HARLEM, Manhattan (PIX11) — A group of Harlem tenants have been ordered to move out of their apartments after a real estate dispute between their building’s developer and his former lender. 

Tenant Tonia Vail told PIX11 News, “people had plans when they moved here to move forward in life.”

Vail was living in a homeless shelter during the early days of the pandemic when she received a life-changing call from her caseworker. Vail and dozens of other families were moved out of shelters and given the keys to brand-new Harlem apartments. They even signed leases.

“We did all our paperwork. We did all our due diligence,” Vail said.

The developer of their West 133rd street building initially borrowed money to build condominiums at the site. Still, when the city’s housing market halted in 2020, the developer decided to rent the apartments instead of selling them. Still, the developer never got approval from his lender before moving in renters. As a result, the tenants were left in the middle of a bitter legal battle.

The building is under new ownership, and a judge recently ruled the renters will need to move out, finding the developer was never authorized to give them leases. So now families are scrambling to find new homes before the holidays. 

“Right now, we don’t know if we’re going to be here or if we’re going to be homeless,” explained tenant Madeline Burdier.

A spokesperson for the building’s new owner, Harlem 133rd Owner LLC, told PIX11 News in a statement:

The current ownership has engaged occupants and their legal representation for more than a year now, in good faith and with earnest efforts to find alternative housing, including offering financial assistance and working with case managers and qualified brokers.

Several remaining tenants said they still need more time to find affordable apartments to move into.

“This has set us, our lives, back tremendously,” Vail said.