Lawsuit Alleges Racial Discrimination in Prospect-Lefferts Garden

Image from Legal Services NYC

One of the problems that arises when a previously-sleepy neighborhood starts to get noticed by developers—to the extent that it becomes the subject of a New York Times real estate piece proclaiming that said neighborhood “on the map”—is that landlords start seeing dollar signs. The possibility of making beaucoup bucks with little-to-no effort has been the source of much legal chicanery on the part of developers and landlords over the decades; it’s basically a New York City pastime.

The Times recently quoted Prospect-Lefferts Garden residents proclaiming the neighborhood “Brooklyn’s best kept secret” (which, telling that to the paper of record is probably the best way to let the cat out of the bag). They outlined all that is attractive in the neighborhood: easy access to Prospect Park, three subway stops for express trains, and an attractive historic district with pretty brownstones. Unfortunately, these are the same criteria that create a situation whereby landlords start looking to kick out longstanding tenants in order to cash out with the influx of new, market-rate-paying residents and developers who want to build condos.

A recent lawsuit alleges as much, with a racial component. On Monday, black tenants at PLG’s Homewood Gardens Estates filed a civil suit against their landlord, alleging that he is trying to evict them to bring in white tenants. As Brooklyn Paper first reported, Homewood Gardens is partially rent-regulated, which further incentivizes the landlord to manufacture tenant turnover.

The tenants, represented by Legal Services NYC, claim that building owner Yeshaya Wasserman, who bought the 52-unit complex in 2009, is “refusing to make repairs and making fake claims about missing rent checks, illegal appliances, and pet ownership.” The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court, says that Wasserman has driven out twenty tenants and replaced them almost exclusively with white renters. Alston Pilgrim, a math professor at Medgar Evers College who has lived in his apartment since 1980, told the Paper that Wasserman’s “motivation is to get people like me out.”

The lawsuit furthermore alleges that Wasserman aggressively litigates against black tenants in New York Housing Court and fails to make necessary repairs. In one tenant’s apartment, the bathroom sink fell off the wall, nearly landing on a six-year-old child. Another tenant calls Wasserman’s upkeep a “parody of repairs.”

This is the kind of thing that seems to happen with unfortunate frequency in neighborhoods that suddenly become “destinations” rather than “places where people live.” We’ve seen it in Bed-Stuy, Bushwick, even Williamsburg, a decade ago. Thankfully, we still have the Worst Landlord List.

Follow Phillip Pantuso on Twitter @phillippantuso.

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