85 Year Old Evicted

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Yet, the landlord didn’t have the permits to perform demolition work. Now Mrs. Rice can’t even return to her home. To add insult to injury, the landlord’s law firm padlocked the apartment and filed court papers to have Mrs. Rice jailed after she protested. This type of action does not say ‘we want to help you or make your living conditions better.’ No one in his or her right mind would threaten someone 85 years old with a jail cell.

She’s out in the cold.

Mrs. Florence M. Rice, 85, dedicated her civic duties to advocating for those who could not advocate for themselves.  Having lived in the same building on 158th Street in Harlem for over 61 years; Mrs. Rice now advocates for herself as she exposes how she was “constructively evicted,â€? from the place she calls home. She’s taken refuge with her daughter.

Rice is the founder of the Harlem Consumer Education Council.  She held a number of state, national and international positions – lifetime member of Consumer Union, Official Member and U.S. Delegation to the World Congress to the International Women’s Year in Berlin, Representative to the United Nations Congress of Non-governmental Organizations, and she presently airs a Cable TV show at the Manhattan Neighborhood Network on Channel 34, and does a lot more. 

In 1991, the late Congressman Bill Green, recognized Mrs. Rice in Washington D. C. on the floor of the House of Representatives to receive the Frederick Douglass Award at the New York Urban League’s 26th Annual dinner. 

Mrs. Rice has advocated for people her whole life.  She’s responsible for keeping Con Edison and Verizon from bolting from 125th Street in Harlem – and she’s helped ensure that people who receive federal checks had the option for direct deposit.  But, what does all Mrs. Rice’s hard work stand for? Nothing.

It’s not just about Mrs. Rice but it’s about how the elderly and ordinary people are being treated under this “New World Order.â€?  Are we going back to the old America?  Is this the land of the free – home of the brave?  The only brave soul in this eviction case is Mrs. Rice, and one of many questions comes to mind, “Who is responsible for this ‘constructive eviction,’â€? as she was advised, as the cause of her being made homeless.

There were many violations in Mrs. Rice’s apartment, which had to be corrected.   However, there was an agreement between her and the landlord as to how the work was to be done. Someone hiding behind the name of a “corporationâ€? had other ideas—everything except the bathroom toilet was removed and the apartment was gutted. Yet, the landlord didn’t have the permits to perform demolition work. Now Mrs. Rice can’t even return to her home.

To add insult to injury, the landlord’s law firm padlocked the apartment and filed court papers to have Mrs. Rice jailed after she protested.  This type of action does not say ‘we want to help you or make your living conditions better.’  No one in his or her right mind would threaten someone 85 years old with a jail cell.
Mrs. Rice is well liked and has a high standing in the Harlem community; some form of respect should be afforded to her as well as all senior citizens.  Who benefits from victimizing the elderly? The landlord’s law firm, Gutman, Mintz, Backer and Sonnenfeldt, located at 813 Jericho Turnpike, New Hyde Park, New York 10040-4609, is defending this illicit eviction. 

Attorney Jessie Baker, with the firm of Gutman, Mintz, stated to the judge at a recent hearing  – everything was going well with Mrs. Rice’s apartment until Beverly Clark-Griggsby who was appointed Rice’s legal guardian by the court, came along.  What he was saying was, “Judge, we could kick Mrs. Rice out with no problem, if it wasn’t for Griggsby.â€?

I asked attorney Baker if Mrs. Rice would be returning to her apartment when the on-going work is completed.  He stated, “I don’t want to talk to you, we don’t make comments to the press,â€? and advised his client Frankie Frenkel, the landlord, not to make any comments.

Mrs. Rice’s apartment was rendered unlivable after the demolition work was done.  “They removed all her things and stuffed them in large black bags. You could see the toilet from the front door.  The walls were ripped out and the workers moved the gas line, and installed electrical outlets in the apartment without a permit,â€? stated Clark-Griggsby.

I listened to Mrs. Rice and Griggsby tell this story several times, but it wasn’t until I appeared at the apartment to see what words could not describe.  I knocked on the door marked “25;â€? men were working inside and most of them said they could not speak or understand English. I asked to speak with Mrs. Rice.  One of the men stated, “She don’t live here anymore, she moved,â€? – forgetting that he had told me just a few seconds earlier that he could not understand or speak English.
There are too many cases of this kind happening all over this city.  The Department of Buildings (DOB), the Department of Finance (DOF), the department of Housing Preservation Development (HPD) appear to be working in concert with landlords, realtors, predatory lenders and lawyers – causing tenants and homeowners to be victimized. 

Clearly, something criminal occurred in Mrs. Rice’s case.  The landlord and its agents trespassed on Mrs. Rice’s human rights, which should have prompted an immediate investigation from the Manhattan District Attorney’s and the State Attorney General’s offices. 

A lot has happened in Rice’s case since May of this year and now the matter is in Landlord and Tenant Court before a new judge, Jean T. Schneider.  The original judge, Timmie Elsner, left the case for unknown reasons. Inside the courtroom, which is open to the general public – Judge Schneider spoke in such a low tone; no one in the audience could hear her.  Is this a court of public record?  Is the public trust being taken into consideration?  What was the purpose of the judge’s low tone and who was the court protecting?

Thanks to Glenn Gardens Tenants’ Association (GGTA) for speaking out on Housing and giving Mrs. Rice a platform to connect with other senior citizens and many other groups who are experiencing problems with affordable housing.
There were over a dozen horror stories told at the October 29th, meeting held at Columbia University Law School. People of all walks of life are being attacked by this housing situation.

The housing and criminal court systems need to be reformed. Class action was mentioned by one of the participant at the meeting at Columbia Law School and it deserves a hard look. Come out and support Mrs. Florence M. Rice and others at the next meeting at Columbia University Law School, 435 West 116th Street, between Amsterdam and Morningside Avenues, Friday, November 12, 2004, at 6:45 P.M. in Room 101.  If you would like to participate as a speaker on the panel call Rose Peck at 1-800-527-0083 ext. 76541. 

Winkfield’s column appears every week in The Black Star News. Contact him for consideration regarding covering your story. Employees with any City or State agency are encouraged to contact him. Send comments to: Blackstarnews2@aol.com cell – 917-248-1790. Write to: ON THE SPOT, c/o Post Office Box 230149, Queens County, 11423. We can protect whistleblowers by honoring their privacy with confidentiality.

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