CROWN HEIGHTS, BROOKLYN — A years-long dispute at a dilapidated building in Crown Heights escalated after its landlord had a longtime tenant thrown in jail last week.
Joyce Webster, who has lived in her 1237 Dean St. apartment since the 1980s, said she figured when police showed up to her building last Sunday it was to respond to a 311 complaint she’d made that day about her landlord, once again, shutting off her water.
Instead, the cops handcuffed her and brought her to a holding cell. Her landlord, Everton Pierre, had called police claiming Webster had threatened him.
“I was shocked,” Webster told Patch. “I was just making sure he got the repairs done… I didn’t realize he was going to drop the bomb on me and have me thrown in jail.”
That day — which resulted in Webster spending six hours in a cell before being released with a summons — was the last straw in a dispute both Webster and Pierre say has been ongoing since he bought the building in 2015.
At the center of the most recent dispute is the building’s plumbing, which Webster says Pierre has yet to fix despite court-ordered repairs needed to stop the bathroom and kitchen sink from backing up and overflowing when she uses them.
Pierre instead shuts off Webster’s water when the backed-up system sends water overflowing into floors below, she said.
On his end, Pierre admitted to shutting off the water, but claimed he does so because Webster intentionally overflows the sink to spite him. He has had several plumbers come to repair the system only to have problems pop up again, he said.
“If there is a leak in the drain pipe, water is going to leak out, it’s not going to pour continuously day and night — but that’s what’s happening,” he said. “Water is pouring down like a waterfall or fountain onto two floors below her.”
Pierre, who has a pending case to evict Webster, said she has told him she “gets rid” of landlords. He claims the most recent incident with the cops was because Webster said she would have him shot, which she vehemently denies.
Last week, Pierre said he has been staying in a hotel due to threats from Webster and from neighbors texting him since a rally held by the Crown Heights Tenants Union.
Webster also says the dispute has her living in fear. She has gone to the police several times herself, asking them to stop Pierre from harassing her by banging on her door sometimes seven days a week, she said.
She maintains that she is not causing the water problems on purpose and has even set up a bucket to catch the overflow.
“He’s thinking I’m doing it for meanness,” she said. “I’m not going to mess up where I live.”
The water is only the most recent issue with the building, which is on a city list of properties with a large amount of housing violations.
As of Monday, there were 395 open violations with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development at 1237 Dean St.
Webster says these conditions — including never having a working oven, not having an electrical meter in her name and the water system issues — are the reasons she has withheld rent. She has a tenant harassment court case pending against Pierre.
“Denial of essential services is always a defense for non-payment in Housing Court,” said Joel Feingold, a spokesperson with the tenant union.
Pierre’s own court case to evict Webster has been held up given the eviction moratorium put in place during the coronavirus pandemic, which was most recently extended to January 2022. Webster has filed for both a COVID-19 hardship declaration and Emergency Rental Assistance, according to the union.
Still, Pierre told Patch that Webster is “likely to be evicted shortly,” though he would not reveal how he plans to do so given the moratorium.
“I think I have certain rights and I’m going to operate within those rights,” Pierre said, adding that he can’t say more about the legal strategy given the pending case.
In any case, Webster and her supporters have vowed to put up their own fight.
“No matter what it takes — I feel like I cared for this building and I love my neighborhood,” Webster said. “I’m not trying to move out.”
“We’re going to keep on keeping on until Joyce has justice,” Feingold added.