By Sabina Mollot
Following the discovery last week that close to 1,300 residents were being hit with mid-lease rent hikes that have been as high as $2,200, the Tenants Association, along with a handful of other tenants, have taken their grievances to the leasing office.
The plan has been to have “sustained” picketing, with sign-holding tenants warning potential renters and passersby on First Avenue about the increases as well as various quality of life issues like the lack of laundry rooms in some buildings and bedbug sightings in others.
On Saturday alone, TA members said they spoke with with around 50 people outside the leasing office.
John Marsh, president of the Tenants Association, said protesters were telling anyone thinking of renting not to accept verbal representations by leasing agents. “Have everything in writing.”
Most people they spoke with, added Marsh, ending up being concerned about how mid-lease hikes and other issues like broken elevators could affect them. Others, however, simply ignored protesters as they went in and out of the leasing office.
After being asked by a reporter if he’d be moving in, one person in a small group of people leaving the leasing office, would only say, “We read our lease.”
Additionally, CWCapital fired back at the TA by having its leasing agents escort
prospective renters to model apartments after meeting them at the back of the leasing office. ST/PCV security also, on Saturday morning, called the cops on protesters, asking officers to force protesters to stand behind barriers that were put up over six feet away from the leasing office, close to the curb. However, according to protesters, the cops said the tenants were fine where they were, as long as they remained peaceful and didn’t block traffic. A couple of security officers remained outside the leasing office though for as long as the picketing continued.
As for those who were there on Saturday, around a dozen residents were participating, most of whom were longtime tenants, unaffected by the rent hikes that have been issued to “Roberts” class members.
“My heart’s breaking for the community,” said Susan Kasloff, a 17-year resident as she handed out flyers by the First Avenue Loop.
Marsh and TA Chair Susan Steinberg were also on the scene, as was TA Board Members Steven Newmark and Kirstin Aadahl. Both Aadahl and Newmark are “Roberts” class members, though she got a mid-lease increase and he didn’t. Aadahl said she’s been telling people who enter the leasing office to ask questions such as whether there have been bedbugs in the building. “Because we’re finding out that some tenants are being told after they sign their lease.”
She also said despite the hike she got, she’ll be sticking around to avoid uprooting her three kids, who go to P.S. 40. The increase was for $550, but this follows another increase of $200 when she last renewed her lease in February.
“We like living in Stuyvesant Town, but it’s going to be very hard,” said Aadahl.
According to Marsh, the TA is exploring its options, and there has been talk among tenants about a rent strike. However, Marsh said if anything, it would be a rent slowdown, and this would only be done as a last-ditch option since “Roberts” class tenants have a clause in their leases that would allow the owner to hit them with a $50 fee for not paying their rent on time. More longterm tenants however could technically participate in a rent slowdown and not pay their rent for three months before CWCapital could try to evict them, said Marsh. At this time, however, the TA is not recommending that anyone withhold or delay paying rent.
In response to the protesting, Brian Moriarty, a spokesperson for CW, said that the special servicer was acting within its rights following the settlement.
“The rent adjustments were negotiated as part of the settlement and approved by the nine tenant representatives, their attorneys, and the court,” he said. “We intend to implement the agreement in accordance with its terms.”
The rent hikes came on the first day that CWCapital was legally allowed to issue them, which, tenants were warned back in January, the special servicer could do following the “Roberts” settlement. What kind of increase tenants got varied from $100 to $2,200 with most impacted tenants getting increases of hundreds of dollars. Residents were also initially told they’d have two weeks to decide whether they’d be staying or moving. However, the next day CW announced residents would get an extra month.
Residents T&V spoke with on Saturday, though, didn’t seem impressed by the concession.
Two residents protesting outside the leasing office on Saturday, Sandra Lynn and John Giannone, said they hadn’t gotten increases, but have been hearing horror stories from neighbors who did. Giannone said he found out about them when neighbors knocked on the door to ask if they’d gotten one. “They got a statement under their door that said their rent was going up $1,100 with no explanation,” he said.
Another resident who approached the protesters said she was unaware of exactly what her rent hike was, though it wasn’t for her lack of trying. The woman, who didn’t want her name printed, said she was listed one new price somewhere in her lease renewal document and another elsewhere in the paperwork, and said she’s been unable to reach anyone in the leasing office to ask what she’s supposed to be paying. It’s either $600 or $800 more. After going in, she was told that no one in there could answer her questions and was referred to the property’s legal department. However, when she tried to negotiate the rent increase with an attorney, she said he wouldn’t budge. Interestingly, when she later walked into the leasing office with her boyfriend and the two posed as would-be tenants, they were given the impression that there was some wiggle room in price for new tenants.
In other “Roberts” related news, the case’s attorney for tenants, Alex Schmidt, said on Monday that an effort to extend the deadline for class members to file for their damages has been successful. The original deadline was May 15 and the new date is May 31. However, if residents don’t file their paperwork by then, their share of the nearly $69 million in rent overcharge returns will go back to CWCapital and MetLife.
The extension will likely be seen as good news by a member of the class action suit who approached Steinberg on Saturday to ask what it was all about. The resident wanted to know if he was entitled to anything even though he thought he may have gotten someone else’s paperwork. No one in the apartment, he explained, is named Roberts. However, after getting filled in on what Roberts meant, he said he’d be filing.