By Sabina Mollot
Last week, residents in every Stuyvesant Town building learned that they’d be getting a major capital improvement (MCI) rent increase of $4.17 per room in their apartment per month for installation of the property’s video intercoms.
The intercoms were installed in 2009 by then-owner Tishman Speyer, who applied for the MCI. The increase, which was finally approved by the state housing agency, is added to residents’ base rent, along with a retroactive portion tenants are also responsible for paying from December, 2009 until November of this year (47 months). A spokesperson for the agency, New York Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), declined to comment on its decision.
Meanwhile, Susan Steinberg, chair of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, said after a recent conversation with CWCapital, the TA learned CW was just as surprised as tenants to hear about the MCI, which it is now authorized to collect starting in November.
Because of this, she said it was unlikely that CW would begin charging for it right away and instead may start collecting it in December.
Steinberg added that the TA has been in touch with its attorney, Tim Collins, and as of Wednesday morning, the TA said in an official statement that it was clear to Collins that HCR “has made a reversible error” with the latest MCI approval.
“None of the orders acknowledge or consider our attorney’s general and specific objections – all of which were served on the HCR on May 14, 2012,” the TA said.
“Our attorney has advised that this is not unheard of and HCR should promptly rescind the orders and correct its error by considering our objections and giving notice to the owner’s attorney. We will file ‘Requests for Reconsideration’ due to ‘irregularity in a vital matter’ as well as Petitions for Administrative Review (PAR) in the next few weeks.”
The TA also said it was asking CWCapital “to recognize HCR’s error” and refrain from charging the MCI in tenants’ December rent bills.
Brian Moriarty, a spokesperson for CWCapital, said the special servicer couldn’t comment on the video intercom MCI at this time.
While in the past, the TA has encouraged tenants to file their own PARs, which would protect them from having to pay at least the retroactive portion of the MCIs until the matter is settled, this time the TA said there was no need for tenants to individually file PARs at this time.
“We will provide further updates as our efforts to stop these MCIs continues,” the TA said.
Steinberg also noted, “We always protest MCIs because there’s usually something we find amiss.”
In this case, tenants have complained about the intercoms being faulty and following Hurricane Sandy, some buildings’ intercoms were unable to contact security.
(A rent reduction application previously filed by the TA for lost or diminished services after Sandy in certain buildings in Peter Cooper Village and two in Stuyvesant Town has still not gotten an answer from the HCR.)
Another potential argument against the MCI, said Steinberg, is that CWCapital may have already gotten insurance money for damaged systems “so that goes into play. This was done back in 2009, but it seems like circumstances have to be looked at afresh.”
The MCI affects tenants in all 89 Stuy Town buildings, which Steinberg called “unfortunate” due to the timing. This year, the Rent Guidelines Board-issued increase was higher than usual at 7.75 percent for two-year leases, 1,100 residents were also hit with mid-lease increases in May and more recently, tenants noticed that CW’s gotten tougher about imposing late fees. “It’s a heavy burden,” said Steinberg.
In an email to neighbors sent on Saturday, the TA said it would be filing a PAR. The TA also asked for tenants to send the association (via a form on its website at stpcvta.org) their docket numbers.
Not surprisingly, the response from tenants has been that an MCI for the video intercoms isn’t fair.
One resident told T&V this week that most of the time the system in his building doesn’t even work, so when he has visitors, he’s actually resorted to throwing down a key-card from his 11th floor window in a sock that’s weighted down with another object so it won’t flutter in the wind.
Another resident, David Dartley, vented on Facebook to tell CW, “You who are in charge did not spend any money installing these intercoms back in 2009,” he wrote. “Now you want to collect in perpetuity for something you expended no money or effort in creating?’
Steinberg also noted that in 2009, reps from the TA met with the state housing agency, then known as the Division of Housing and Community Renewal. At that time, the TA, along with local elected officials, complained that they felt the agency was rubber-stamping every MCI request the owner made. They also learned that 20 percent of the city’s MCI applications came from ST/PCV alone. “It was a very cordial meeting,” said Steinberg. “We reached out to them, but they were receptive.” She added that the goal of the meeting was to see if the agency would be willing to negotiate some of the MCIs that were still outstanding, but after the meeting, “it went nowhere.”