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Unstable Staircase Prompts Full Evacuation Of Bowery Building

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Residents were been evacuated from a building on the Bowery late Thursday due to an unstable staircase.

As CBS2's Valerie Castro reported, the tenants at 85 Bowery were forced from their apartments on a bitterly cold night. They said they were told to gather their belongings and evacuate after the building's stairway was deemed structurally unsound by the Department of Buildings.

"The Department of Housing came in earlier with the Fire Department to take pictures of the place at about 11, and then they came back at 5 and told people to get out," said tenant Raymond Wong.

"Yeah, I just get back from work and they don't want to let me go in," another tenant said.

The sudden evacuation caused confusion and anger. Elderly residents and a mother with a baby were forced to leave, go across the street, and sit on a bus – while what would happen to their furniture was uncertain.

"She say her baby is only 6 months old and she just received notice very suddenly, so she doesn't have much time to prepare," one resident said.

"They want us to go to the bus," another resident said. "We don't know where to go, and they say they only guarantee housing for two days."

Tenants said the problem stems from an ongoing dispute with the landlord, who they claim refuses to make repairs in hopes of forcing them out.

"The landlord basically has been bullying and harassing them for two years," said Sarah Ahn, a tenant advocate with the Chinese Staff and Workers Association.

"That's what people have been saying about the Lower East Side -- that they're trying to get people to move out and renovate the place and up the price," added Wong.

"Yesterday's painful evacuation reinforced our commitment to hold landlords accountable for the severe financial and emotional toll caused by their negligent practices," said Council Member Margaret Chin in a statement. "No tenant should ever have to experience what the residents of 85 Bowery went through last night, and continue to experience, at the hands of their predatory landlord, Joseph Betesh.

She added she plans to reintroduce legislation to hold negligent landlords responsible for the relocation costs of tenants who are forced from their homes.

"My priority right now is to make sure that tenants are safe, and that the landlord makes the necessary repairs within the two week timeline issued by the judge so that residents can come home," she said.

At least 75 people were removed from the building, unsure of where they would go when their two nights of help would run out.

"We don't know -- they don't tell us anything," said Jin Ming Cao, whose family lives in the building.

The Red Cross told 1010 WINS it was offering relocation assistance to any tenant in need.

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