By David Brand
Bill Lindauer is used to mixing it up. As a cab driver and New York Taxi Workers Alliance member, he fought for worker protections and testified alongside his fellow cabbies before the City Council and state legislature.
Now Lindauer, 75, is bracing for another fight, one he didn’t see coming. In December, his landlord sold the two-story building on Greenpoint Avenue in Long Island City where he lives, and commenced holdover proceedings against the 11 tenants there. Since receiving their 30-day eviction notices, six tenants have left the modified Single Room Occupancy apartment building — the tenants have private rooms with individual numbers on the doors, but share a common kitchen and bathroom on each floor.
Lindauer, who subsists on his monthly Social Security check, has no intention of leaving. Nor do his neighbors Edwin Amadeo, 63, and Khamis Mohamed, 58. Lindauer and Mohamed pay between $400 and $600 per month to rent their rooms while Amadeo serves as the building superintendent. All three said they could become homeless if they were forced to move out.
“We’re exercising our constitutional rights,” said Lindauer, who already had to leave an apartment in Astoria eight years ago when his landlord raised the rent. “We’re digging our heels in.”
The tenants, who enjoy a harmonious relationship, enlisted attorneys to resist the eviction. Housing lawyer Nelson Yeung of The Legal Aid Society represents Amadeo and Mohamed and said existing rent stabilization law should protect them. But, he added, their experience highlights the need for stronger state tenant protections to prevent landlords from attempting to evict tenants before selling or after purchasing a property.
A cause for tenant protections
A “For Sale” sign posted by the real estate company Douglas Elliman still flaps in the breeze outside the building’s stone facade. “Under Contract,” the sign says. The home was listed in November 2018 for $1.15 million and sold a month later, according to Redfin.com. Yeung said the sale depends on landlord Norma Jimenez’s ability to evict the tenants inside.
The Department of Buildings classifies the residence, which was built in 1925, as a one-to-two family dwelling, Yeung said the building actually has at least nine distinct units — 11 if you count apartments in the basement that he said Jimenez recently demolished.
Rent stabilization law covers buildings with six or more apartments that were built before 1974. The age of the building and the number of units would qualify it as a rent-stabilized property, which would enable the tenants to remain in place, Yeung said.
“This court should dismiss the proceedings because the premises from which removal is sought is rent stabilized and thirty day holdover proceedings cannot stand,” Yeung wrote in a motion filed in Housing Court on May 10.
Jimenez’s attorney did not respond to the Eagle’s request for comment.
But even if the court does not designate the building as rent stabilized, Yeung said that a property sale should not qualify as a reason to evict New Yorkers, especially during a historic homelessness crisis.
The eviction plan illustrates a typical maneuver used by property owners selling their buildings to new landlords who want to redevelop and attract wealthier renters, tenants’ rights advocates say.
“If a tenant’s lease has expired, and if their apartment is located in a building with less than six units, a landlord can evict them at any time and without cause,” wrote Sateesh Nori, attorney-in-charge of the Queens Civil Practice at The Legal Aid Society, in an op-ed for the Eagle earlier this month. “There is nothing in the current law to protect such tenants from this housing nightmare.”
The state Senate and Assembly are considering a piece of legislation known as the Good Cause Eviction bill, which could protect tenants in 163,000 units in Queens from random evictions, Nori wrote. The bill would prevent landlords from evicting renters without “good cause,” like non-payment of rent. In essence, the bill would enable tenants to remain in their building indefinitely so long as they follow the rules and pay their rent.
The Good Cause Eviction bill is part of a package of legislation known as “Universal Rent Control” designed to protect people from drastic rent increases, eviction, displacement and homelessness.
Those are all possible outcomes for Lindauer, Mohamed and Amadeo.
“God willing we will never leave,” Mohamed said. “We don’t have much, we are here and we are innocent.”
Amadeo has served as the building superintendent for years. He cleans and does routine maintenance in exchange for his room on the first floor. “I have nowhere else to go,” he said.
The lack of housing choices is one of the reasons they decided to stick together to fight the eviction. It was a natural decision for the trio, who have grown close while sharing the same kitchen and bathroom over the years.
“We’re a family” said Mohamed, a 58-year-old yellow cab driver who has lived at the building since 2000. “If we have extra food, we share it. If we have extra clothes, we donate it. We share.”
He said the eviction notice came as a shock after he paid four months’ rent up front so he could spend time with his son who was recovering from surgery.
The three friends even pooled their money to purchase a new table and chairs when the landlord dismantled the ones she furnished in the kitchen. She also stripped the cabinet doors from the area under the sink and tried to remove the oven, Lindauer said.
But he won’t be deterred, he said. The LIC SRO is the rare place he can afford with his Social Security check and he enjoys the companionship and the community in the building.
“I have limited means and you get used to a place,” he said. “We’re a family and we’re friends.”