Happy Dogs says former trainer stole clients, started competing business

Trainer also boards dogs illegally in his Peter Cooper Village apt., complaint says

Peter Cooper resident Blake Rodriguez of DCTK9, with other dog walkers, walks a dog close to home in August. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Peter Cooper resident Blake Rodriguez of DCTK9, with other dog walkers, walks a dog close to home in August. Happy Dogs’ owners say he boards dogs in his apartment. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

At Happy Dogs Stuyvesant Town, a dog daycare, bath and boarding business that opened last summer on First Avenue between 23rd and 24th Streets, the owners are suing a former dog trainer they worked with, accusing him of pilfering their pooch clients for his own dog walking and training business. Additionally, according to the suit, which was filed by owners Jennifer and Ien Cheng on Tuesday, the dog trainer, Peter Cooper Village resident Blake Rodriguez, has been illegally boarding dogs in his apartment on East 20th Street.

In 2012, The Chengs said they’d asked Rodriguez to train dogs at their Williamsburg facility, one of two Happy Dogs centers they now own and at that time, the only one open, though there was a plan to expand the business to Manhattan. According to the suit, under the agreement, the owners were to provide the space, promote the training service and he’d collect two thirds of the money brought in as a commission. Additionally, they said, the contract called for him not to compete with their business or work for any competitor within a three-mile radius of Happy Dogs during the contract and for 12 months following termination of the agreement.

But, they argued, he’s been doing just that by opening his own center early in 2014 on Attorney Street. They’ve noticed that since then, they’ve seen photos online of Rodriguez with dogs that used to be their clients or that have been coming to Happy Dogs less lately.

Rodriguez, they said, had been a trainer with his own company, Dream Come True K9 (DCTK9), since 2010. His services included boarding and extensive training for behavioral issues. The Chengs said until he trained at Happy Dogs, he hadn’t offered group training. When the first training class was held, in 2012, 80 percent of the participants were already existing Happy Dogs clients.

They also said in the suit that they recently discovered that in addition to training, Rodriguez was also providing boarding for dogs not in the board-and-train program. They did know about dogs being boarded for a specific training program for dogs with “significant” behavioral problems. This wasn’t a conflict since Happy Dogs didn’t offer the service. It is noted in the complaint, however, that is against New York health code and against Peter Cooper Village/Stuyvesant Town leasing policy.

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Letters to the editor, Sept. 18

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Does noisy work have to be done at 7 a.m.?

To the Editor:

The other day around 9:30 a.m. I passed a group of PCV/ST workers sitting on a bench taking a coffee break. Their leaf blowers were resting quietly on the ground along with a large pile of leaves. It was quiet, but it was very noisy earlier when these leaf blowers were operating their loud machines, probably around 7 a.m.

I say 7 because on another occasion at 7, I called Public Safety to complain about these early morning noises which make it impossible for many residents like me to get adequate sleep. Public Safety identified that morning’s noise as a street sweeper and referred me to Resident Services. The woman at Resident Services told me that this noise was necessary because management “has to maintain the property.”

When I informed her of NYC’s law prohibiting loud machine noises before 8 a.m., she referred me to the property manager. But when I called the property manager, she wasn’t answering her phone so I left a message to call me back regarding the noisy machines. She still hasn’t returned my call and I’m betting she never will. After all, what could she say?

On pcvstliving.com, management states, “We are dedicated to providing the most comfortable and convenient experience for our residents.” Also, management’s “noise policy” urges residents to “Be mindful and considerate of neighbors during traditionally quiet hours (late night and early morning).”

Furthermore, “it is expected that you will do everything possible to diminish the transmission of sound and noise.”

Huh? Is this the same management that doesn’t return residents’ calls about excessive noise? The same management that has street sweepers, lawn mowers, leaf blowers and other loud machines destroying the peace and quiet of those “traditionally quiet hours (late night and early morning)?” The same management that expects residents to “do everything possible to diminish the transmission of sound and noise”?

Noise is definitely a quality of life issue and both management and residents should be expected “to do everything possible” to maintain at least a reasonable, if not high, quality of life for humans on the property, not just the physical property itself.

After all, what’s more important, humans or property maintenance? So would it be possible for our dedicated, mindful and considerate management to schedule the operation of all those loud noisy machines at the same time when the PCVST workers were having their coffee break at 9:30 a.m.? It’s very simple really. All the quiet work and coffee breaks could be scheduled in the early morning while the loud and noisy work would be performed after 9:30.

It would be nice to be awakened in “those traditionally quiet hours” of early morning with the comfortable experience of bird song instead of Armageddon.

John Cappelletti, ST

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Riverton tenants sue CWCapital over ‘inflated’ MCIs

Assemblyman Keith Wright with tenants at Riverton (Photo courtesy of Assemblyman Wright)

Assemblyman Keith Wright with tenants at Riverton (Photo courtesy of Assemblyman Wright)

By Sabina Mollot

It turns out tenants in Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village aren’t the only ones attempting to fight MCIs.

At Riverton, an apartment complex in Harlem, the Tenants Association has sued CWCapital, which took over the property after it went into foreclosure, over what tenants claims are inflated major capital improvement (MCI) charges.

The MCIs were for work on roofs and elevators at the property as well as the redesigning of a park when Riverton was owned by Stellar Management. The MCIs vary in cost per apartment, and according to Riverton Tenants Association President Randreta Ward-Evans, it’s mostly seniors who seem to be overpaying.

“I have a senior who’s 97 years old who’s paying $200 more than she should be paying.” she said.

She added that tenants learned from attorneys, during a legal clinic held in March by Assemblyman Keith Wright, that many of them were overpaying.

“We knew we had a problem. We just didn’t know how massive it was,” she said.

In the lawsuit, which aims to collect $10 million for tenants, the Riverton Tenants Association argues that MCIs that have been charged are “inflated, overstated, excessive and fabricated.” It accuses CW of refusing to roll back the rent, despite requests by the RTA and continuing “to collect unlawful rent increases including, but not limited to, increases based upon purported Major Capital Improvements (“MCI”) since in or about 2010 or such other earlier date.”

The suit argues CW isn’t entitled to the MCIs because the company waited too long to collect them. “Pursuant to DHCR policy and precedent the Defendants waived all MCI rent increases if they did not collect same within 120 days of the applicable MCI order or in the next renewal lease after the MCI order. Defendants did neither.”

CWCapital subsidiary CompassRock Senior Vice President David Sorise and Karl Griggs, Riverton’s property manager, are also named in the suit.

While not mentioned in the lawsuit, Ward-Evans said numerous tenants have also complained of paying rent only to have their checks not be deposited. Then, “after three months they get eviction notices.” Though she isn’t sure how many tenants this has happened to, “It’s a huge group. I only know about the people who come to me, but I’m sure there are a lot of people that don’t come to me,” said Ward-Evans.

About 30 percent of the tenants are market rate while the rest are rent stabilized. A stabilized one-bedroom unit will typically rent for $800-$1,000 a month, while the market rate, renovated one-bedrooms are around $1,800. Many of the stabilized renters are seniors, who in some cases were there since Riverton opened as an alternative property to non-white would-be tenants of Stuyvesant Town, which was originally segregated.

Meanwhile, Ward-Evans said tenants at Riverton have enjoyed an “excellent” working relationship with CWCapital for the past four years. Tenant leaders meet with reps for the owner regularly on tenant concerns. “They respond immediately and I really appreciate it,” she added. However, she said tenants felt a lawsuit was the only option to fight the MCIs since an attempt to do so through the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR), went nowhere.

“I think more tenants will probably take the same route of suing the owner instead of going to the DHCR because it seems that it’s always in the realtor’s favor,” said Ward-Evans. “I think this is going to be the first of many. It doesn’t have to be just Harlem. Going to the DHCR? Done it. Did it. The law has to be dealt with and changed.”

Meanwhile, Wright, who also lives in Riverton, summed up the situation as “a shame, really. “What you have here is yet another chapter in the story of our city’s affordable housing crisis. Honest, hard-working individuals who are robbed of the opportunity to remain in the place they have called home, some such as myself, have been here for decades. These overcharges are egregious and unacceptable but we are committed to seeing this fight through until the end.”

According to a report in the New York Times, Andrew MacArthur, a managing director at CWCapital, seemed surprised by the litigation.

In an official statement to T&V from spokesperson Brian Moriarty, CWCapital indicated the same thing. “We received this lawsuit without prior notice or discussion and are now in the process of trying to understand the specific complaint,” CW said.

“It appears this relates to actions ‘in or about 2010 or such other earlier date’ during which time the property was either owned by a prior owner or managed by a prior management company. Since CWCapital took control of the property we have enjoyed a positive and productive relationship with the TA and have worked hard to re-build the trust between the property owner and our residents that was lost with the previous owners. We have invested heavily in Riverton’s physical condition and have re-vamped maintenance and janitorial procedures to better serve our residents. We will investigate the claims immediately and fully.”

Council Member Dan Garodnick said that he was also looking at the suit to see if there were any parallels between the Riverton and Stuyvesant Town MCIs. The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association told T&V earlier this month that it was conferring with counsel over the rejection by the DHCR of arguments made by the TA against two MCIs. One was for roof work, the other for elevators.