whether to reinstate an eviction warrant that in February had ousted the family from their home of more than 70 years.
Judge Jack Stoller’s decision came days after an attorney representing Ida Robinson, a 98-year-old who claims duplicitous landlords stole her home at 964 Park Place, dropped a motion alleging that Robinson was swindled out of the deed.
That claim had been instrumental in keeping the family in their home.
In March, Stoller paused an eviction proceeding against the Robinsons by Menachem Gurevitch, who claimed that they owed him nearly six years of rent. Stoller returned possession of the home to the Robinsons while the court investigated their emergency rental assistance application, which could provide up to one year’s protection from eviction.
The decision gave Ida Robinson’s attorney, Adam Birnbaum, time to seek a temporary restraining order that would block an eviction while Birnbaum pursued allegations of deed theft, Law360 reported.
But Birnbaum withdrew those claims last week after counsel for Hezi Torati, the owner accused of deed theft, submitted evidence that Robinson’s grandson Ali Torain helped orchestrate the 2015 sale of the home for about $800,000 and that he and his mother, Helen Robinson, had received money from the deal.
Days later, Gurevitch’s attorney, David Lyle Stern, submitted a letter to the court requesting that “finality be brought to this case.”
Stern wrote that the court now has “full access to the facts surrounding respondents’ contrived fraud claims before being called upon to make a determination of whether the court-imposed stay should remain in effect.”
Gurevitch also disputes that Sherease Torain, Robinson’s granddaughter, has a pending rent-aid application, calling her claim that she appealed its rejection a “falsehood.”
“To this date, no proof of whatever nature has ever been presented with might substantiate Sherease Torain’s attestation,” his filing says.
Torain said the state confirmed to her over the phone that her application has been appealed.
Stern declined to comment on the case. A spokesperson who had represented Gurevitch said he no longer does.
Despite the setbacks, the Robinsons plan to forge ahead with a lawsuit alleging deed theft. The family said it has secured new counsel and plans to file new claims as soon as possible.
But the Crown Heights Tenants Union, which had escorted the evicted Robinsons back into their row house and stood guard on their stoop in the days that followed, said Birnbaum’s appointment could impede the family’s efforts.
Ida Robinson’s financial affairs are managed by Project Guardianship, a court-appointed guardian that selected Birnbaum as Robinson’s counsel.
According to the tenants group, Project Guardianship subscribes to Torati’s version of events and opposed efforts to reclaim the deed after Birnbaum dropped his motion. A spokesperson for the activist group said without the guardian’s approval, it will be challenging to file a new claim in Supreme Court before the eviction court date.
The Robinsons have a week until their May 18 housing court hearing.
Project Guardianship did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Birnbaum has declined to comment on the case.
The Robinsons say they aren’t going anywhere.
“We are not self-evicting,” Sherease Torain said. “We are staying and we are trying to get back our deed.”