I've Been Locked Out of My New York Loft for Over Two Years
Photo by Arthur Purvis


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I've Been Locked Out of My New York Loft for Over Two Years

"To this day, we are still locked out, and our possessions have not been returned."

In 2014, Brooklyn-based musician and lo bit landscapes label owner Arthur Purvis, along with a number of other residents, was locked out of the Williamsburg live/work space where he'd resided for 13 years—with many of his possessions still inside. Following multiple visits to their home, the Department of Buildings had deemed that the spot, like many converted living spaces in New York, wasn't up to code. Hoping to return home, he and his housemates leaned on the city's Loft Law, which is meant to work with landlords to eliminate residential safety and fire hazards while protecting tenants from eviction. They are still locked out two and a half years later.


Now, Purvis is campaigning to reform the Loft Law, which was amended in 2010 by then-mayor Michael Bloomberg to require tenants to apply for legal loft status by June 15, 2017 or risk not being covered by the law—along with a number of other restrictions that make it harder to convert their spaces into legal residences. Alongside housing advocacy group NYC Loft Tenants, Purvis is helping organize a rally in Brooklyn today to raise awareness about Loft Law issues. Here, Purvis tells THUMP what it was like to be locked out of his home, and how that's driven him to become an activist for DIY spaces and their residents. The views and opinions expressed here are the views of Purvis alone and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of VICE Media LLC or any of its employees.

In the mid-2000s, I was part of a contingent of artists and musicians in Williamsburg who slowly transformed six floors of unused industrial space in a building in South Williamsburg into homes and creative work spaces. The building was occupied by residents and small business owners who invested huge amounts of our own time and money to build a community that included multiple recording studios, a synth repair shop, bike repairs, furniture design operation, and a large and successful video production company. Numerous DJs and producers who were part of the Brooklyn electronic music scene lived, worked, and played in our building. It was a true creative refuge, deep in a corner of Williamsburg that—at the time—no one saw fit to develop.


In 2014, that all came to halt when the DOB informed us that our building was in need of some repairs, and ordered us to temporarily vacate the premises while our landlord addressed some of the violations.

And so, 25 people found themselves out on the street with only 24 hours notice. Those of us who made the building our home had to scramble to find accommodations. Those of us who made it a place of business had to lay off all their employees and leave behind tens of thousands of dollars of capital investment.

Photo by Arthur Purvis

Fortunately for us New Yorkers, unlike most other US cities, New York actually does have a law that allows for the legalization of creative live/work spaces. It's called the Loft Law of 1982, and it provides a pathway to compliance for both tenants and landlords in this type of living situation. In practical terms, this means that landlords can't kick out tenants because the city has deemed that a building is not up to code, and that the tenants and the landlord are supposed to work together to do the repairs. In return for their efforts, the tenants receive rent stabilization, and the landlord doesn't have his building hit with exorbitant fines for the code violations.

When shit hit the fan and our front door was slapped with a large sign that read "Premises Have Been Vacated by the DOB," we started the process for protection under the Loft Law. We met the requirements for the coverage, and once we started the process, the DOB was supposed to make sure that basic repairs were made by the landlord and we were returned to our homes.


There are very few upsides to being locked out of your place, but one of them is that you start to receive substantial assistance not just from sympathetic members of city council and the fire department, but also from a good number of state assembly members and senators. They made calls for us, set up meetings—the works. We traversed massive deserts of bureaucracy and roaring oceans of red tape, and eventually climbed our way all the way up to mayor De Blasio's office—but our problem still hasn't been resolved.

Photo by Arthur Purvis

To this day, two and a half years later, we are still locked out, and our possessions have not been returned. The woodworking tools of professional craftsmen, record collections of professional DJs, and innumerable personal possessions of a large number of tenants are still locked in the building, behind doors no city agency seems willing to compel the landlord to open. It's had a huge impact on the livelihood of many residents, as they now don't have the tools to do their jobs.

In the time since the vacate order, of course, we have not been idle. We filed a complaint and an administrative law judge has found that almost all of us are protected occupants of the space under the Loft Law and has recommended that the Loft Board grant our application.

Photo by Josh Steinbauer

Our case will probably have a happy ending, eventually—after years of work and massive legal bills many tenants can scarcely afford. But we're not the only community out there like this, and the Loft Board is going to stop taking applications for coverage on June 15 of this year because of provisions famously pro-landlord Mayor Bloomberg had inserted into the law.

Other communities out there like ours who didn't hear about the Loft Law—because it is intentionally poorly publicized—are going to get fucked, plain and simple. That's why we feel a responsibility to fight hard for the expansion of the Loft Law to as many city residents as could qualify—not just the select few who manage to hear about it, happened to live in a space in an arbitrary window period back in 2010, and manage to apply for it by a certain date. We can't allow the loft law—as the single best legal tool in the entire country to defend creative spaces from abuse by the city and condo builders—to die. People in Soho in the 80s and 90s and Brooklyn in the 2000s fought hard for the protections we're eventually going to receive, and we need to pay it forward.

The upside of this whole struggle is the reminder that we are the government. If you believe that the arts and creative spaces in NYC are worth fighting for, you can make an impact. But you have to start by showing up and meeting your local politicians. Some of them really are amazing and really do have your back in a jam, and a lot of the elected officials who helped us out, including Council Member Stephen Levin and Assemblywoman Maritza Davila, have said they will be at the rally on Thursday. The others we need to vote out of office as soon as possible.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Purvis was locked out of his loft in 2015, when in fact this happened in November 2014.