NBC New York
The city evacuates a building in Brooklyn on the night before Thanksgiving, saying it is operating as an illegal hotel. Unhappy residents say the landlord should be punished, not them. Chris Glorioso reports.
Occupants of five residential buildings in Brooklyn are temporarily homeless after Mayor Bloomberg's Office of Special Enforcement slapped a vacate order on the structures just 24 hours before Thanksgiving.
The city said the owners of 89, 91, 95, 97 and 99 Stockton Street in the Clinton Hill neighborhood have been operating an illegal hotel without proper fire protections.
Expelled residents like Robert Kutruff spent part of Wednesday afternoon outside the property wondering when and if they would be allowed back in to gather possessions.
"They said this morning that we have to immediately vacate the premises and that if we're caught in here by local police precincts, we will have to go to jail," said Kutruff, an Iraq War veteran who has lived in the building since the summer.
In May, the city began enforcing a new state law forbidding landlords from renting units out for periods of time less than 30 days.
Since the law went into effect, more than 19 buildings deemed to be illegal hotels have been evacuated.
Marc LaVorgna, a spokesman for Mayor Bloomberg, said most investigations launched by the Office of Special Enforcement begin with a tip from neighbors.
“This is complaint-driven. We have to look at it by law," LaVorgna said. "You have a property owner who is putting personal profit over people’s safety.”
Stephen Stein, property manager of the buildings on Stockton Street, disputed the enforcement action, saying all of his tenants have proper leases.
"They do have a lease," said Stein. "They all have leases and they're all roommates."
Stein said all of his renters are long-term tenants and that he plans to fight City Hall in court.
But Kutruff is unsure of what to do in the meantime. "I am an Iraq War veteran," said Kutruff. "I spent a year and a half of my life fighting for this country and I feel like my civil rights are being violated. I can't even live in my own home on a holiday."