Stealing a page from several prominent Manhattan nonprofits, an obscure Brooklyn yeshiva is using a legal loophole to attempt to empty a rent-stabilized Borough Park building. Yeshiva Nesivos Chaim, which bought 221 Avenue F in April 2004 for $2.1 million, is banking on a seldom-used provision that was added to the rent stabilization law in 1983, allowing charitable nonprofits to evict tenants as long as the apartments will be used for nonresidential, charitable purposes.
Tenants say the Yeshiva has forced them to endure hazardous conditions. Indeed, the building has been cited for 332 housing-code violations since the Yeshiva purchased it, and contractors hired by the city have made $11,475 in emergency repairs. The Yeshiva currently conducts classes in a first-floor apartment and has more classrooms and a synagogue in the basement (these are apparently operating illegally). Tenants and several Yeshiva students said that as apartments become vacant, they are not being re-rented but are instead used as student housing.
In moving to evict the tenants, the Yeshiva is adopting the same strategy employed by two large Manhattan nonprofits. The Jewish Theological Seminary attempted to evict rent-stabilized tenants from 515 and 521 W. 122nd Street, but lost in 2001 on a technicality, because it had temporarily transferred ownership to a for-profit subsidiary, and thus the building was not owned by a nonprofit at the time the tenants moved in. And back in 1993, Leo House, a low-cost hotel for single women in Chelsea that was affiliated with Catholic Charities, served eviction notices on its residents. After a five-year legal battle, tenants there lost their homes.
Rabbi Moshe Goldstein, leader of the Brooklyn Yeshiva, did not respond to many phone messages, but an unidentified man who answered the phone there stated that they “had taken care of all the problems.” Asked about the $11,000 debt for emergency repairs, he paused, then said, “See? It’s been taken care of.” A group of 15 tenants visited Goldstein’s house May 18, carrying placards and pushing their children in strollers. Goldstein did not appear to be home, but the action had a positive outcome: The Yeshiva agreed to meet with the tenants the next week.
Reprinted with permission from City Limits Weekly.