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Fort Greene Tenants in Commune ‘Lockout’ Fight Sue Landlord as They Get NYC’s Help

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Sonny Singh and his fellow tenants are suing the landlord and management of their communal Fort Greene brownstone, alleging a relentless campaign of harassment.

Peter Senzamici/THE CITY

Residents of a Fort Greene quasi-commune sued their landlord Wednesday, alleging harassment and illegal eviction attempts — kicking off a legal fight that got a boost from the city. 

Among a long list of complaints going back months, the lawsuit filed in Brooklyn Supreme Court alleges that 70 South Elliott Place landlord Judith Grunbaum’s stepson, Samuel Grunbaum, just on Tuesday “threatened to violently break down the front door to the house.”

“He also threatened to install a 24-hour private security guard to sit in the house, stating he did not think plaintiffs would like that,” the suit alleges.

The court papers include a cease-and-desist letter from the city, also dated Wednesday, which stated that the Law Department had only recently become aware of the alleged harassment at the single room occupancy building. 

“It has come to the attention of this office that you have engaged in conduct with respect to tenants and occupants of the property you own … may violate the New York City Unlawful Eviction Law and that may constitute tenant harassment under the Housing Maintenance Code,” the letter from Assistant Corporation Counsel Sherief Gaber states.

A copy of a request for a temporary restraining order directing Samuel Grunbaum to stay 50 feet from the property was also included in the tenants’ court filing as well.

The flurry of activity all comes a week after THE CITY reported on the tenants’ allegations of harassment and multiple lockout attempts by the landlord.

70 South Elliott Place.

Peter Senzamici/THE CITY

It also marked the latest chapter in life at the Brooklyn brownstone, where tenants reside in their own rooms while sharing common spaces and expenses. The residents of the half-dozen bedrooms each pay about $300 a month rent. 

Sonny Singh, the lead named plaintiff in the suit, said that when Samuel Grunbaum came by on Tuesday night, he threatened to break down the front door.

“We have been locking that door out of fear of him or his agents coming back to try another lockout or other shady and illegal behavior,” Singh told THE CITY on Wednesday. 

‘We Have No Choice’

The suit seeks damages for the tenants and asks the court to impose civil penalties on the Grunbaums for alleged violations of administrative and housing laws. 

“After months of this hostile man and other agents of the landlord walking into our home on a regular basis without notice to harass, intimidate, and surveil us, and even lock a tenant out of their room, we have no choice but to take legal action,” Singh said.

Montreal-based landlord Judith Grunbaum wrote THE CITY on Wednesday stating that she had proof that her tenants are “discusted [sic] liars” and the suit was “full with proven lies.” 

YHT Management and managing agent Moshe Deutsch, both named in the cease-and-desist letter, did not respond to requests for comment.

Stephanie Rudolph, supervising attorney at Communities Resist and the lawyer representing the tenants, said that the lawsuit came after exhausting other options.

“Every time my clients asked the landlord to stop sending male agents to harass them, Defendants sent more men to the house,” Rudolph told THE CITY. “Every time my clients asked the landlord to stop illegal lockouts, they came back with additional male agents to effectuate lockouts.”

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