Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE) joined members of the Chinatown community to celebrate the return of the tenants to 289 Grand Street this past spring. On April 12, 2010, 289 Grand Street suffered fire and water damage as a result of one of the worst fires in Chinatown’s history. For almost two years, the 289 Grand Street Tenants Association, with the assistance of AAFE, the legal team at HPD and the support of the area’s local elected officials, fought to have the landlord repair and restore the building.
“This victory belongs to the tenants of 289 Grand Street. Since the devastating fire in 2010, we have fought for their right to return home and rebuild their lives,” said Council Member Margaret Chin. “Thanks to the staunch advocacy of AAFE, HPD, and my fellow elected officials, that goal finally became a reality. Protecting tenants’ rights and affordable housing are of the utmost priority in Chinatown and Lower Manhattan, and I will continue to make sure these voices are heard.”
The 2010 fire ravaged three residential buildings, leaving more than 100 people homeless, injuring 33 people, and causing the death of an 87-year-old man. Two of the buildings, 283 and 285 Grand Street, were so severely damaged that they were deemed unsalvageable and required demolition. 289 Grand Street, a six story residential building with 14 apartments, also suffered heavy fire and water damage. AAFE and local elected officials were integral in advocating for and assisting those who were displaced from the three properties. HPD also offered emergency shelter services to many of the displaced residents.
“Three years ago, when the massive fire devastated 289 Grand, lifetimes of personal memories were lost, homes were lost, and the peace of mind that comes from knowing where you’ll be sleeping was shattered,” said HPD Commissioner Mathew M. Wambua. “Today we’re celebrating not only the return of the tenants at 289 Grand Street, but a return to stability and normalcy that comes with having a safe and secure home. I thank the staff in HPD’s Housing Litigation Division for their tireless efforts, along with AAFE, John Gorman, Speaker Silver, Senator Squadron, Council Member Chin and all of our partners for standing with the tenants in a united fight for their right to return home.”
“We are thrilled that the tenants of 289 Grand Street have moved back home. This victory would not have been possible had it not been for the tremendous leadership of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, State Senator Daniel Squadron, NYC Councilmember Margaret Chin, Borough President Scott Stringer, and the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development,” said Christopher Kui, Executive Director of Asian Americans for Equality. “This successful building case is a victory for all rent-regulated tenants across the City. We have worked alongside with the tenants and believe the case serves as a warning to predatory landlords who attempt to avoid their duty to maintain affordable housing in habitable conditions.”
HPD and the NYC Department of Buildings determined that 289 Grand Street, even though it was damaged and the residents needed to be vacated due to safety issues, could be repaired and returned to habitability; allowing the tenants to return when repairs were complete.
Wong’s Grand Realty Corp., the building’s owners, argued a defense of economic infeasibility stating that the repairs and renovation would be overly expensive, and pushed for the building to be demolished. The majority of the tenants were in rent stabilized units. A successful restoration of 289 Grand Street would allow for the tenants to return to their rent stabilized units following completion of the building’s rehabilitation. However, demolition of the building, along with its rent stabilized units, could mean the permanent displacement of the 289 Grand Street tenants as their apartments would no longer exist and thus not be subject to the laws and protections under rent stabilization.
In the spring of 2010, the 289 Grand Street Tenant Association represented by their attorney John Gorman, with the assistance of AAFE, began the nearly 2-year legal battle for their right to return to the property. In May 2010, HPD’s Housing Litigation Division joined the tenants’ suit against the landlord seeking a decision from the court compelling the owners to correct the violations issued by the agency and to restore 289 Grand to habitability. In June of that year the owner still claiming a defense of economic infeasibility, filed an application to terminate the residents’ tenancies. That application was denied.
In March 2012, in a decisive decision that cited the respondent’s inability to sustain a defense of economic infeasibility, the Civil Court of the City of New York ordered the landlord to restore all apartments to habitable condition no later than March 1, 2013. Following the Court’s ruling and commencement of the repairs, HPD’s Special Enforcement Unit performed regular inspections ensuring that the owner worked expeditiously and the building was being repaired in compliance with the Housing Court order.
With the repair and rehabilitation work complete and the building in compliance with the court order, HPD lifted the vacate order on 289 Grand Street in April 2013, giving all of the residents of 289 Grand the ability to return to their newly renovated, rent regulated apartments.