The water seeped through a hole in the roof, flooding the 1121 Brighton Beach Avenue storefront overnight. It was gushing through ceiling tiles and dripping down walls when the Brighton Neighborhood Association’s Russian liaison opened the office Tuesday morning, finding what she described as a “rainstorm.” The group’s office is well-known in the community for its colorful office, crowded with historic photos and memorabilia collected during its 34-year-old history.
Now it all lays in ruins.
There were the photos of Mayor Beame, State Senator Chuck Schumer – “when he had hair” – and other assorted tchotchke’s of the group’s history. Office workers, led by BNA Founder Pat Singer, pulled things off walls and shelves, wrapping in garbage bags what could be saved, and taking to the curb what couldn’t. They also worried about asbestos, mold and other contaminates that could put them in harm’s way.
“We were just trying to salvage what we could,” said Singer.
But the organization – a tenants advocacy group – said this flood is no accident. They’re pointing fingers at the landlord.
(The BNA, a 510(c)3 is seeking tax-deductible donations to replace equipment and aid in the cleanup. More information is at the end of this article.)
Singer called the FDNY to examine the leak, and she was told that it looked suspicious. While the property managers were repairing a vent, it appeared a hole was made and left uncovered – just as four days of rain was to come.
“Why do you leave a roof open like that? What do you think is going to happen?” asked Singer.
According to Singer, the building’s new landlord wants to build taller and is trying to get them out faster.
“He wants to take the building down, and I’m not trying to stop him. I just want to have time to get out,” said Singer.
The new developers originally said they weren’t going to touch the building, according to Singer. But just last week, two realtors came in and told her she’d have to move immediately. However, Singer said, she and the landlord came to an agreement to vacate in six months, a deal Singer thinks the landlord might not have been content with.
“They did it to get us out faster. They want to take the building down and make it go up higher,” she said.
Property records show that the building was bought in July 2010 by Alex Levin for $4.8 million, and the Department of Buildings approved plans in February to double the size of the building and convert the first and second floors to medical facilities.
Just half an hour after discovering the flood, Levin’s secretary came to the BNA with an offer for a new location. Singer refused to take it, saying the offer is out of the question and insensitive to their situation.
“The owner never even came in to say ‘How are you doing?'” said Singer.
The landlord’s secretary returned again this morning with an offer to relocate.
The building has three tenants remaining, one of which owns two storefronts – a Chinese restaurant and a sushi restaurant. The Chinese takeout place – Chopstick House (1119 Brighton Beach Avenue – is directly next door, and was also flooded.
Owner Michael Lin said, before the flood, he had been squabbling with the landlord, refusing to leave the building. He said he has about four years left on the lease and, after 21 years in that location, has no plans to go anywhere regardless of the new landlord’s wishes. Lin stopped short of saying the flood was done on purpose, though. Chopstick House opened late on Tuesday, and has returned to business-as-usual.
But Levin said his plans have nothing to do with the leak and denies any role in it.
“This is all stories. I don’t know. It’s made up I guess,” said Levin. “There’s a big hole in the roof and we’re trying to fix it.”
He said the building has been leaking for years before they ever bought the place.
“We thought we could save the building but we can’t do it. It’s unstable,” said Levin. “It’s impossible to salvage.”
Though an FDNY official told Singer the hole was suspicious, she said she was told her only option would be to call the Department of Buildings. If she does that, she runs the risk of being ordered to vacate for safety reasons, which she said the group can’t afford right now.
“It’s ironic because I fought for down-zoning of Brighton Beach, and here’s this guy who wants to tear our building down” to build larger, she said. It reminds her of the days when developers would set fire to Brighton Beach’s bungalows in order to speed up demolition permits from the city.
“I gave up a lot personally because I believe I can make a difference, and now this bastard says I have to get out,” Singer said. “It’s not right. It’s not even human.”
Regardless of blame, the flood couldn’t have come at a worse time for the BNA. The group has been hit hard by budget cuts, slashing their office down to one full-time employee (Singer) and a couple of part-time advocates. They’re in the process of filing for grants and organizing their annual fundraiser, the Brighton Jubilee Festival, and some of the paperwork may have been lost or damaged.
“Computers are gone, scanners are gone, files and contracts damaged – it’s like a disaster,” she said. “I’m dead in the water. This is not right, they shouldn’t get away with this.”
Now Singer is turning to the community for help. She said she needs neighbors to donate equipment like phones, a fax machine, a scanner and a computer. The group can also use money to aid in the cleanup, and, if possible, an affordable office space in Brighton Beach.
Brighton Neighborhood Association is a nonprofit 501(c)3 and all donations are tax deductible. To donate, call (718) 891-0800 or visit the office at 1121 Brighton Beach Avenue.
“I’m hoping someone out there can help us. We need to rebuild,” she said. “We’re getting down on our luck here.”
(Correction: The original version of this article suggested that the landlord was trying to get the BNA to vacate before their lease is up. The BNA does not have a lease and is on a month-to-month tenancy. We apologize for any confusion.)