May 30, By Jason Cohen
Nearly 40 Elmhurst residents whose apartment building went up in flames last month filed a lawsuit today against their landlord that calls for an administrator to oversee the reconstruction of their building to ensure the rent isn’t hiked upon their return.
On April 11, a 5-alarm fire on the top floor of the “Martinique” building at 56-11 94th St., in Elmhurst, forced 111 families to flee. A day after the fire, Declan McElhatton, 53, of Maintenance Asset Management, was arrested and charged with arson and reckless endangerment after he allegedly left an open flame near combustible material that caused the fire.
Sateesh Nori, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society who help craft the lawsuit, said that many of the residents are concerned that their rent stabilized apartments will become market rate if the landlord undertakes a lot of improvements in the rebuilding. When landlords do capital improvements, they are legally able to raise the rent under rent stabilization laws and when the rent surpasses $2,700 it becomes market rate.
Nori said that the owner of the building, Algin Management, needs to be transparent as what they plan to do with the building.
“We don’t know what their plan is,” Nori said. “We can’t say what they’re spending, how much they’re spending or what their schedule is.”
Nori, who has met with many of the families and visited the site numerous times, said people just want to go back to their units. He said the fire has led to many residents living in substandard housing far away from their jobs.
Nori hopes the dispute doesn’t go to court and the two parties can come to an agreement about the construction process.
Algin claims it is doing its best to alleviate tenant concerns. It created a website for the tenants to help them understand what is taking place.
“The owners have been deeply committed to this building over the past fifty years, and from the moment this incident occurred, management has been in contact with all residents to communicate verbally and in writing—both in correspondence and posted online for immediate public access—that it is committed to maintaining the tenancy of all who wish to keep their apartments. Any claims to the contrary are patently false. Leases are being preserved and apartments are being held for residents who wish to return when repairs are complete,” the company said in a statement.
The company did not give any indication what will happen to the rent once the existing leases expire.