Landlord Threatens to Call Immigration

Genaro Santiago and Ángela Guzmán have lived in this apartment for 15 years. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Genaro Santiago and Ángela Guzmán have lived in this apartment for 15 years. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

A Mexican couple got a letter from their landlord threatening to call the police and immigration officials if they don’t leave their Manhattan apartment immediately. The letter, dated Sept. 28, was sent to Genaro Santiago and Ángela Guzmán, who have lived at the West 135 Street location for more than 15 years.

“It didn’t scare me but it made me angry,” said an annoyed Guzmán, 44, who works as a kitchen assistant at a Manhattan restaurant. “I felt threatened. Even more so because we are not doing anything wrong.”

The city laws ban landlord harassment against tenants, and that includes using their immigration status as a means to force them to leave an apartment.

The letter has the letterhead of Deena Realty Corp. and a postal code of Larchmont, New York, and was signed by the same corporation. It was written both in English and Spanish.

“They are threatening us with those letters, they are trying to frighten us because at any time we could return home and find the door locked,” said Santiago, 43, also a restaurant worker, as he showed all the rent payment receipts since 1997, when they moved in.

A Deena Realty Corp. employee, who would only identify herself as Nancy, admitted that the letter was sent with the purpose of intimidating the tenants. “We need to scare them somehow,” said the employee at the company owned by Sam Ranani.

According to Nancy, 15 people live in the residence. “Our biggest worry is the likelihood of a fire, with so many people living in the same apartment,” she said. Santiago denied the assertion categorically: “There are not 15 people living here, that’s not true.”

The couple got yet another letter on the same date stating, in English, that surveillance cameras captured images of them moving out of their apartment while other tenants moved in, which is a violation of the lease contract. They also accused them of owing $1,119.21, but failed to mention where that debt comes from.

According to the couple, who pays a monthly rent of $1,467.30 for the rent-stabilized, three-bedroom apartment, other tenants on the second floor got the same letter, and one woman, who has children, got scared and moved out.

“It’s usually a difficult case when they tell you something and it’s hard to prove it, but here we have written evidence,” said Pio Tejada of the Mirabal Sisters Cultural & Community Center. “This a clear case of harassment and bullying.”

This organization, which advocates for tenants’ rights, plans to bring the case to the office of New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, as well as other government agencies.

In February, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the attorney general created the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force.

Later, in September, de Blasio signed a package of laws seeking to further protect tenants from harassment. They include making it unlawful for an owner to make a buyout offer within 180 days of a tenant refusing one. It is also illegal to make such offers without informing the tenants of their right to stay in the apartment and to seek a lawyer. The new laws also make it illegal to harass, threaten and provide false information to tenants, as well as stalk them at extreme hours.

According to the NYC Department of Housing, Preservation and Development, harassment cases keep growing. While in 2008 only 42 such cases were brought to court, in 2015 the number has reached 800.

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