UNION CITY — A lawsuit filed by Union City charges that the landlord of two apartment buildings has repeatedly failed to address complaints by tenants and orders by the city on issues ranging from moldy bathrooms to fire hazards.
Landlord-tenant disputes are nothing new, even those with municipalities entering the fray. Except in this case, city officials say the landlord is Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the controversial proposal to develop an Islamic cultural center and mosque near Ground Zero.
The suit, filed today in state Superior Court in Jersey City, identifies Rauf as the sole officer of Sage Development LLC, a company based at his home address in North Bergen and listed as the owner of the two buildings. The suit also alleges that Sage’s corporate status was revoked by the state in March 2005, for its failure to file annual reports.
The buildings occupy the same lot at 226 Central Ave., one containing 32 apartments and the other 16. The larger building has been vacant since Feb. 8, 2008, when a fire broke out there, one year after the city says it issued 12 separate fire code violations that Rauf ignored.
Rather than addressing the violations after the fire, the city says Rauf boarded up the building, barring residents from their apartments. A spokesman for Mayor Brian Stack said he could not immediately say what had become of the displaced families.
"He’s a terrible landlord who’s unresponsive to the residents who live in his building," said the spokesman, Mark Albiez. "City officials and inspectors have reached out to him to express the urgency in correcting problems in his buildings, and it’s unfortunate that it’s gotten to this point, but it’s our responsibility to insure that residents receive the care that is needed."
Repeated calls to Rauf’s home telephone were met with a busy signal. No number was listed for Sage Development.
Late tonight, no one answered the doorbell at Rauf's North Bergen residence.
Apart from the fire-related issues, the lawsuit says the landlord ignored dozen of complaints from tenants about various other problems in the two buildings during the past two decades.
The suit seeks to place the buildings into receivership, in which a court-appointed receiver would collect rents directly from tenants and use the money to make necessary repairs and address hazards, pay delinquent utility bills and settle fines imposed by the city.
"From 1996 to 2010, the city responded to no less than thirty complaints from tenants predicated upon various health and safety concerns, including lack of heat, mold inside apartments, garbage issues, bed bugs, foul odors, dirty hallways and the lack of utilities/heat," the lawsuit states.
Feisal Abdul Rauf is the well-known author, activist and imam of the Masjid al-Farah. Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan, have been at the center of the international controversy over plans to develop a proposed Islamic Center and mosque two blocks from the World Trade Center site.
Opponents have criticized the plans as insensitive to victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks, perpetrated by Islamic extremists who hijacked commercial planes and flew them into the twin towers.
Defenders of the Islamic center plan, which has been approved by New York City authorities, say religious freedom is a constitutional right and a cornerstone of America’s founding principles.
Albiez said the suit was unrelated to the mosque controversy.
"We can only speak to local circumstances. This city’s only in a position to talk about what happens in Union City, and assuring that the residents are looked after," Albiez said. "I think the recent stories have brought Union City into the picture recently, just because of his properties in Union City."
Last week, The Record reported that Rauf received more than $2 million in public money to renovate low-income apartments he owns in Hudson County, including those mentioned in today’s lawsuit, after winning support for the projects from officials, including the disgraced former County Executive Robert C. Janiszewski, and U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, who was mayor of Union City at the time.
The Record also reported that Rauf had ties to local waterfront developer Fred Daibes, and was sued by a Daibes associate who had charged the imam with mortgage fraud in 2008, a suit that was settled in June.
I wish someone would bankrupt him.
Just like his cohort weird beards in the Middle East, the only thing this asshole is going to respond to is a kick in the fucking teeth before he'll get the point.