In one of the most bizarre episodes in local, and maybe even Citywide landlord-tenant conflagrations, it was discovered this past month that the landlord at 95 Christopher Street has been spying on his ninety-two-year-old rent-controlled tenant, Ruth Berk.
Ruth, who got back to her apartment in January after an 11-month stay in a nursing home (a stay fueled by the landlord’s complaints), has been in contentious battles over substandard conditions in her apartment since 1988. In 1996, Judge Sarah Lee Evans gave Ruth Berk a 50% rent abatement going back ten years and a $62,000 judgment for having to live in an apartment with never-ending water leaks, peeling paint, and neighborly noise. Despite this ruling, the landlord has sued a half-dozen times to evict Ruth, and her daughter, Jessica, always alleging that both women were/are a nuisance and an impediment to repairs.
For a while, Jessica was sure that her apartment was being spied on; once she touched some wires in the hallway and the 6th Precinct came running.
On June 18, right after a Court-ordered assessment of the repairs to be done on the Berks’ 15th floor apartment at 95 Christopher, Ruth’s guardian, District Leader Arthur Schwartz, got on a stepladder to see what was going on with the cameras. Lo and behold, he found five cameras pointing from the hallway ceiling molding right into the Berks’ apartment. He carefully disconnected all five cameras and called the 6th Precinct to alert them to his discovery. A half-hour later, the managing agent marched into the 6th Precinct demanding Schwartz’s arrest for grand larceny. The Precinct refused to take the complaint.
Schwartz has sent the cameras on to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s Tenant Harassment Unit and asked them to investigate. —Arthur Schwartz