The claws are out.
The scandal-scarred state entity that governs Roosevelt Island is demanding a group of beloved local cat sanctuaries begin paying rent for the first time ever or be evicted.
Rossana Ceruzzi, head of the nonprofit Wildlife Freedom Foundation, told The Post she was stunned when the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation recently sent her a lease ordering her group to cough up $400 a month for the space the WFF uses in the isle’s Southpoint Park area for its cat sanctuaries and wildlife rehabilitation center.
“It came out of the blue,’’ Ceruzzi said of RIOC’s “shameless and outrageous’’ demand after 10 years of not requiring the group to pay rent.
“These are community cats. The WFF has been relentlessly working on the island to rescue, remove, relocate, control, etc., abandoned pets and wildlife at no cost to RIOC for innumerable years,’’ she said.
The lease came “with a threat spelled out: RIOC will shut down the cat sanctuaries and dismantle them if I do not sign it as is,” said Ceruzzi, whose organization is a state and federally licensed Wildlife Animal Rehabilitator and admired protector of cats and other animals and birds on the island.
Ceruzzi said Gretchen Robinson, vice president and chief counsel of RIOC, wrote in an e-mail to her and her lawyer that “since Ms. Ceruzzi is refusing to sign the agreement, we will move forward with the closure of the cat sanctuaries at all current locations (Southpoint Park, Octagon, Pony Field, and Lighthouse Park).
“Ms. Ceruzzi will have 30 days from the date of this email (October 24th) by which to dismantle any personal property belonging to WFF, including all wildlife and feral cats.
“If by that date Ms. Ceruzzi has not removed all personal property and relocated the animals from those locations, RIOC will cause the cat sanctuary locations to be closed; and will also cause the removal and relocation of the animals on its own,” Robinson added.
The kitty conflict is just the latest controversy involving RIOC.
In June, RIOC President and CEO Susan Rosenthal was fired after a probe by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office for allegedly making “racially and sexually offensive” remarks.
RIOC did not respond to a request for comment from The Post over the feline dust-up.
Ceruzzi and others said RIOC is claiming the state requires it to charge rent, although it wasn’t exactly clear why the agency is making the move to do so now.
State Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright, who represents Roosevelt Island, and her Republican opponent, Louis Puliafito, blasted RIOC over the issue.
“This is the time we should be suspending rent, not establishing it,’’ said Seawright, who backs legislation to suspend or cancel the monthly-payment demand.
“Our parks and amenities such as the cat sanctuary offer vital services that the people can take advantage of during the pandemic,’’ she said.
“While I understand that RIOC might be required to charge for use of such space under the State’s guidelines, a pandemic is not the time to be establishing such an agreement.”
Puliafito claimed that the RIOC is charging rent to WFF as retaliation against Ceruzzi for taking part in protests over the leveling of trees in Southpoint Park as part of the seawall restoration project.
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