In Crown Heights, Tenant Union Members Learn from Each Other’s Experiences with Abusive Landlords

The cases of Joyce Webster and Janina Davis point to a pattern of the police and prosecutors aiding and abetting landlord abuse of their tenants, particularly those who are Black women.

Amba Guerguerian Jun 14, 2022

Read also: “Eviction Thwarted: Brooklyn Community Successfully Mobilizes to Defend Family Facing Removal from Their Home” and NYC Tenants Fight Many Forms of Displacement, Find Community

Janina Davis, 52, and Joyce Webster, 59, are both Black women, both long-time tenants in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and active members of the Crown Heights Tenants Union (CHTU). 

Because they’re members of the union, they’ve been able to share their stories with each other and realize similar patterns: In the past year, their landlords have sicced the cops on Davis and Webster, each for trying to hold the landlord accountable for abuse and/or neglect behavior. Police officers from NYPD’s 77th precinct aided their landlords in trying to evict each of them through criminal and not housing court. And, upon being released, neither woman was able to re-enter her home after having spent hours behind bars. 

“When your housing has been jeopardized, it jeopardizes every aspect of your life,” CHTU member Sherease Torain told The Indypendent in regards to Davis and Webster’s experiences. “When you close your door, that is where you are supposed to rest. Our bodies, minds, nor our spirits have been in a state or rest.” In February, a gaggle of officers from the 77th precinct looked on when Torain’s self-proclaimed landlord used a goon squad to try and repossess her family home

•   •   •

Joyce Webster has lived at 1237 Dean St. since 1985, longer than any of her neighbors. She pays around $100 per month to live in a rent-stabilized unit. CHTU confirms that Webster’s monthly rate was confirmed by legal documents, the most recent of which is a judge’s order from 2018. 

Both Webster and Davis were repeatedly harassed by their landlords, but the NYPD took each of them away in handcuffs — not their tormentors. 

The building is under a consent order that requires the landlord, Everton Pierre, to reconfigure the building’s utilities so that all tenants have access to required services by July 15. If he fails to do so, he could lose the building. 

Additionally, the building, which isn’t currently registered with HPD, has since at least 2015 been under an Alternative Enforcement Program, which means that bad conditions are so extreme that the city is authorized to make repairs and fix housing violations and bill the landlord after. 

For years, Webster has been the city’s point-person in regards to repairs. Last week marked a period in which there had been no water for 10 days and the city sent a project manager to fix the problem. It was Webster who helped him gain access to the building. 

“The city doesn’t want to be involved with nobody except for me,” said Webster of her relationship with HPD over the years. “I’m getting justice for the building,” she added.

Even before Pierre was the landlord, Joyce was accustomed to taking things into her own hands. When she first moved in, the building was run by a trolley museum that tried to evict the tenants in a money-making scheme. 

In 2005 when Pierre took over the 13-unit brownstone in Crown Heights, the battle to stay in her home intensified. “He has been taking me to court over time. Every time I think a court case is over, he brings me back to trial,” says Webster, who Pierre has tried to evict in court to no avail.  

Despite having paid the bills, Webster says her utilities are frequently shut off — and they stay off until she calls 311 to have service returned. She says her landlord routinely harasses her verbally and sexually when they cross paths in the building. A rat infestation has persisted for years. Webster suffered rat bites in 2019 and 2021.

Fighting for decades: Joyce Webster rallies with other tenants in the spring of 1993, as recorded by City Limits.

On September 19, after her water had been turned off for days, Webster called 311 to report the violation. That same day, the NYPD showed up at Webster’s door and arrested her based on Pierre’s allegations that she was harassing him.

 “I didn’t understand how a 311 call came about to the cops coming and arresting me,” Webster said. “The saddest thing is that when I got there and they locked me up and put me behind the bar, I said, I wanted to know exactly why I’m here and they said the landlord said I’d been threatening him and I was going to get my boyfriend to shoot him in the head,” Webster said, bemused. Outside of the landlord’s statement, no evidence has been produced in court to confirm that claim, says the CHTU. 

Webster has been charged with aggravated harassment and Pierre was granted a partial order of protection against her. This means that CHTU can no longer hold rallies in front of the building. “It’s really deeply affected our organizing and her ability to stand up for her rights. But as Joyce says, she won’t be bullied and she won’t be moved,” said Joel Feingold of CHTU.  

The same day she returned home from the 77th precinct, Pierre called the cops on Webster again, alleging she had harassed him anew. 

“When I got to the precinct, the same lieutenant was there that told Mr. Everton Pierre to not come up the stairs [towards my apartment] over nine and 10 times.” Webster compares her experience being arrested to the various times she says she called the police on Pierre landlord for sexually harassing her. Their sole response was to tell him to stop but never to take concrete action, not even to file a report, she says. “Whatever happens to me, they’re just siding with the landlord…Why don’t you lock him up? I told you that this man has been harassing me over periods of time?” 

Webster has already been to court over this charge six times, and on each occasion her lawyer has demanded that the DA dismiss the charges, though that hasn’t happened. She will return to court June 24, when oral arguments on a motion to dismiss the charges will commence.

•   •   •

When a landlord wants to remove a tenant from a building but does not have a legally justifiable way to do so, there are different paths he can take. Too many tenants self-evict when their landlord sends or posts fraudulent eviction notices (a legally-binding eviction must be court ordered and all tenants being evicted should demand their right to a day in court and free legal representation). Some landlords try an approach of attrition: Deprive the tenant of heat, water, electricity, repairs, pest control, etc., until they’ve had enough and leave on their own accord (last month The Indy spoke with a tenant who lost her mother this way). Another method of ousting a tenant is by having them sent to jail. 

“It’s very clear what’s going on. The police are just turning their heads the other way,” Janina Davis told The Indypendent. “Landlords just making up stories, lies, fabrications…to get us out through criminal court.” 

Davis has lived in her apartment for seven years. When the pandemic hit, it caused Davis, who is self-employed, to fall behind on rent. Her landlord, Mohammed Parvez, began harassing her in the hopes she would self-evict. Despite having since received roughly $30,000 in rent arrears from the state through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, Parvez continues to try to push Davis out. 

Davis was placed in a tiny cell with her wrist chained to a bar for five hours. She then spent seven more hours there in a cell with other women, all of whom were Black or brown.

According to Davis, when Parvez and his wife moved into the two-family home in Crown Heights around a year ago, harassment became “very severe.” In order to reach her own apartment, she has to pass his, during which he often takes the opportunity to scream at her, demanding she leaves the unit. 

Recently, Davis stopped receiving mail. When she went to the Post Office to try and resolve the issue, she was informed that the mail had been delivered to residence all along, leading her to believe that her landlord has been stealing her mail. 

Last year, Parvez called the NYPD on Davis and tried to frame her for having a gun. When the police showed up, they found that she did not in fact possess a weapon yet they refused to write up a report for the incident, which would have supplied Janina with proof that her landlord made false felony charges against her, which is illegal. 

Then on May 6, after Davis notified Parvez and his wife that she was recording them as they yelled at her, the police showed up at her door and said the landlord had accused her of assault. The landlord had a cut on his hand that he accused Davis, who maintains her innocence, of having inflicted. 

“Im coming in [the door] and I’m being verbally harassed which happens all the time,” Davis told The Indypendent. “This time, when I got up to the top of the stairs, I thought, let me have my phone on and let me record this because this is ridiculous. I have to go through this every time I come home, when I’m leaving. Same thing with my 18-year-old daughter.” After recording Parvez and his wife, Davis yelled down to their apartment that she had them on record. Within 20 minutes, she says, the police were at her door.

The officers found Parvez’s assault claim credible, cuffed Davis, who had never been arrested before, and brought her to the 77th precinct, where she spent 11 hours in a cell. Then, she was transferred to Central Booking, which was closed when she arrived, so they put her a “very, very small” cell for five hours where she was made to remain in handcuffs. She then spent seven more hours there in a cell with other women, all of whom were Black or brown. 

“At the 77th [the police] were like, ‘You don’t wanna go to Central Booking early. You wanna stay here because you don’t wanna be in the cell with all those people who got arrested.’ Let me tell you, the sisters I met there — it was family. There was nothing scary about them. It was empathy.” Davis was particularly upset to meet one young mother who was arrested for driving with a suspended permit and was being “transferred back-and-forth from the hospital just so she could breastfeed her one-month-old baby. Over a permit.”

“I’m doing these things as stipulated by the law,” said Davis of her interactions with her landlord, who she says she had asked multiple times to handle conflict with her lawyer. “Yet now I’m in shackles.” 

When she was finally released, Davis could not enter her home because Parvez had changed the locks. She called the police to report an illegal lockout they told her to call the locksmith.

Like Everton Pierre, Parvez succeeded in obtaining a partial order of protection against his tenant. If his request for it to be adjusted to a full order of protection is accepted, Davis will have to vacate her apartment. 

Today, she will face her landlord in criminal court regarding the assault charges. 

A CHTU poster for a May 18 tenant action around the landlord-harassment cases of Joyce Webster, Janina Davis and Sherease Torain.

“The DA should drop the charges. If they continue to pursue these charges, they will be colluding with the state to abuse tenants,” said Feingold. “If the charges aren’t dismissed and the landlord doesn’t agree to restitution for Janina’s years of suffering, we will continue to escalate.” 

The CHTU says the same regarding Joyce Webster’s case: If the DA doesn’t honor the motion to dismiss Pierre’s charges against her, the union will escalate political action around the issue. CHTU has held multiple rallies, phone banks and speak-outs to bring public attention to the cases of tenant-members Webster and Davis, and to empower tenants with similar stories to take collective action. The union is organizing action and support for the two cases in tandem because they represent a pattern of the police and prosecutors aiding and abetting the abuse of tenants, particularly those who are Black women. 

To get involved with Crown Heights Tenants Union, you can go to the union’s website. It is also on Instagram and Twitter.

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