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UNION CITY, N.J. (RNS) A lawsuit filed by Union City charges that Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the controversial proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero, has failed to address complaints about moldy bathrooms and fire hazards in two apartment buildings he owns.
The suit, filed Monday (Sept.13), identifies Rauf as the sole officer of Sage Development LLC, a company based at his home address in North Bergen County and listed as the owner of the two buildings.

The suit also alleges that Sage’s corporate status was revoked by the state in March 2005 for its failure to file annual reports.

One building contains 32 apartments and the other 16. The larger building has been vacant since Feb. 8, 2008, when a fire broke out there, one year after the city says it issued 12 separate fire code violations that Rauf ignored.

Rather than addressing the violations after the fire, the city says Rauf boarded up the building, barring residents from their apartments. A spokesman for Mayor Brian Stack could not immediately say what had become of the displaced families.

“He’s a terrible landlord who’s unresponsive to the residents who live in his building,” said the spokesman, Mark Albiez. “City officials and inspectors have reached out to him to express the urgency in correcting problems in his buildings, and it’s unfortunate that it’s gotten to this point, but it’s our responsibility to insure that residents receive the care that is needed.”

Repeated calls to Rauf’s home telephone were met with a busy signal. No number was listed for Sage Development. No one answered the doorbell at Rauf’s residence.

Apart from the fire-related issues, the lawsuit says the landlord ignored dozen of complaints from tenants about various other problems in the two buildings during the past two decades.

The suit seeks to place the buildings into receivership, in which a court-appointed receiver would collect rent directly from tenants and use the money to make necessary repairs and address hazards, pay delinquent utility bills and settle fines imposed by the city.

“From 1996 to 2010, the city responded to no less than 30 complaints from tenants predicated upon various health and safety concerns, including lack of heat, mold inside apartments, garbage issues, bedbugs, foul odors, dirty hallways and the lack of utilities/heat,” the lawsuit states.

Albiez said the suit was unrelated to the controversy surrounding Rauf’s plans to build an Islamic community center and prayer space two blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.

“We can only speak to local circumstances. This city’s only in a position to talk about what happens in Union City, and assuring that the residents are looked after,” Albiez said. “I think the recent stories have brought Union City into the picture recently, just because of his properties in Union City.”

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