Democrat File Photo
JOSEPH KOWALCZYK, SEEN at a Village of Monticello board meeting in April, is one of two landlords suing the Village.
John Barbarite main focus of lawsuit
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Village of Monticello leaders are being sued for allegedly acting prejudicially toward two property owners.
The focus of landlords Joseph Kowalczyk and Alil Pericic’s suit is Village Manager John Barbarite, whom they say subjected them to “continuous prejudice, ugly racial and religious slurs, ... egregious discrimination, deprivation of due process and equal protection of the laws,” according to the civil complaint filed in U.S. District Court on August 5.
But Mayor Gordon Jenkins and Code Enforcement Officer Sue Flora are also being sued for their roles in what the plaintiffs allege are “arbitrary or irrational” violations of their rights.
Village officials say it’s part of a coordinated effort to derail their aggressive attempts to clean up a village known for its slums and absentee landlords.
Listed in the joint complaint as “being separate, distinct and unrelated owners of separate, unrelated parcels,” Kowalczyk and Pericic are seeking a total of $1.71 million in damages from the village, plus the restoration of building permits and certificates of occupancy they say were illegally rescinded by the village.
Neither man lives in Monticello. Kowalczyk is a resident of Stamford, Connecticut, while Pericic is a non-citizen alien living in Ridgewood, NY.
However, both own rental properties that have been the focus of contention at several public meetings.
Kowalczyk’s portion of the suit concerns his apartment complex at 37-39 High Street, which he’s owned since 2001.
According to the court complaint, the village issued him a building permit in 2002 to renovate two apartments at 39 High Street but then denied permits for renovations to other apartments. The village attorney disagreed with the denial, and additional permits were issued for six more apartments, being renewed as needed.
In March and April of 2007, says the complaint, Barbarite repeatedly arrived unannounced at 39 High Street to make “racial, vile and profane statements,” including a quote attributed to him that he will not allow “you foreigners and you polacks to bring n------ and Puerto Ricans into my backyard.”
Barbarite lives on Cottage Street, which is behind Kowalczyk’s property.
When Kowalczyk attempted to prove that a conditional certificate of occupancy had been granted by the village in 2006, Barbarite allegedly responded that he “could shove the temporary certificate of occupancy up your a--.”
The complaint claims that Flora herself had been periodically inspecting and signing off on the renovations but that Barbarite forced her to write a letter to Kowalczyk nullifying the 2006 permit.
Notices were then allegedly sent to Kowalczyk’s tenants telling them they needed to vacate the premises, and the landlord alleges the village manager threatened him with criminal action if he attempted any more renovations whilst at the same time threatening daily fines for allegedly failing to repair building violations.
The complaint claims that Jenkins knew what was going on and personally told tenants to stop paying rent.
As a result, Kowalczyk says he was “adversely selectively treated” and is seeking $855,000 in damages and legal expenses from the village.
Pericic’s portion of the suit concerns his own apartment building at 92 High Street, which he’s owned since 2004.
The village issued a building permit in 2005 to repair the facility so as to return it to code-compliant operation as a nine-family residence, according to Pericic.
The complaint claims that Flora periodically inspected the premises and approved the progress being made, but then Barbarite forced Flora to void the permit.
According to the suit’s allegations, Barbarite told Pericic he would not accept the renovation plans because “he is not going to permit nine more families of n------ and Puerto Ricans on High Street.”
The complaint goes on to allege that Barbarite promised Pericic’s engineer that he would approve the plans if they reduced the nine apartments to seven but subsequently stated the planning board “would be more receptive” to five.
Pericic and his investor, Aida Markisic, also claim that Barbarite used slurs like “low-income trash,” “monkeys” and “Spanish bastards” while talking to them about who should and shouldn’t be residents of the neighborhood.
When Pericic attempted to convince Barbarite that the building permit was valid, Barbarite allegedly told him to burn it and said, “Guess what? There’s a new sheriff in town.”
As a result, Pericic says he, too, was “adversely selectively treated” and is also seeking $855,000 in damages and legal expenses from the village.
Both men claim Flora was threatened and intimidated with termination by Barbarite and Jenkins so as to force her to write “false letters” and void previously issued permits.
Village officials respond
The facts of the matter are somewhat different than the complaint relates, according to Barbarite and Flora.
“Kowalczyk has major problems,” Barbarite said of 39 High Street. “Unfortunately, he may have to demolish everything on that site.”
Barbarite stated that the apartments on the property are currently not permitted to be occupied (prior permits were revoked because, Barbarite said, they were illegal), and one building an old warehouse that had sat vacant for years would need a hard-to-get variance to be turned into new apartments.
The code violations are numerous, especially pertaining to safety, said officials.
Barbarite and Flora added that Kowalczyk has made the process more difficult because he allegedly attempted to continue working on his buildings without following code.
As a result, said Barbarite, fire exits, the sprinkler system and fireproofing are not up to code.
“For fire safety reasons, we closed 39 High Street,” Flora explained yesterday, wondering why Kowalczyk would be willing to spend so much money on suing the village when he could spend it on getting his property into code compliance.
As for 92 High Street, Flora and Barbarite said it’s been in front of the planning board, which was the body that advocated for a reduction from nine apartments to five.
Plus, Pericic’s building permit expired, said Flora, who has yet to see a full set of engineering and architectural plans for the building.
She denied being threatened by the village administration and in fact feels supported by the board. She called the statements relating to her in the complaint “untrue and exaggerated.”
And she felt her actions would stand any scrutiny.
“I’m sure if this does get to court, the village would prevail,” she said.
As for the charges of prejudice, Barbarite denies ever having said any of the alleged quotes.
“When I moved to Cottage Street, it was a racially diverse block,” he pointed out, saying he long rented apartments to Hispanic and African-American tenants just 100 feet down the road.
Plus, he added, Kowalczyk’s attorney, whom he met with various times in 2007 to resolve permitting issues, never brought up allegations of prejudice during those meetings.
“It’s absolute nonsense,” he said, noting with suspicion the fact that Ray Nargizian, who was village manager when much of these allegations occurred, is not named in the suit.
Nargizian, when contacted yesterday, said he has nothing to do with the lawsuit or the allegations.
“I believe John Barbarite is paranoid,” he remarked, saying he’s content as a village property owner to attend and observe board meetings.
Barbarite said he’s going to continue doing his job in the face of people he feels are flaunting the law for personal gain.
“Since I got here, we’ve taken a much more aggressive stance on code enforcement,” Barbarite explained. “... They just want to make a lot of noise to scare everyone and make them back down.”
Barbarite said he may be upset, but he’s not scared.
“I think all the facts, all the codes, all the laws are on our side,” he remarked.
“It’s just the old sour grape thing again,” said Jenkins on Friday. “There are loyalists [to the former administration] who are fighting the new regime.”
Jenkins agreed it stems from the new administration’s efforts to vigorously pursue code violations. As a result, he’s amazed this is the first such suit to come his way.
“I’m surprised I got only one lawsuit,” he remarked. “I thought I’d get five or six.”
Calling the suit full of “hearsay,” Jenkins specifically denied telling Kowalczyk’s tenants to stop paying rent or ever forcing Flora to do anything.
“All she has to do is her job,” he explained. “She has a code book, and she follows it.”
He lamented that attacking village leadership has become an all-too-common way of resolving issues, though he’s “100 percent confident” the court will dismiss the lawsuit.
“Anyone can file a lawsuit. The bottom line is if you win it,” he stated.
The former boxer in him is ready for the battle.
“They can bring 500 lawsuits,” he challenged, adding he’ll nevertheless continue to advocate for what he believes is right. “... That’s why I ran for office: to fight.”