Park Slope

Prospect Park Residence back in Brooklyn court over eviction of seniors

November 20, 2014 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Ruth Willig, 90, with her son Bruce. Photo by Mary Frost

Now, a lawsuit between seller Deitsch and building buyers

Families of the elderly residents living the Brooklyn assisted living facility, Prospect Park Residence, were shocked to learn in court last week that the landlord had made an agreement back in January to sell the property for $76 million.

According to court documents, the deal would only close if the owner, Haysha Deitsch, cleared the elderly out of the 4th floor dementia unit and obtained a final discharge plan approved by the New York State Department of Health (DOH).

Deitsch emptied the dementia unit by June 2, and DOH approved a closure plan on Feb. 24.  A legal dispute, however, has prevented the parties from closing on the sale.

Deitsch bought the building in 2006 for $40 million.

A group of city officials and senior advocates have been fighting the evictions since Deitsch gave the seniors just 90 days to move out in March.

The seniors’ lost home is a real estate plumb — just a block away from Grand Army Plaza, across the street from Prospect Park.

Roughly 130 elderly residents– many more than 100 years old — were “kicked out” unwillingly, supporters say, and some have died. Families say their elderly relatives are heartbroken, and that Deitsch continued to sign contracts even after he knew the residence was closing. Advocates say that DOH “rubberstamped” the closure.

In April, resident Ruth Willig, age 90, told the Brooklyn Eagle, “When I hear about places other people have gone, they’re not as good. They should take age into consideration and not treat us like garbage. We’re human beings with feelings.”

Residents’ families have filed for contempt, saying Deitsch has allowed conditions to deteriorate to speed residents’ departure.

Seniors at the residence, with the help of the Legal Aid Society, MFY Legal Services and pro-bono representation from Fitzpatrick, Cella, have won multiple motions in court, including a stay on evictions from Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Wayne Saitta. The judge ordered Deitsch to maintain services and conditions in the building while the case is in court.

But seniors’ families say the company has ignored the order and has instead reduced services even more.

Local officials including Councilmember Brad Lander, Assemblypersons James Brennan and Joan Millman and Public Advocate Letitia James have been pushing for the seniors.

Councilmember Lander said in a release earlier this month that he is “appalled that the Governor and the NYS Department of Health have failed to protect our seniors from exploitation and abuse. We have long known that the owner of Prospect Park Residence is morally bankrupt, and values his own profit over the health and safety of these frail elderly residents.”

Deitsch, in his own press release on Wednesday, said the residence “has been the subject to politically motivated stunts, false characterizations and irresponsible assertions intended to alarm and provoke its residents.”

Justice Saitta will be hearing contempt charges on Monday, Nov. 24 at 10 a.m.

Buyer and seller now in dispute over the deposit

In a separate lawsuit, Deitsch, who received 10 percent of the total sales price of the building as a deposit, is now fighting in court to keep that money.

With eight seniors refusing to leave the residence and litigation holding up their evictions, the buyers, One PPW Residence, LLC, claimed that the conditions had not been met, and refused to close on the property. One PPW Residence, LCC belongs to Sugar Hill Capital Partners, whose principals are Alex Friedman and Jeremy Salzberg.

One PPW Residence contends that DOH approval was not “final” because of the pending lawsuits.

Deitsch, however, claims that since One PPW Residence failed to close, it is in default under the Agreement of Sale and no longer has the right to buy the property—or get its deposit back.

While the buyers could have written a smarter agreement that conditioned the closing on “a final, non-appealable order” from the court, they did not, Deitsch stated in court papers. The agreement “should not be rewritten by this Court after the fact to excuse plaintiff’s non-performance,” he stated. In addition, he argues, various paragraphs in the agreement state that remaining residents would not be an impediment to a closing.

Multiple wrongful death suits coming up

 Attorney John O’Hara, who is representing six people suing Deitsch for wrongful death — including the family of famed Brooklyn “Kung Fu judge” John Phillips —  said the state Department of Health “raided” the facility in 2009 and found that Deitsch was operating a nursing home without a license for years.

“He was told to remove 36 people immediately. He ignored it and they all died,” O’Hara alleged.

O’Hara says Deitsch has also been ignoring Justice Saitta’s orders to reinstate service to the remaining seniors. After receiving the judge’s order, “he shuts off the air conditioning all summer,” O’Hara said.

The residence did not receive a license until 2012. “The only reason he got a license [at that point] was to issue a discharge plan” so he could get the residents out, O’Hara asserted. This way, “he could get around the rent stabilization laws.”

“To evict a 93-year-old person in landlord-tenant court – good luck,” O’Hara explained.

The trial focusing on the wrongful death of Judge Phillips, who died in 2012 while confined against his will, was set to begin Thursday.

“He died confined to a nursing home that wasn’t a nursing home,” OHara said.

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