In May 2009, the landlord of a rent-stabilized building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn openly declared his intention to force out the current tenants if they did not leave on their own. Located on North 8th Street right off trendy Bedford Avenue, the property was prime real estate in Williamsburg. The only obstacles that stood between the landlord and the potential for him to reap large profits were the rent-stabilized status of the building and all the tenants who paid the regulated rent, a fraction of the market rate. Once he forced those tenants to leave, he could “gut rehab” the apartments, move them out of the rent-stabilization system, and easily generate five to six times the amount of revenue from the building. The tenants, however, refused to walk away from their homes. So the landlord decided to take matters into his own hands: in June 2009, he illegally excavated a portion of the building’s foundation, removing a chunk of the cellar wall. His unauthorized work, done without requisite permits or prior City approval, compromised the structural stability of the entire building. That immediately prompted the City to vacate the building for safety reasons. To ensure that the tenants could not return to their apartments, even if the City later lifted its vacate order, the landlord then shut off all sewage, gas, water, and electrical services in the building, and padlocked the front door. In a matter of days, all six tenants in one building on North 8th Street had lost their homes. One of the tenants had lived in her apartment for over thirty years and raised her family there. Another lived with her husband and two young children. With no more than a couple days’ notice, all of them had to leave their apartments and belongings behind, indefinitely.
I would like to acknowledge the individuals without whom this article would not have been possible. I am grateful to the entire staff of Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A for making my experience at the organization immensely enjoyable and educational. Many of the attorneys gave me invaluable advice and guidance over the year as I worked through my caseload as a new lawyer. I would like to especially thank Martin S. Needelman, Project Director of Brooklyn A, and more importantly, a mentor, teacher, and friend. Marty is the reason behind my unforgettable and defining experience at Brooklyn A. He showed me by example how to be an effective lawyer for our clients. He helped me navigate completely new and unfamiliar legal terrain and patiently answered all of my numerous questions along the way. Marty’s insight and wisdom enabled me to find meaning and perspective in the work I did. His selflessness, passion for the pursuit of justice, and unshakable determination to help those in need are truly contagious. I am also grateful to him for reviewing drafts of this article and providing important feedback. In addition, I wish to express my indebtedness to Zoe Levine, a lawyer devoted to public service and an inspiration for me. Her constant encouragement and numerous suggestions, after taking the time and effort to review multiple drafts of this article, helped me shape my scattered thoughts into an organized narrative of my experience at Brooklyn A. As always, thank you to my family—parents Raghavan and Lalitha Krishnan and sister Sheela Krishnan—for their constant guidance and support in any endeavor I undertake.
Advocacy for Tenant and Community Empowerment: Reflections on My First Year in Practice,
CUNY L. Rev.
Available at: http://academicworks.cuny.edu/clr/vol14/iss1/8