The little guy versus the big corporation

‘I grew up in this apartment. After my mother died, Amidar came during the shiva to evict us,’ says Chaya Rozenman, who is fighting for her home.

apartment 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
apartment 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In the last years before she died of cancer in 2010, Sarah Hagans had a dream. The widowed mother of five wanted to buy the Amidar public-housing apartment she had lived and raised her family in for more than 30 years. Little did Hagans realize that going to the US to care for her dying mother would put this dream in jeopardy and lead to eviction threats against Hagans’s daughter Chaya, her husband Noam Rozenman and their three small children, who are currently living in the Amidar apartment.
Sarah Hagans and her husband, Avraham, made aliya in 1977 from the US. The couple qualified for an Amidar apartment – subsidized public housing – and began renting the three-bedroom apartment on Rehov Ma’agalei Harim Levin in the Sanhedria Murhevet neighborhood.
Avraham died a few years afterward. Sarah continued to live in the apartment with the children.
Based in Tel Aviv, Amidar or the National Housing Company is a government company established in 1949 to manage public housing rented to low-income families (both olim and veterans) and the disabled.
The company manages some 70,000 residential properties nationwide (including 3,000 in Jerusalem). In addition, it provides rental assistance, rehabilitates war-related damage to buildings and shelters and operates sheltered housing for seniors.
In 2005, Sarah Hagans’s mother fell ill. Hagans went to the US to care for her. She made two trips and was away both times for extended periods.
Upon her return to Israel from her second trip, Hagans received a letter from Amidar saying her lease was being canceled. Amidar cited a clause in the contract that states that a tenant who is not physically present in the apartment for more than six months must inform Amidar of this and receive its permission to be absent or lose the right to the apartment.
Hagans retained a lawyer who informed Amidar of the circumstances, claiming that Hagans had not abandoned the apartment. Family members were living there most of the time during her absence and all her possessions remained there. Amidar canceled the notice of abandonment.
“Amidar did not do this as a favor to Sarah Hagans,” says Eldad Buchman, the Rozenmans’ lawyer in their fight to preserve their rights. “There is another clause in the Amidar contract that if the tenant does not disconnect physically from the apartment – such as removing possessions or having no family members in residence – then it is not abandonment and the lease cannot be canceled.”
In November 2006, Hagans received a letter from Amidar informing her of a special deal for tenants to buy their apartments. According to the 1998 Public Housing Law, right-to-buy tenants wanting to buy their apartments are entitled to a discount off the basic price of the apartment – 4 percent for every one of the first 10 years, 3% for every year between 11 and 20 and 2% for every additional year lived in the apartment. Hagans, who had lived in her apartment for nearly 30 years, calculated that she was entitled to a 70% discount.
But when she came to buy, she was told she was not eligible to do so. In March 2007, the Interministerial Committee (of the Construction and Housing Ministry and other government ministries) rejected her, claiming that, based on information from Amidar, she had abandoned the apartment by going abroad and had forfeited her rights.
“This is absurd,” Buchman continues. “She had already received a letter from Amidar canceling this claim.”
Buchman says that Amidar can get a lot more money by selling what he
terms “good” apartments – those in central locations that are in demand, like Jerusalem – to non-tenants. That way, the apartments are sold for their market value and not at a discount.
Hagans’s lawyer appealed but the appeal was rejected.
Chaya and Noam Rozenman were married in 2006 and lived with Sarah Hagans for two years. In 2009, they returned to live in the apartment to care for Hagans, who was by then suffering from cancer.
Amidar apartments cannot be inherited. But, according to criteria established by the Construction and Housing Ministry, a family member who lived with the leaseholder for four years qualifies as a “continuing tenant” with the same rights as the original leaseholder.
“Amidar claims that we did not live in the apartment and is trying to evict us,” says Chaya Rozenman, a teacher’s aide in special education.
“I grew up in this apartment. After my mother died, Amidar came during the shiva to evict us. It claims that it sent agents to check if someone was living in the apartment. Three agents came over a period of 30 years and in the middle of the day. We have testimony from the neighbors that we have been living here for years. We have no other place to go. I am furious over what Amidar did to my mother. First, the company tried to evict her. Then, it told her she could buy at a special price. And finally, it denied her the right to do so.”
“We would like to buy the apartment,” says Noam, who works as a handyman for the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel.
“If not, we would like to continue to rent. I feel this is a classic case of the little guy versus the big corporation.”
In June 2011, the couple received a letter from the Construction and Housing Ministry rejecting their claim as continuing tenants. Amidar has gone to court to evict them.
“Chaya and Noam lived with Sarah for years,” notes Buchman.
“Since they married, the couple never severed their connection to the apartment, always maintaining a room for themselves and one for their children. They may have left for short periods here and there, but their possessions were in the apartment.
“I am preparing a petition claiming that Amidar wronged Sarah Hagans with respect to buying the apartment,” Buchman continues.
“Chaya and Noam should be able to continue as tenants and be given the same rights to buy as Sarah was offered. You can’t cancel the rights of someone who has lived in an apartment for more than 30 years just because she went to the US to care for her ailing mother, or on the basis of three daytime checks. Justice demands that Chaya and Noam be able to buy and continue to live in the apartment.”
Amidar local media advisor Dani Israel writes that “according to the criteria established by the Ministry of Construction and Housing, the Rozenmans are not entitled to be considered continuing tenants...
A continuing tenant must live in the apartment for at least four years continuously in order to be eligible for public housing.
“In addition, according to a decision of the Ministry of Construction and Housing, Mrs. Hagans was not approved to buy the apartment because of prolonged stays abroad.
“According to the Border Police records, Mrs. Hagans traveled abroad a number of times for long periods. For example, in 2005, she spent nearly a full year abroad. A year later, she was abroad for nearly half a year.
“These checks have to be made because, according to the law, leaving a public housing apartment for long periods of time constitutes abandonment. It should be noted that there are many families waiting to receive public housing and therefore it is inconceivable that these apartments remain empty for long periods.”