2BR, but Whose?
[New York Times,
16 October 2005
By RICHARD MORGAN
BONUS: Two weeks later, The New York Times remix
Wah Hop Eng, a retired 87-year-old cook, speaks largely in the past tense these days. He used to play cards and mah-jongg at Columbus Park, in Chinatown, where he worked. He used to cook roast duck and fried pork for his nieces and nephews. He used to attend services at Bethel Chinese Assembly of God on Eldridge Street. Most important, he used to live at 89th Street and Third Avenue.
But in August, when he returned from a two-month vacation, he discovered that the key to his apartment didn't work. When he complained to the landlord, Dominic Galofaro, Mr. Eng said, he was told that the apartment was no longer his. Then, according to a police officer who was called to the scene, Mr. Galofaro grabbed him and threw him out of the building.
With nowhere else to go, Mr. Eng stayed with his brother, who has an apartment one floor below. The next day, he called the police, and officers helped him get back into his home, or rather, what had been his home.
The apartment in which Mr. Eng had lived for 47 years was empty. Gone, he said, were the photos of his dead wife, along with his treasured coin collection, and clothes and documents he had not taken with him on his vacation; he has no idea what happened to his possessions.
''It seems like he just took advantage of an old man who doesn't speak English,'' said Detective Thomas Frey, the police officer who let Mr. Eng back into his apartment, referring to Mr. Galofaro. ''They were ripping out the cabinets already, gutting the place. It was just a horror show to see.''
Even though he could have returned after the police intervened, Mr. Eng was no longer comfortable staying in the apartment. Today, he lives outside Boston with his son, Peter, and his son's family. He spends his days watching television and sometimes visits the local mall.
Every week or so his son brings him back to Manhattan -- to get medical attention for a painful knee, to see the psychiatrist who is helping him cope with the anxiety produced by this incident, and to meet with lawyers who are handling a $13 million suit he filed against Mr. Galofaro, Mr. Galofaro's partner, Salvatore Casaro, and their company, 1582 Third Ave. Realty.
''He has no options, he has nothing,'' one of Mr. Eng's lawyers, Maurice Sieradzki, said of his client. ''This is the living nightmare of everyone in that part of town who lives in this type of situation.''
The situation is this: Mr. Eng occupied a two-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side for which he paid $158 a month in rent. In March, Mr. Galofaro bought the small apartment house, which he is currently renovating, and given current housing prices in the neighborhood, he would be offering a bargain if he charged 10 times that amount for the space.
New York landlords are, under some specific conditions, able to evict rent-regulated tenants, but the law provides a number of protections.
Mr. Galofaro, who is also facing criminal charges of burglary, grand larceny and unlawful imprisonment, declined to discuss the situation, as did his partner, Mr. Casaro, and their lawyer, Sam Schmidt. The criminal case has been adjourned until January.
''We work to give everyone their day in court,'' said Duncan Levin, the assistant district attorney handling the matter. ''But it can't all be the same day. People do have to wait.''
back to home page