Over the past seven years, New York City’s affordable housing market has been severely destabilized by so-called “predatory equity” companies that purchase a large number of rent-stabilized buildings at inflated prices and then push out the rent-stabilized tenants so that they can charge market rates. These companies employ a wide range of harassment techniques ranging from frivolous lawsuits, to rendering accommodation unlivable by failing to provide heat or conduct necessary repairs.
An owner that fits this definition is Silverstone Property, which now owns 211 Madison Street in Chinatown. Since February, AAFE has been organizing and working with the residents of 211 Madison Street to fight back against the owner’s harassment tactics. Kee Wing Ng has lived in the building for over 30 years, and he has firsthand experience of Silverstone’s efforts to force tenants out. This is his story.
I moved into Apartment 11 at 211 Madison Street with my family in 1981. It was my wife, my two daughters and two sons and I who moved into the apartment together. I raised them in this apartment. My children have grown up now, and they all moved out a long time ago, except for my youngest son. My youngest son still lives with my wife and I at our apartment because he is disabled. He is schizophrenic. Not only do we live together, but my wife and I also have to take care of our son.
After Silverstone Property bought the building, they changed the front door and demanded that the residents prove we are the tenants or lawful residents and also provide our contact information in order to get copies of the new keys. At the time, we did not know this bordered on an illegal lockout since New York Law protects any resident who has resided at his home for more than 30 days from an owner exercising self-help or unlawfully preventing lawful residents from returning home. I realized later this was just a ruse for the owner to get our contact information because, starting in mid-February of this year, its agents kept calling me 2 or 3 times a week to pressure me to move out.
When I refused the owners’ repeated buyout offers, the agents started to threaten me. They said they’d put me in jail for not “returning” my apartment to the owner. They said things to me like “you better be careful”, “we will take you to court if you do not leave”, “we will win”, and “I will sue you and have you put in jail”.
Not only are these tenant relocation specialists harassing me, they are also harassing my children who live in Brooklyn and have nothing to do with this situation. The owners have sent agents to go to my children’s homes at least 3 times already. The agents tell my children to take the buyout money and use it to take care of me so that I will leave my home.
Although I do not speak or read English, I know what Silverstone Property is doing is unlawful and wrong. I have lived in my home since 1981. I am a good tenant and I always pay my rent on time. I am entitled to live in my home in peace and quiet.
AAFE continues to fight for Mr. Ng’s right to stay in his home.