HELP FOR ILLEGAL TENANTS

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Tenants forced to vacate illegally converted basements and boarding rooms just won some much-needed help. A recent State Supreme Court decision compels the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development to provide temporary stipends, meal allowances, storage and emergency housing when asking a tenant to relocate. Though the specific number of illegal dwellings is not known, advocates believe there could be tens of thousands citywide, primarily in immigrant-heavy neighborhoods like the Sunset Park and Flatbush sections of Brooklyn. The lawsuit, brought by South Brooklyn Legal Services, was based on the plight of a disabled tenant, Keith Cupidon, who lived in an illegal rooming unit in a two-family house in Flatbush. When the landlord started eviction proceedings last November, Cupidon responded with a housing action because, among other violations, he had no heat. Yet Kings County Civil Court found that, because the dwelling was illegal, they could not order the landlord to make repairs beyond simply turning on the heat. Furthermore, the tenant had to vacate. According to Ron Languedoc, Cupidon’s lawyer, landlords with illegal dwellings have traditionally called HPD to vacate illegal tenants because the fines for the converted units were lower than the cost of pursuing an eviction in court. Some would continue to rent illegal units even after the HPD ordered the previous tenant to vacate. That practice could be less tempting for landlords now that they’ll have to pay back HPD for any relocation assistance provided. HPD has said they will abide by the decision and not appeal. The agency also provides relocation assistance for legal tenants displaced by fires or vacate orders. (B. Baumer) [08/01/05]