Editorial: Onus is on tenants in fight for affordability

Two weeks ago, the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association announced that it had reached a settlement with CWCapital over five MCIs thrown residents’ way last fall.

It was a rare victory for tenants, albeit a bittersweet one.

It was a victory in that getting the owner to budge, even an inch, on a rent increase is a near-impossible task, at least in Stuyvesant Town. Attorneys, elected officials and the state housing agency (DHCR) had to get involved, and the talks took months. Ultimately, retroactive fees were eliminated for all, making the Tenants Association’s settlement much better for tenants than an offer initially offered by management to reduce them by about a third. The settlement worked in CWCapital’s favor too since MCIs (major capital improvements) are permanently added to the rent roll and for many tenants, 95 percent of the MCIs’ monthly portion will still have to be paid.

The ones to finally get a real break were the “Roberts” tenants, in renovated apartments, who pay higher rents, and now as a result of the settlement, don’t have to pay any of the five MCIs at all. However, it’s worth noting that this break comes just under a year after 1,100 of those residents were hit with mid-lease increases as a result of another settlement, this one of the “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” class action. In many cases, these increases were hundreds of dollars. Like the MCIs, they were rent hikes tenants didn’t count on having to pay in addition to the annual increases authorized by the Rent Guidelines Board (RGB).

Add those increases onto the other fees residents may see permanently tacked on to their rent bills (individual apartment improvements, air conditioner surcharges) and it just compounds the obvious fact that rent stabilization is just not what it’s cracked up to be and the MCI system is hardly fair to renters.

Local elected officials are sympathetic to the fact that this is just another way for landlords to gradually turn affordable apartments into market rate ones. However, in fighting them, they end up running into brick walls. Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh has authored a bill that would cap MCIs at what the cost of the improvement to a property actually is. This way the incentive for landlords to make improvements for the sole purpose of jacking up rents would be gone. However, that bill, like so much other tenant-friendly legislation, isn’t likely to get passed by the State Senate any time soon.

Knowing this, as well as the DHCR’s history of never meeting an MCI it didn’t like, and it’s tempting to throw one’s hands up (or just throw up) at a system that forces people to invest in the maintenance of properties they don’t own. After all, you don’t pay your dentist a fee for new equipment just installed in his office in addition to the bill you get for his service. Nor would you be expected to have to pay for a college campus building’s new roof after already having written a fat check for tuition.

As for what tenants can do about this particular obstacle to the continued existence of affordable housing, it’s impossible to guarantee what tactic would work. However, the onus is on tenants to at least try to fight MCIs. Otherwise, they will continue to be big business for landlords.

One way to do this is to financially support groups that fight on renters’ behalf like Tenants PAC, which works to get tenant-friendly politicians elected or the community’s own TA. (Because hiring attorneys for MCI battles isn’t free.)

Being knowledgeable about what tenants’ rights actually are is also helpful. Attending TA events is one way to do learn about the issue. The next TA meeting, which will focus on MCIs, will be held on May 10. Those who can’t make it can of course expect to find coverage of the event in this newspaper.

Another option is to get more active when the TA and other tenant groups hold rallies or take lobbying trips to Albany or, once a year, the Rent Guidelines Board vote in Manhattan. On Monday, May 5 at 6 p.m. the Rent Guidelines Board will hold a preliminary vote at the U.S. Customs House for what this year’s increase will be for the city’s million-plus stabilized renters.

Yes, this process has regularly been blasted as a sham, a circus and even the annual screw by tenant advocates. However, this year’s nine-member panel does have a new chair who’s been appointed by a new mayor. And unlike the previous mayor, Bill de Blasio at least claims to be interested in the maintenance of the city’s dwindling stock of affordable housing as well as the creation of new units.

So, could there, for once, be a chance that tenants showing up at RGB vote and hearings will have an impact on the board’s decisions? Especially if they speak up about MCIs and other non-RGB imposed increases renters have to face? There’s only one way to find out.

Correction: Not all “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer tenants” are exempt from having to pay the MCIs. Those who don’t have to pay any of the monthly portion are the “Roberts” tenants whose modified legal or “preferential” rents are lower than their maximum legal rents.

Letters to the editor, May 1

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Please, kind landscaper, spare these tree branches

To the Editor:

Once upon a time, not long ago, at the M level of 271 Avenue C, there were some three dozen thriving stem rose plants and maybe some four or five dozen gorgeous yellow day-flowering plants. That was, as I wrote, once upon a time — before someone, with authority, of course, ordered that they all be ripped up and replaced with what I can only describe as junk grass clumps — that as of today, April 24, show no sign of life. Hence, what we have now is a rather sickly looking gray patch where for years we had spring beauty.

Further congratulations should be handed out to the contracted scientific-tree-care company, which seems to be just fulfilling the terms of its contract by pruning beautiful live branches with lots of nice green leaves. They were stark white at both ends — no browning, no rotting, no holes, just clear clean wood.

This gets done right out in the open with neither oversight from management nor objection from security.  No “what the %&#@$% are you guys doing destroying perfectly good limbs!”

When I asked an officer about that practice, I was told, “They are experts.” Ok, so the officer was just doing his employer’s assigned work. Got it! And the folks sitting in the sun basking? Well, they were just basking. Got that too!

Just irrational me photographing and barking and utterly ignored.

John M. Giannone, ST

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Police Watch, May 1: Subway ‘pervs’ arrested, Teen busted for knife on Ave. C

Compiled by Maria Rocha-Buschel

Police arrested two men for unlawful surveillance last Saturday in Union Square in separate incidents.
Thirty-one-year-old Angel Amastal was arrested at the northwest corner of Union Square East and East 14th Street at 3:45 p.m. He allegedly used his cell phone to take video under the skirt of a 16-year-old girl without her knowledge while she was watching street performers.
Police also arrested 46-year-old Constantino Hernandez-Gonzalez in the station at 4:45 p.m. He allegedly placed a recording device under the dress of a 25-year-old woman while she was going up the stairs from the 4/5 train.

A 43-year-old woman reported that she was involved in a hit-and-run accident at East 23rd Street and the FDR last Saturday at 11:25 p.m. She told police that she was driving south in the middle lane of the FDR when another vehicle driving erratically sideswiped her, stopped and then took off southbound. The victim refused medical assistance at the scene and her passenger’s side door sustained damage from the accident.

A 26-year-old cab driver told police that he was assaulted by a customer that he dropped off at the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and West 21st Street last Saturday at 4:10 a.m. He reported that the customer was arguing with him over the cab fare and he then punched the driver in the face, causing swelling and pain to the left side of his forehead. The man then fled the scene on foot.

Police arrested a 14-year-old boy for criminal possession of a weapon last Monday at 9:43 p.m. at the southeast corner of Avenue C and East 20th Street. Police approached the teen after seeing him make a furtive movement and upon further investigation, found that he was in possession of a gravity knife that was over four inches long. The boy reportedly told police that he carries it “in case someone runs up on me.” After searching him, police also found that he was in possession of marijuana. The teen’s name is being withheld due to his age.

A 23-year-old man reported that his phone was stolen from inside a warehouse at 867 Broadway on Sunday, April 6 at 10 a.m. He told police that he was at work and put the Samsung Galaxy Note phone in his desk drawer and he later noticed that it was missing. He had not given anyone permission to take it. The phone couldn’t be tracked because it was turned off and the victim reported the incident last Tuesday.

A 57-year-old man reported on April 20 that his car was damaged while it was parked at the northeast corner of First Avenue and East 14th Street. He told police that he parked the car in a legal spot the previous day at 7 p.m. and when he returned at 4:20 p.m. the next day, he realized that his side view mirror on the driver’s side was missing.

Police arrested 30-year-old Quinn Ferree for tampering with physical evidence in the Union Square subway station last Thursday at 4:56 p.m. Ferree was smoking a joint in public view and when police approached him, he allegedly destroyed the evidence by stepping on it and mashing it with his foot. Police said that the field test for marijuana was positive and there was only enough evidence left to test.

Police arrested 20-year-old Jonathan Frohman for criminal possession of a forged instrument last Thursday at 1:40 p.m. Police approached Frohman because he was seen with a knife clipped to his pants pocket, which upon further inspection was determined to be a gravity knife, in violation of transit law. After searching him, police found that he was also allegedly in possession of a fake Pennsylvania driver’s license with his photograph on it.

A 33-year-old resident of 530 East 23rd Street told police last Thursday at 11:30 a.m. that she was a victim of identity theft. She reported to the 13th precinct that in October 2005 and November 2006 that an unknown person had opened two loans using her name. She spoke with someone at a credit reporting company who told her to file a police report and they would then remove the unauthorized loans from her credit report.

A 49-year-old woman reported that her phone was stolen while she was waiting for an uptown 4 train at the Union Square subway station on April 19 at 1 a.m. She told police that she got on an uptown 6 train at Astor Place and got off at Union Square to transfer to an uptown 4 train. She said that while she was waiting for the train, she put her iPhone into her outside jacket pocket. She was sitting on the bench while waiting for the train and when she boarded the train, she was told by several other passengers that her phone had fallen onto the bench and was picked up by another person. Tracking on the phone was unavailable. She reported the incident last Tuesday.

A 13-year-old student at the United Nations International School at 24-50 Roosevelt Drive reported last Wednesday at 4:15 p.m. that her computer was stolen. She told police that while she was inside the school on April 17 at 4 p.m., she realized as she was leaving the school that her laptop was no longer in her bag. She last saw the MacBook Air while she was in the cafeteria while she was eating lunch and was unsure if her bag was left unzipped.

Police arrested 29-year-old Joseph Moore for assault inside the Ace Hotel at 20 West 29th Street last Saturday at 12:35 a.m. Moore allegedly threw a 23-year-old woman out of the club at the hotel, causing pain to her neck and minor abrasions to her lower left leg.

Police arrested 32-year-old Humberto Ramirez and 20-year-old Josue Urena for assault at the southwest corner of Broadway and East 18th Street last Friday at 5:20 a.m. A 23-year-old man told police that he got into an argument with three men when Ramirez and Urena allegedly punched him in the face, causing swelling and cuts to his right eye and upper lip. The two left the scene after the incident but returned not long after and were identified by a witness.