Legal action could prevent de Blasio administration from going forward with housing homeless on site
by Joe Anuta, Crains New York
The owner of a controversial Queens hotel site that's being used as a homeless shelter is suing the hotel's operator, opening up a second legal battle that threatens to undermine Mayor Bill de Blasio's plans to house the city's homeless.
Harshad Patel runs the Holiday Inn Express at 59-40 55th Road in Maspeth. This summer, he announced plans to lease rooms to the city's Department of Homeless Services for use as temporary housing. The news prompted boisterous protests from local residents, which were strongly condemned by the de Blasio administration.
While Patel built and now runs the hotel, his firm, New Ram Realty, leases the land it sits on from Kimcomatt Realty Corp. That company, which is run by Barry Haskell, denied Patel's Aug. 25 request to rent the rooms in bulk to the administration, citing a clause in the ground lease that permits rooms to be rented only to hotel guests.
As the backlash over the shelter plans reached a crescendo in early September, Patel told media outlets that he was backing off the deal due to community opposition. But the new lawsuit alleges that shortly thereafter, New Ram Realty quietly worked out an agreement to rent the rooms to the city anyway, in a deal that was specifically structured to circumvent the use restrictions in the ground lease.
On Oct. 10, around 30 homeless adults were moved into the hotel. About two weeks later, Kimcomatt filed the lawsuit in Queens Supreme Court, asking a judge to block any more homeless individuals from moving into the building, and to rule that New Ram is in violation of its lease. "The potential profit to New Ram must have been too great to turn down," the suit said, "because in blatant disregard of the terms of its lease and in contradiction to its representations to the community, New Ram has begun the conversion of the hotel to a homeless shelter."
The city's Department of Homeless Services declined to comment.
Should the suit succeed, Kimcomatt would have the right to terminate the lease on the property, leaving the de Blasio administration with one fewer option for housing the city's record homeless population, which surpassed 60,000 this fall.
It also marks the second lawsuit involving the site, after City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley filed a separate claim in August alleging that using the hotel for temporary housing is a violation of city policy, since residents do not have access to a kitchen.