Few rent-control apartments left in New York

It is among the cheapest rents in all of New York City: a 750-square-foot one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn for $63 a month.

In other ways, however, it's one of the most costly. Its inhabitants,
Magnus Saethre, 97, and his live-in caregiver, Devron King, have been
locked in a vicious battle with the building's landlord for years over
the conditions of the unit -- which are decrepit -- and what they claim
are attempts to force them out.

"The landlord's been calling
Adult Protective Services on us," said King, 56. "He's trying to
suggest that I'm taking advantage of Magnus."

to King and his lawyer, John Hlavaty, the landlord, Jack Geula, has
also claimed that other tenants complain about noise.

"Magnus is 97 years old and hard of hearing," Hlavaty said. "They yell. That's how they communicate."

There are fewer than 40,000 rent-controlled apartments among New York's more than 2 million units.

And it's increasingly the city's elderly, clinging to the spaces in
which they've lived most of their lives, who are left to live in
cramped, rotting rooms while their landlords wait them out.

Rents can be repeatedly lowered until the problems are addressed, but
there is no recourse other than civil court for neglect and harassment.

"You hit landlords where they live, with fines," said DHCR spokesman Andrew O'Rourke.

"Ninety-five percent of landlords are accommodating," O'Rourke said.

But some are aggressively stubborn, and what they're doing isn't technically criminal.

Saethre and King, for example, live in a 750-square-foot fourth-floor
walk-up on Fourth Avenue in Sunset Park. Saethre is so fragile that he
almost never leaves the apartment. The paint on the ceiling is peeling
so badly that the curling strips resemble stalactites.

has laid out $25,000 in legal fees," said Hlavaty. "That's what the
landlord is trying to do -- ruin them financially."

who has lived in the unit since returning from World War II, does not
want to leave. "When you talk to him when he's fully coherent, he says,
'This is my apartment. I've lived here for 62 years. There's no way
that S.O.B. is getting me out,' " Hlavaty said.

The landlord Geula responded, "It's lies, all lies," before hanging up.

Saethre and King's lawyer -- who believes the landlord is most afraid
of King inheriting the apartment when Saethre dies -- believes his
clients will prevail.

"We are going to send a message to them," he said, "to stop going after the elderly and the vulnerable."

Out of control

Number of rent-controlled units in NYC

1987: 155,361

1991: 124,411

1993: 101,339

1996: 70,572

1999: 52,562

2002: 59,324

2005: 43,317

2008: 39,901

Sources: US Census Bureau and New York City Housing and Vacancy Surveys

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