Legal Aid Society files lawsuit against city for wrongfully terminating Harlem building from housing program

The Legal Aid Society has officially filed a second lawsuit on behalf of five Harlem tenants that were going to be homeowners through a program that they say the tenants were wrongly terminated from.

The tenants of 206 West 120th Street enrolled in the Tenant Interim Lease (TIL) Program in 2002, which offers low-income New Yorkers opportunities for affordable homeownership. The program allows tenants of distressed City-owned buildings to convert the building into a low-income, limited equity housing development fund residential cooperative and purchase shares to their apartments. 

The Article 78 lawsuit states that in 2008, members of the tenant association were temporarily relocated from their building with the promise that the building would be renovated and move the tenants back in before transferring ownership to the tenants as cooperative homeowners within two years. Fourteen years later, the building has not been renovated and the tenants have not returned home, with no signs pointing to them returning home.

As a result, the lawsuit alleges that NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) wrongly terminated the tenants’ participation in the City-run program. 

“It is unacceptable that our clients have been displaced for 14 years while waiting for the promise of becoming homeowners to come to fruition, and the City hasn’t even begun renovating the building,” said Charles Alvarez, staff attorney in the Harlem Community Law Office at The Legal Aid Society. “Instead, HPD is once again attempting to stop these tenants from moving forward in the process and further delaying our clients’ return to their homes. We will continue to fight to ensure that they become the homeowners that the City promised over twenty years ago.”  

The lawsuit states that in the twenty years since the building was enrolled in the program, two tenants have passed away while waiting for the building to become a cooperative. The lawsuit challenges the City’s termination of the building from the TIL Program for alleged failure to submit documentation and seeks to reverse HPD’s termination of the building from the program to secure needed renovations to the building, and ensure that these tenants become cooperative homeowners.

In 2018, the Legal Aid Society filed an Article 78 lawsuit against HPD, which they say attempted to terminate the tenants from the program. HPD cited extremely low rent collection, failure to comply with the submission of monthly financial reports, failure to comply with the Corrective Action Plan with numerous extensions and extensive technical assistance between July 1, 2016 and June 15, 2018 as reasons for removing the residence from the TIL program. This resulted in a settlement keeping the tenants in the program.

“Over a period of many years, HPD has worked with the tenants to take ownership of their building. Although considerable staff effort and financial support went toward meeting this objective, this building regrettably could not convert to homeownership. Instead, the tenants will be able to keep their homes as affordable rental apartments in a newly renovated building. Affordable homeownership remains a top City priority, as expressed through the Administration’s $44 million in additional funding for new homeownership opportunities, particularly in lower-income communities,” said HPD in a statement.

Updated at 5:34 p.m. on Oct. 11, 2022.