Mayor Ras J. Baraka is holding a press conference Monday morning to announce a lawsuit against the owner of Garden Spires, alleging uninhabitable conditions at the two residential towers on First Street.
The suit, filed July 14 in Essex County Superior Court against First King Properties of Kearny, seeks the appointment of a receiver and a court order declaring the buildings uninhabitable and ordering the evacuation and relocation of the tenants of the property, at the expense of the landlord. The complex has more than 800 apartments.
“After numerous inspections by code enforcement, fire, health and engineering inspections, it has been determined by the public officer of the City of Newark that the property has been determined unfit for the human habitation; rat infested unsanitary stairwells, evidence of urine and human feces, poor/inadequate ventilation creating sever mold in units,” according to the complaint.
“Defective radiators, deteriorated stand pipes, damaged window guards, excessive garbage/bulk visual and active illegal drug activities which promotes a dangerous to health or life and is likely cause of sickness among the occupant which creates a public nuisance,” the suit states.
The suit claims the property has been cited for at least 60 prior violations.
But Evelyn Conception, the tenant president of Garden Spires, said the apartments addressed in the lawsuit are not reflective of the entire building and the families living in those apartments.
“Some apartments are beautiful and well maintained,” said Conception, who has been a resident of Garden Spires for the last four years and has watched the building deteriorate with the changing dynamics of the neighborhood. “Residents love their apartments and love their city. We represent those who are not drug dealers or vandals but hard working people."
Conception said she previously invited Baraka to visit the Community Building that she and other residents personally cleaned and decorated.
“We asked him to attend a meet and greet to discuss issues and have dialogue with some of the law abiding residents who want to improve the building,” Conception said. “We have also been in talks with management to discuss a variety of matters in regards to a massive improvement project.”
Conception said many tenants refuse to open their doors to maintenance personnel, exterminators, and official inspectors.
“We are also dealing with individuals who are not tenants of our building who reside in our building unlawfully,” she said. “Newark police are called repeatedly about the persistent loitering in and around the buildings.”
Conception said most tenants want to work with management to improve conditions and make the necessary changes to make those improvements happen.
Felicia Alston-Singleton, a tenant advocate and a fair housing officer for the city, said she had initially called for receivership in 2015. But since then, she said, management of the building has been working to abate the violations found in inspections by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the state Department of Community Affairs.
"Receivership at this point is jumping the gun," Alston-Singelton said. "The mayor and his staff need to sit down with the owners to make sure all the violations have been abated. If they aren't, then he can take them to court. This is really just a political ploy because there's an election coming up."
The suit was filed by the Newark-based firm Eric S. Pennington PC.