Met Life on the hook retroactively in Roberts

By Sabina Mollot

Lead plaintiff Amy Roberts in Stuyvesant Town, 2009

On Thursday, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court said Met Life is on the hook retroactively in the Roberts v. Tishman Speyer case.

The unanimous decision, made by five judges in a brief document, essentially said that Met Life didn’t show that there was a new principle of law in the Court of Appeals’ 2009 decision.

Referring to other cases, the judges wrote, “the courts do sometimes engage in a tripartite analysis even after deciding that the case whose retroactivity is at issue did not establish a new rule of law,” but added in one case, the Court of Appeals rejected the defendant’s argument anyway that “our ‘conclusion should be applied prospectively only’ without further analysis.”

If Met Life wants to request permission to appeal, since is not automatically granted, the company has 30 days to do so. This court decision upholds one made previously by the State Supreme Court.

The original owner of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village had previously argued that there should be no retroactivity in the case because Met had the okay of the state’s housing agency to deregulate apartments.

According to tenants’ Roberts attorney Alex Schmidt, the decision means both Met Life and the bond holder trust that owns ST/PCV, controlled by CW Capital, will have to pay damages to tenants.

The ruling isn’t too surprising considering that in another Manhattan court case (the so-called Gersten case) decided over the summer, a judge disagreed with a property owner’s argument that Roberts shouldn’t be applied retroactively.

The Appellate decision was immediately praised by Council Member Dan Garodnick, who said, “This was clearly the right decision. The Roberts decision did not create a new principle of law. There was nothing new about the Court of Appeals decision that this was the intent of the law always.”

In a written statement, Garodnick added, “The harm done to Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village residents extends years into the past, and today’s victory will help ensure that they can be made whole for their landlords’ flouting of the law.

“Recent precedents, such as Gersten v. 56 7th Ave, prepared us for this result, but making it official still comes as a moment of relief and celebration for the thousands of tenants whose apartments should never have been deregulated, and who never should have been forced to pay market rents to stay in their homes.

“Today’s win will add great weight to the damage claims of those residents. With this most recent round of vindication in court, we hope and expect that the parties can come to a resolution on that matter so that the tenants can finally get the appropriate compensation for their landlords’ years of overcharges.”

As far as other matters stemming from the Roberts case, such as the legality of rents currently being charged to former market rate tenants by CW Capital, the parties to the ongoing negotiations will again make their cases in court on November 17.

In recent months, CW and tenants have been hoping to negotiate rather than actively litigate a resolution. However, the parties are not permitted to discuss the details of the talks with the media.

Tenants have been arguing the rents being charged to those living in renovated apartments (averaging 7-9 percent) are illegal because they’re higher than the increases authorized for rent-stabilized tenants in the city by the Rent Guidelines Board. However, those figures include rent bump-ups landlords normally charge for things like renovations and vacancies. Schmidt has said those renovations would not have been made and there would not have been as many vacancies if the apartments in ST/PCV weren’t illegally deregulated in the first place.

Met Life did not respond to a request for comment.

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