UNION CITY, N.J. (RNS) A judge denied a city request for custodial receivership of two apartment buildings owned by the imam who wants to build a controversial mosque near Ground Zero, but demanded that he prove that safety and health code violations are being addressed.
State Superior Court Judge Thomas Olivieri on Wednesday (Sept. 15) said the case would be heard again Sept. 23. “The clock is ticking,” Olivieri told Tomas Espinosa, the attorney for Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.

Rauf did not attend the hearing, nor did his wife, Daisy Khan, who had contacted Espinosa to defend the case. Espinosa said there was “a lot of stress” on the couple and that Rauf was a man of “integrity and character.”

“The legal process will show that my client is an honorable man who took care of his buildings,” Espinosa said.

The suit alleges that Rauf, as sole officer of Sage Development LLC, failed to address multiple tenant complaints of a lack of heat and gas, infestations of bedbugs and a defective fire alarm system at a 16-unit apartment building.

The lawsuit calls for all alleged health and safety violations to be remedied by Oct. 9. Olivieri said city’s request for custodial receivership to collect rents and pay for repairs and fines preceded the imposed deadline.

Attorney Christine Vanek, who is representing the city, said the urgency was based on previous unheeded calls for Rauf to remedy violations. Vanek said power remains turned on, despite lack of payment, as a “goodwill gesture.”

The judge chastised Rauf’s lawyer for not providing paperwork to back up his defense that corrections of fire protection services have been started, and complaints by tenants have already been addressed. Espinosa explained he had only been retained at 10 p.m. the night before.


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