Family in danger of losing rent-stabilized apartment in Hell's Kitchen due to pandemic

Sonia Rincón Image
Monday, February 27, 2023
Family in danger of losing rent-stabilized apartment due to pandemic
A couple living in a rent-regulated apartment in Hell's Kitchen is in danger of losing their home after being stranded in Ecuador during the pandemic. Sonia Rincon has the story.

HELL'S KITCHEN, Manhattan (WABC) -- A couple living in a rent-regulated apartment in Manhattan since 1980, could lose their home because of unforeseen circumstances caused by the pandemic that kept them out of their home for a long period of time.

In nearly 43 years, Hugo Santana has never paid the rent late for his three-bedroom Hell's Kitchen third floor walkup apartment.

He and his wife have raised four children in the apartment. One still lives there with her kids.

But his new landlord, who took over in 2020, is taking him to court, saying that because he was gone for more than half of a two-year period, it stopped being his primary residence.

The elderly couple was stranded in Ecuador when their return flight in April 2020 was canceled.

At first, they were stranded because of the lockdown, and then Santana said they were scared to travel as they dealt with health issues that made them vulnerable. Their doctors even told them to stay.

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"And I think they saved their lives by staying there," said attorney Judith Killen of Housing Conservation Coordinators.

Their lease was renewed by fax, locking in their $897 rent for another two years.

The Santana's attorney says that their circumstance should qualify them for an excused absence under rent stabilization laws.

"The pandemic is unprecedented," Killen said. "But the situation of a family needing to be away from the apartment isn't unprecedented."

An attorney for the Santana's landlord, Oz on 47th street LLC, tells Eyewitness News that while COVID is an unprecedented legal excuse for an absence, he's not satisfied with the evidence the Santana's have offered so far.

The same landlord purchased multiple apartments in the building around the same time, quickly selling at least one, for more than half a million dollars.

"His own website says that he is expert at exploiting market opportunities," Killen said. "So, I'm sure he thought COVID was a market opportunity."

Hugo Santana is now preparing for a deposition, to fight to keep his primary home.

When asked by his grandkids if they will be thrown out, Santana said they will have to live under a bridge because they have nowhere else to go.


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