Brooklyn judge orders Prospect Park Residence to turn on the AC
Owner Deitsch trying to evict seniors from Brooklyn senior facility
A Brooklyn judge on Monday ordered the operator of an assisted living facility in Park Slope to turn the central air conditioning back on in residents’ rooms.
State Supreme Court Justice Wayne Saitta issued a TRO (Temporary Restraining Order) to cool off the Prospect Park Residence (PPR), just as temperatures were predicted to hit 93 degrees in Brooklyn on Tuesday.
The TRO expires on June 30, when attorneys for the seniors are due back in court.
The families and friends of seven elderly and frail residents said the facility’s owner, Haysha Deitsch, has been trying to sweat them out in order to sell the building to a developer.
Window units installed in their apartments are inadequate and don’t fit properly, they say. Gaps are blocked off with cardboard and the units must be turned off during rain storms.
The hallways are hot, too, they say. Attorney Jason Johnson of Fitzpatrick, Cella told Justice Saitta that central air conditioning in the hallways and common areas was required in the joint stipulation entered into last fall.
“Instead, they put fans in the elevators and halls. I invite the judge to come over to Prospect Park Residence tomorrow and see.”
The judge’s order “is a great step,” said Aurore DeCarlo, attorney in charge at the Brooklyn Office for The Aging at the Legal Aid Society. “Hopefully, he [Deitsch] will do it.”
Nancy Richardson visits her friend Annemarie Mogil, 93, at the facility every week.
“There’s no air conditioning in the hallways, and they are very long,” she told the Brooklyn Eagle. “They put a tiny little fan in the hallway,” she said, adding that it “didn’t do much.”
The air conditioning problem is just the latest harassment designed to get them out, the seniors’ families say. Over the past year they have complained of peeling paint, rooms that were closed off, water pouring through leaks in the ceiling, and rotten fruit and cheap food instead of special diets. In January the facility became infested with bedbugs.
“During the winter there wasn’t any hot water for a long time. The residents couldn’t take a shower or wash their hair,” Richardson said.
“They pay plenty for these services,” she added. “Now they say they’re not going to provide them.”
Most of the original 122 residents – some more than 100 years old – left the residence involuntarily. They included Holocaust survivors, artists, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, former union organizers and celebrated authors. A number have died since being forced out, including Lillian Marks, age 107.
Those who remain range in age from 88 to 99 years old and have various disabilities. Advocates say that Deitsch did not abide by State Supreme Court Justice Wayne P. Saitta’s orders to restore services, and the facility has become unhealthy and disgusting.
Temperature OK, says state DOH
While the residential hallways and common rooms are stifling, the air conditioner on the administration floor is blasting away, lawyers for the senior residents told Justice Saitta on Monday – something that Joel Drucker, Deitsch’s attorney, denied.
Drucker told Justice Saitta that a Department of Health monitor had taken temperature readings at the senior facility last week.
“The readings were not at a level to put the health or safety of the residents in jeopardy,” he insisted.
A lawyer for the state Department of Health (DOH) said the temperatures were in the high 70s to low 80s last week in the hallways and common rooms, and that the seniors could use the window air conditioners in their own apartments.
“When operated correctly, the rooms will be adequately cool,” she said.
In another argument, Drucker said that Deitsch is not required by law to turn the AC back on.
“There’s nothing in the social services law, the public health law and the residency agreement that requires air conditioning in the building,” he said.
Justice Saitta pointed out that the residents were paying rent for services. “Are you saying the operator is free to unilaterally cut services?”
Drucker claimed that the residents themselves were in breach of contract and questioned the court’s authority to “run the place.”
“I don’t know if the court has the authority to make these rulings,” he said. “The Department of Health should.”
Regulations say the operator must maintain a “comfortable environment” if the temperature exceeds 85 degrees. After similar complaints last summer, in August PPR entered into a stipulation with the court which required air conditioning in the hallways.
Deitsch has also raised the rates at the home, despite the cutback in services. Residents are contesting the raise, refusing to pay the increase on top of the roughly $4,000 a month rent they already pay – and have received eviction notices in return. The seniors are bringing this complaint to court next Tuesday.
Who pays the receiver?
In April, Justice Saitta appointed a temporary receiver for the embattled Park Slope facility.
He appointed Brian Rosenman, a nursing home operator and developer nominated by the DOH, to run the place on Deitsch’s dime.
Drucker maintains that the operator of the residence is actually an LLC created by Deitsch, not Deitsch himself — and claims the LLC doesn’t have enough money to pay the receiver to run the facility. DOH has refused to advance funds for the receiver as well.
On Friday, Justice Saitta ordered the operator, whoever it is, to advance $200,000 within 10 days to pay Rosenman. Within 30 days of Rosenman accepting receivership, the operator must give him $100,000 and then $100,000 every month after.
He also granted a request for expedited discovery on the issue of the relationships between the operator, Deitsch and other PPR defendants.
Attorney DeCarlo told the Eagle that the seniors are “seeking discovery to pierce the corporate veil,” and find out who is actually in control.
The seniors are headed back to court on June 30, where they will address conditions at the residence, request a rent abatement, and seek a contempt motion based on their loss of services and Deitsch’s attempt to evict them.
The seniors have been receiving help from the Legal Aid Society, MFY Legal Services and pro-bono representation from Fitzpatrick, Cella, along with Councilmember Brad Lander, Assemblypersons James Brennan and Joan Millman and Public Advocate Letitia James.
Deitsch bought the building in 2006 for $40 million. He made an agreement in January 2014 to sell it for $76 million, but the deal fell through after the residents dug in their heels.
The case of Judge Phillips
In February, the troubled facility agreed to pay $750,000 to the family of retired Civil Court Judge John L. Phillips, who died there seven years ago. PPR settled the wrongful death action with Phillips’ family a week before the explosive case would have gone to trial.
Judge Phillips, who trained in kung fu and owned numerous properties in Brooklyn, including the historic Slave Theater in Bed-Stuy, died while being confined to the residence — as his vast estate disappeared into the hands of court-appointed “guardians.”
His attorney and friend of 30-plus years, John O’Hara, said Phillips was not allowed visits from friends, and didn’t get the special meals and insulin he needed for his diabetes.
O’Hara told the Eagle in February that Phillips froze to death in his room at the home. “The heat had been shut off for two weeks,” he said.
Updated 6/23/15 to clarify that the judge ordered the central air conditioning turned back on in residents’ rooms. A previous order covered air conditioning in the hallways and common areas.
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