Tenants embroiled in 20-year dispute

A child born when a festering dispute over New York City tenancy and debt began would today be an adult. The dispute has ensnared both the low-income tenants of a Lower East Side property and a neighborhood credit union that occupies the first floor of the building.

The half-dozen tenants and the credit union have had an uneasy relationship in which the two parties share control of the property, but neither actually owns the building. And neither party wants to be saddled with the growing debt that comes with ownership.

The two parties shared control with seats on a nonprofit board that oversees building operations. The agreement has created a standoff, however, in which both parties are tenants and no one takes responsibility for ownership, property taxes and upkeep of the property.

Debt is mounting, according to a recent article on the property: climbing about $18,000 per year.

A photo of the property accompanying the article shows discolored outside walls.

"Our building is literally falling apart," says one tenant who pins the blame on the credit union.

Credit union representatives say they have offered to split the debt with tenants, but say tenants want the bank to shoulder all costs -- an arrangement that is unacceptable, the bank's employees say.

As the credit union prepared to celebrate its 30th anniversary, tenants prepared a protest. Banners hang from some windows in the building, urging the financial institution to do what's right and save the structure.

While the length of this dispute is perhaps uncommon, it contains issues and emotions common to many disagreements over rent, taxes and property maintenance; disagreements that can often be resolved with the assistance of an attorney experienced in housing and rental law.