Court Delays Eviction of Nonprofit

IMG_7728Maya Millett Trudy Silver and Bruce Morris, owners of the 5C Cultural Center, at State Supreme Court earlier today.

A State Supreme Court justice today postponed the eviction of a nonprofit East Village arts center, which has been locked in a dispute with its co-op board for the past 15 years.

The disagreement, between the 5C Cultural Center, a nonprofit devoted to promoting jazz and the arts, and the co-op board at 702 East Fifth Street, revolves around whether the center broke a series of lease agreements regarding building repairs and music performances.

The board initiated eviction proceedings in April but earlier today Justice Saliann Scarpulla asked the two sides to try to negotiate a settlement out of court before moving forward with the eviction process.

Justice Scarpulla ordered the two sides to return to court Nov. 10 when they must present her with lease amendments that resolve the questions at the heart of the dispute.

At one point, an exasperated Justice Scarpulla asked no one in particular, “Why is this ’95 case in front of me now?”

That question has plagued the co-owners of the cultural center, pianist Trudy Silver and husband Bruce Morris, since legal disputes began with co-op president, Jemeel Moondoc, shortly after 5C opened in 1995.

Ms. Silver and Mr. Morris each expressed disappointment after today’s hearing. In earlier interviews, they said that the co-op board wanted to evict them so that they could lease the center’s space to another tenant for a higher rent.

The president of the board said that the primary issue was what he described as repeated violations of the center’s lease.

The center, located at 68 Avenue C and Fifth Street, hosts music classes, academic tutoring and various arts performances.

Legal disputes have been waged about noise, beer and wine service during performances and the center’s hours of operation.

In an interview earlier this week, Mr. Moondoc said he was concerned that noise from the center was disturbing tenants who live in the eight residential apartments above it.

IMG_7699Maya Millett The 5C Cultural Center, 68 Avenue C.

“It violates the residents’ freedom of enjoyment when noise from live music is penetrating through the floors and into their living space,” he said. “The noise has been coming up through the floors—still. It’s not properly soundproofed.”

Mr. Morris and Ms. Silver worked for several years on a project to install noise-reducing ceiling boards to eliminate disturbances to the rest of the building. The endeavor culminated in June 2006, when court documents show that sound test experts from both parties were hired to inspect the boards and both deemed them adequate.

The couple believes that a rise in real estate value in the neighborhood is the motivating factor behind the ongoing legal fight. As shareholders in the low-income co-op, the couple pays $6,000 a year on rent; similar sized units in the surrounding area can cost upwards of $7,000 per month, Ms. Silver said. “They want to get the big money.”

James West, a lawyer who represents the co-op, doesn’t necessarily disagree that the crux of the persistent arguments between the disputing parties is at least partly monetary. “Everything in New York is about money — it’s about dollars and cents,” he said. “Especially in real estate.”