Homeless For The Holidays
Kathleen DeCarolis came home one
DeCarolis, 55, a school crossing guard at P.S. 225, right across the boulevard from her former home, is one of at least a dozen families who were thrown out of their homes at 109-12 Rockaway Beach Boulevard, just days before the Thanksgiving holiday.
The families, all paying at least $1,000 a month in rent have been left out in the cold, with nowhere to go, some of the evicted told The Wave.
DeCarolis, who will stay with friends before attempting to find a new apartment, said that families were only permitted inside the building to gather their belongings and then ordered to leave.
Caroline Sullivan, a spokesperson for the Department of Buildings, said that the property was slapped with a vacate order after multiple inspections proved that the one-family house and several bungalows next to the home were illegally converted into separate apartments, housing a number of different families.
Sullivan said that inspectors also discovered that the homeowner had several different renovations that were completed, ranging from installation of new gas lines, plumbing and additional boilers, installed, without the respective work permits.
The dwellings are no strangers to the DOB's violations unit. There have been a total of 12 complaints, four Environmental Control Board violations, and three violations from the Department of Buildings at that address.
According to the Department of Buildings, the property was inspected in October and was issued eight violations for housing more than the approved number of families, as well as for work done without the required permits.
"They just told us to leave," she said. "No warning at all. I don't understand, I paid my rent."
Officials say that DeCarolis and the others had to be removed from their homes because the follow-up inspection done last week revealed that the owner had not remedied any of the existing violations from October. The inspectors also discovered additional illegal work being performed, making the vacate order imminent.
According to DeCarolis, people of all ages were affected by the vacate order, including a homebound elderly woman, a pregnant woman due to give birth in the near future and families with numerous children.
One of the families removed was the Ortiz family.
Norma Ortiz said that she and her sons had moved to Rockaway from a shelter in the Bronx and that one of her children had just started attending PS 225.
"Now, they're telling me they are going to put me up at a hotel near the airport and then, on Monday, I have to go back to the Bronx shelter," she said. What kind of way is that to treat a family just before the holidays?"
Workers from the American Red Cross were on scene to assist the evacuees and to take them to shelters. Those officials told The Wave, however, that they could only put the homeless up for the weekend. After that, they said, the people were on their own in finding a place to live.
Fortunately for DeCarolis and two other families, they have friends to stay with. However, that is no satisfaction for DeCarolis, who feels angry and betrayed.
"I have never seen this happen to anyone before in my life," she said. "It is just cruel."
Department of Buildings inspectors ordered the termination of all water, gas, and electricity service to the building, forcing them out, according to DeCarolis.
The Department of Buildings spokesperson said that officials from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development were also on hand to provide the tenants with temporary housing solutions.
DeCarolis still doesn't think that the assistance given to the homeless tenants does anything to excuse the actions of the city.
"I wouldn't treat an animal like this," DeCarolis said of the DOB's actions. "We had refrigerators full of food that went bad and some of us had pets that were stranded with nowhere to go."
Tenants all said the owner of the property is Eli Abid, who was unavailable for comment despite repeat telephone calls to his number. The Department of Finance records, however, list the owner as William Reese.
At least two of the tenants said that they had never heard that name, and that the rent, thousands of dollars a month in the aggregate, was paid to Abid.
It came as no surprise to DeCarolis that The Wave could not reach Abid.
"You're not going to find him anywhere," she said. "He is supposedly in Israel right now, but who knows."
According to DeCarolis, the landlord never informed any of the tenants that there were unresolved legal issues relative to the property.
The tenants paid their rent every month and were never contacted before or after the original Department of Buildings orders by the landlord about vacating their apartments.
"No one knows what is going on," she said. "I just came home from work and people were putting up stickers on my door and telling me to get out," she said.
Sullivan said that the tenants would not be allowed back into their homes until it is listed as safe for occupancy.
In order for the vacate order to be lifted, she said, the property owner must restore the building to its legal use or file permit applications with the Department of Buildings to reflect and justify the creation of the unauthorized apartments.
An official at the scene on Tuesday afternoon, as former residents tried to get their belongings into a Red Cross van for a trip to the shelter, said that it seemed heartless to move the residents so close to the holiday.
"This is really a dangerous situation," the official said. "We had to move them [immediately] for their own safety."