Judge agrees with Paterson in Art Factory case
A city judge has ruled in the city’s favor in its long-standing dispute with the Paterson Art Factory.
Judge James Sieradzki rejected the Art Factory’s request to dismiss more than 140 summons. Each ticket carries a penalty of $ 300, according to city officials.
Lawyers for the Art Factory and its tenants or members – Michael Rubin and Joseph Afflitto, Jr. – argued that housing inspector Adalberto Soto did not have the authority to issue the tickets. Both argued that the power to enforce the city’s occupancy certificate requirement falls within the purview of the building code official.
Soto is not a building code official, so the tickets should be dismissed, the two lawyers argued. Both called city construction official Gennaro “Jerry” Lobozzo to testify against the city.
Lobozzo told the court that Soto was not qualified to enforce the Uniform Building Code (UCC) because he had no training and was not licensed. But Soto did not apply the UCC, he had issued the summons citing a municipal ordinance.
When questioned by the town’s lawyer, Lobozzo admitted that Soto had the power to issue tickets for violating orders. He also undermined the city’s position by claiming that a property in use creates a de facto certificate of occupancy.
Soto testified that he was not a Zoning Officer and had no UCC training, but issued the tickets as a representative of Zoning Officer Milton Robinson. At the time, Robinson was the city’s sole zoning officer.
Robinson said he referred to Soto by “word of mouth” to enforce the zoning ordinance. He said he had the power to do so under a municipal ordinance. The judge wrote in his seven-page ruling released on December 18, 2018 that a “simple reading” of the order allows Robinson to delegate his authority to Soto. The order does not require that the designation be in writing.
“The tickets have already been maintained as valid. Now they have to determine the penalties, ”said David Gilmore (photo, left), director of Community Improvement. He said the judge’s determination sets a precedent that his inspectors have the power to take action against landowners operating without a certificate of occupancy. “At the end of the day, it’s all about the safety of everyone involved. “
The city issued the tickets in November 2016 after authorities learned there would be hundreds of people at the Art Factory for a Christmas party. At the time, city officials said law enforcement was necessary to ensure public safety.
David Garsia (photo, center), owner of the Art Factory, declined to comment. He referred the questions to his lawyer Michael Rubin.
“It was a very narrow question,” Rubin said of the decision. If his side had won, all the tickets would have been rejected. “The case is still not heard. We think the city is wrong. You do not need a certificate of occupancy for each space.
The city has issued subpoenas against Garsia as the owner of the property and all of its tenants. The Art Factory argued that the people renting space inside the old massive factory building are not tenants, but members, much like We Work.
The buildings that are now known as the Art Factory were built around 1840 for the American Hemp Company which produced ropes. In 1851, the American Hemp Company was reorganized as the Dolphin Jute Mill to produce twisted jute rugs. The jute spinning mill operated until the late 1950s. After that, the complex was used primarily for storage. It became the Art Factory sometime after 1978.
Rubin argued that the Art Factory, built long before a building requires a certificate of occupancy, and as a historic structure, does not need a certificate of occupancy (CO). But on Tuesday, he said the building would need just one CO, not one for each tenant or building member.
Garsia got municipal approval to renovate the art factory for $ 9 million. He will have to obtain a CO once the renovation is complete.
Sieradzki of Clifton City Court will have to decide whether to uphold all subpoenas and force both the Art Factory and its members to pay penalties or revoke them.
“We strongly believe they should be fired because there is no violation of the law,” Rubin said. His argument may have weakened after the judge’s ruling.
A court hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, January 29, 2019 at 1:30 p.m.
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