Was that an offer or a threat?
As if receiving multiple MCIs that have been sitting on the DHCR’s desk without proper action and due process for years were not enough for tenants to cope with, management has taken this opportunity to instill fear and more insecurity in tenants by distributing a rather ambiguous letter not easing but adding to the confusion.
Paragraph 6 reads as follows:
“Many longer tenured residents have accrued significant retroactive charges due to the unusually long period between the MCI application dates and the approval dates. We will seek to reduce the amount of retroactive charges added to monthly bills in order to mitigate the impact of the component for our longer term residents.”
Even if all of the MCIs were to be found correct after due process, which obviously was omitted by the DHCR, the law allows the landlord to only add a specific percentile of retroactive charges to the monthly rent. The management seems to tell the tenants that if they don’t comply with their request as stated in this letter they might be faced with paying thousands of dollars all at once or as management sees fit. If this is not fear mongering and harassment, then what is? Apparently they think tenants are so afraid and ignorant of existing laws that they will just shut up and comply.
This is certainly not a conciliatory way of solving this issue.
Name withheld, ST
MCIs then and now
In October, 2009, my letter that follows (in part) appeared in T&V.
“The tenants of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village are being slapped left and right with major capital improvements (MCIs) by our landlord via the Division of Housing & Community Renewal (DHCR). The increases to base rents cover everything from replacing defective, unsafe elevators to outdated intercom systems (necessary because of new wiring) to roofs in need of repair to resurfacing walkways to water valves. Even though tenants energetically protest these dubious attempts by our landlord to raise rents, a new notice from the DHCR seems to arrive every month. DHCR, unsympathetic to tenants’ protests, has thus approved one rent increase after another. Both retroactive and new/ongoing monthly charges are being added to base rents with alarming speed. When, and where, will this end?
“Our legislators, tenant advocates and attorneys regularly object to these outrages, but the basic problem with MCIs has never been addressed:
“What constitutes a legitimate major capital improvement — as opposed to necessary maintenance?
“New York State law apparently does not make a distinction between the two; I have been told that these definitions are “blurry.” Why are they blurry? Common sense would dictate a clear-cut difference. What is to stop landlords from claiming the repairs to walls or ceilings or bathroom tiles are MCIs?
“Some legal clarity is desperately needed to stop this madness that continues to victimize tenants who are already subject to the vagaries of New York’s rent laws. Your attention to this is respectfully requested.”
My letter was sent to then Attorney General Cuomo, as well as to local and state representatives along with tenant leaders, and I was dumbstruck by the A.G.’s response (from the Bureau of Consumer Frauds and Protections unit). They’d forwarded my letter to DHCR as the “organization (that) may be able to assist you”! There were no other responses.
And now here we are — four years later — faced with more of the same. Nothing has changed. The questions remain unanswered.
Geraldine Levy, ST
Why are tenants paying for upgrades?
Regarding the Major Capital Improvement notices we just got:
Just what constitutes the landlord’s responsibility aside from heating and pointing of the buildings?
We pay for upgrading their properties, which is for their benefit. The age-old question is: Why?
I know that’s the regulations, but has DHCR ever denied a landlord’s application? It’s apparent that DHCR is landlord friendly and money does talk.
Marcia Robinson, PCV
MCIs ‘a disgrace’
This is just to let you know that the MCI asked me for $1800 retroactive to ‘09 for the intercom plus an additional $38 per month plus $5.33 for electricity. Where does this end? It is a disgrace for apartments, which were meant for returning veterans and for people who have low incomes. There was a statue, which stated this in the development and, of course, was long removed by former owners. We now have permanent increases for the roof, electricity and windows, which have all long ago been taken care of and are forever included in our rents.
Name withheld, ST
Pols to HCR: MCI decisions need review
The following is an open letter to Darryl C. Towns, commissioner and chief executive officer of New York State Homes and Community Renewal.
Dear Commissioner Towns:
We are extremely concerned about the Division of Housing and Community Renewal’s (DHCR) rapid-fire approvals of the above-referenced major capital improvement (MCI) rent increases in Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town, after a four-year lull. Tenants have received several notices within the last two weeks that DHCR has approved MCI increases for the Security Command Center, video intercom systems, as well as for water tanks and valves. It is not clear to our offices, the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association (ST-PCV TA), or the tenants’ legal representatives what led DHCR to take sudden action on all of these MCI applications, which were filed in 2009, but the decisions are now arriving nearly simultaneously and raising real questions about the agency’s MCI review process.
When these MCI applications were first submitted to DHCR in 2009, several elected officials, including Council Member Garodnick and Assemblymember Kavanagh, wrote to the agency expressing significant concerns. DHCR Deputy Commissioner for Rent Administration Leslie Torres responded that while a perception that DHCR as a rubber stamp for landlord MCIs may exist, “that perception is erroneous.” She went on to say, in a letter dated October 15, 2009, that the agency would review “not only evidence submitted by the owners, but also the statements and evidence submitted by tenants. DHCR requires owners to address evidence submitted by tenants that is relevant to the case, and the decision is based upon the weight of the evidence.”
After that response, the elected officials who sent the letter met directly with DHCR and the ST-PCV TA and again received assurances that the agency would carefully review objections submitted by the tenants. Objections were dutifully filed by the tenants, but there is no acknowledgment of those objections in the recent orders approved by DHCR. There also was no response to the Tenants Association’s multiple requests for mediation of these matters.
It is difficult for our offices to assess the validity of the owner’s applications, but we would note that in one example, the owner claimed that an MCI increase should be approved because “security cameras were installed throughout the building.” We are aware of no building that has had cameras installed throughout. Accordingly, all of the applications that make this claim deserve a close review from the agency. More generally, without any indication of whether or in what manner tenants’ objections were considered — or DHCR “require[d] owners to address evidence submitted by tenants” as we were assured would occur — it’s impossible for tenants receiving notices of rent increases, or their representatives, to have any confidence in the fairness or efficacy of the process.
Tenants are frustrated because for almost a full year now 15 buildings in Peter Cooper Village have been without basement access because of the effects of Hurricane Sandy. The repairs to the basements have still not been completed, keeping residents without access to bicycle and storage rooms that they continue to pay for in their rents, all with no updated timeframe from management. Additionally, at least one of the MCI increases in question, that for the Security Command Center, refers directly to services that were damaged as part of the storm, and are no longer operational.
We also wish to observe that there are still other MCI applications pending before DHCR that relate to Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town. If allowed to stand, the approval of such an unusually large number of applications all at once will have the effect of suddenly and unexpectedly raising individual tenants’ rents — and in some cases making it impossible for them to stay in their homes. We ask that you develop protocols for situations such as this one, taking this effect into account and offering tenants some protection. This community is unique in New York State for its sheer size and scale, and the owner’s ability to invest in these improvements and pass the costs along. Such protocols and fair application of the law is, therefore, particularly imperative in this case.
We are advised that the Tenants Association will soon be sending a request for reconsideration of these MCIs by DHCR, citing the “irregularity” in the manner in which they were approved. We agree with the Tenants Association and their legal representation that there are enough irregularities in DHCR’s processing and approving of these applications for you to stop the process, reverse your approvals, and reconsider these decisions.
We ask that you meet with us soon to discuss DHCR’s process and procedures going forward. We will follow up with you shortly to arrange such a meeting. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
City Council Member Daniel R. Garodnick
State Senator Brad Hoylman
Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh