Tenants in front of the CUNY graduate center before the vote on Wednesday evening. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
Rent freeze still a possibility for one-year leases
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Tenants hoping for the possibility of a rent rollback this year were disappointed at the Rent Guidelines Board preliminary vote last night, despite the possibility of a rent freeze for one-year leases. The de Blasio-appointed board approved a range that will be voted on at the end of June, from zero to two percent for one-year leases and from 0.5 to 3.5 percent for two-year leases.
The nine-member board faced the passionate crowd at CUNY’s Proshansky Auditorium in Midtown for the vote, which was preceded by a tenant rally in Herald Square a block away.
Over 400 people listen as local state elected officials brief them on the uphill battle over the rent laws coming in June. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
On Saturday, over 400 residents of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village gathered for a meeting held by the Tenants Association that focused on the upcoming expiration of rent laws and the uphill battle tenants would have in trying to get them strengthened.
Speakers briefed the audience on the current power dynamic in Albany, while also telling those in attendance that without tenants writing to Albany lawmakers, especially the governor, the effort is a lot less likely to succeed.
“If I go to Albany and say (to Governor Cuomo) two and half million people are going to be very upset with you, if that’s not clear in the streets and not in the mail in his email inbox, it’s very hard to believe,” said Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh.
Kavanagh was one of the speakers of the event, which was held at Simon Baruch Middle School, along with State Senator Brad Hoylman and TenantsPAC treasurer Mike McKee.
McKee told the crowd if the laws are renewed in their current state, “It would be a terrible defeat for tenants.” Referring to a recent Daily News article that quoted Cuomo as saying the laws and the controversial 421-a tax abatement for developers could possibly just be renewed and not changed, due to the federal investigations being conducted in Albany, McKee added, “I’m sorry, but that is crap.” McKee has said that 421-a is expected to be used as leverage during the rent law negotiations.
Both Hoylman and Kavanagh spoke about Albany’s power system and how with the Senate in the hands of Republicans whose campaigns are financed largely by real estate, the only hope for tenants is in swaying the Assembly, led by Carl Heastie, and the governor.
Meanwhile, Kavanagh has said he wants to close the “LLC loophole” that makes New York one of the few states where each LLC created counts as a separate campaign contributor, but, he admitted, “I’m not sure we’re going to do that this year.”
However, he added that recent media attention on the issue may prove helpful anyway.
“There may an opportunity to shame people into backing off,” he said.
Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, ST-PCV Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg and State Senator Brad Hoylman (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
McKee said that while in the past, major decisions in Albany have been made behind closed doors by the “three men in a room” (the governor, the Assembly speaker and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos) this year there might be four — if Jeff Klein is allowed to participate. Klein is the head of the State Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group that caucuses with Republicans. McKee, who’s often blasted Klein as being a tool of the real estate industry, commented that his participation would only be to tenants’ disadvantage.
As for Skelos, McKee added, “Dean Skelos will not do anything voluntarily to help tenants or to hurt landlords. The Assembly has to do what’s called taking hostages. There are dozens of things everybody wants at the last minute. Some of it is minor stuff, nothing to do with housing even.”
One advantage of tenants, he added, is that with Heastie being new as speaker, “he has to prove himself. He has to be accountable not only to us but the members that elected him speaker.” Heastie has said he considers strengthening the rent laws a priority. That said, McKee warned, there’s still always the possibility a tough talking pol will “wimp out” at the eleventh hour. “There is always a wimp factor in Albany,” he sighed.
As for what tenants could do, he urged people to write to the aforementioned three men (letters rather than postcards), and get three neighbors to do the same as well as turn out, if possible for any upcoming rallies. One rally, organized by the Real Rent Reform campaign and the union 1199SEIU, which is aimed at strengthening the rent laws, is scheduled for Thursday, May 14 at 5 p.m. at Foley Square (corner of Centre and Worth Streets). The group will then march over the Brooklyn Bridge.
“We need a very big turnout,” said McKee.
Another rally is on Wednesday, May 6 in front of Cuomo’s Manhattan office at 633 Third Avenue (between 40th and 41st Streets) from 10 a.m.-noon.
He then claimed to have a plan aimed at shaming Cuomo into helping tenants. McKee declined to discuss this further. “That’s all I’m prepared to say,” he said later.
When taking his turn at the podium, Tenants Association President John Marsh echoed the sentiment of the other speakers, calling on neighbors to get involved. “If everyone takes a small step, we can have a very loud voice,” said Marsh.
He also mentioned a door-knocking campaign that he and Council Member Dan Garodnick led through ST/PCV the following day, with Garodnick’s two young sons in tow. Garodnick later said the building walk-throughs resulted in many tenants being appreciative of the reminder of the looming rent negotiations in June.
Kavanagh, when addressing the audience, said that while he realizes many new residents at ST/PCV probably feel the rent laws have no teeth when they look at the numbers on their rent bills, being rent regulated still offers New Yorkers protections they wouldn’t have otherwise.
“It prevents landlords from arbitrarily evicting tenants and that doesn’t exist for most tenants in the city,” he said.
Because of the outcome of the “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” lawsuit, all units in ST/PCV will be regulated until the property’s J-51 tax abatement expires in 2020.
Kavanagh reiterated the goals for strengthening the rent laws, which include repealing vacancy deregulation and other policies that give incentive to owners to vacate units such as vacancy bonuses and reforming the way individual apartment improvement (IAI) rent increases are issued. Reform of major capital increases (MCIs) is another goal.
Kavanagh also got a round of applause after saying he wanted to close the preferential rent loophole. Due to preferential rents, which are given to most new residents in renovated apartments in ST/PCV, rent increases can be far higher than those issued by the Rent Guidelines Board, if the tenants’ legal rents are higher than what they’ve been paying (the preferential rent).
“In our community it’s a particular problem due to the way ‘Roberts’ played out,” said Kavanagh. “(Tenants) are facing enormous increases.”
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who’d been sitting in the audience at the meeting, along with Garodnick, at one point, popped up to comment about preferential rents, which she said was happening all around the city.
“We go case by case and try to fight it but there is no great answer,” she admitted.
The meeting then concluded with a Q&A period, with most of the questions from the audience—which were limited to the topic of rent—being on the theme of MCIs. Tenants mainly asked why they were being forced to pay them. Hoylman and Kavanagh suggested that tenants’ use their frustration and personal experiences as inspiration to write to the governor.
When a woman asked where the mayor was in this fight, saying, “He seems to have had a low profile lately,” Kavanagh responded to say he thought the mayor would be more visible soon. “This is the time we roll out this fight and I think you’ll see the mayor rolling out this fight,” he said. Hoylman added that a lot is done “behind the scenes,” going on to note that this is part of Albany’s dysfunction.
When a man asked if strengthening of the rent laws would help a conversion effort, Kavanagh said he thought it would in that it would help thwart predatory bidders.
Another tenant then asked if it could work to tenants’ advantage if Skelos, who’s being investigated by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, were to be indicted. The answer, however, was that it wasn’t likely to have any impact during rent negotiations.
“If he’s indicted and forced to step down, it’s unlikely that he’d go to trial before June and you don’t have to leave office until you’re convicted,” said Hoylman. “It would have a greater impact next year than this year.”
Town & Village later contacted the office of the governor to ask his position on strengthening the rent laws. In response, a spokesperson emailed prepared statements made by Cuomo at the Association for a Better New York breakfast on rent laws and 421-a.
Included in the written statement was a comment that “At a maximum maybe we can make some fine modifications in both of them.”
“The 421-a, first I believe has to be extended and I believe that’s essential,” the statement read. On changes to it, which he said he believed were needed, he said, “If it was a different time in Albany, frankly, and Albany was a little bit more of a stable situation I would normally take those negotiations to Albany and try to work it out among the parties. Albany has a lot going on right now let’s say, so I’m hoping and I’m asking the parties to work out the disagreements among themselves or their desires for modifications. If they can great, in any event 421-a has to be extended.”
He went on to say, “Rent has to be extended. It is a New York City issue. If we don’t extend rent you would have chaos in the real estate market, these are rent regulations, rent stabilization etc. You would have chaos in the real estate market unlike anything we have seen because it regulates the private industry not another government. It lapses one day you will see real estate entities and landlords start rising rents and evicting tenants. I mean it would be immediate mass mayhem.
“So at a minimum we have to extend those protections but in truth, because everyone has been watching the situation, to have these final negotiations on these delicate points is going to be problematic this year. So, at a minimum rents extended 421-a, is extended. At a maximum maybe we can make some fine modifications in both of them. The democratic assembly is going to be more aggressive on extending rent than the senate Republicans. 421-a, both houses want.”
A spokesperson, Frank Sobrino, when asked if the governor could clarify what was meant by “fine modifications,” said this was a general statement in response to suggested changes. He also denied that the statements were an attempt to remain neutral.
“He said that ‘at a minimum,’ both rent regulations and 421-a must be extended,” said Sobrino. “That’s not neutral.”
Today, Saturday, April 25, dozens (literally dozens) of pieces of mail addressed to tenants of 435 East 14th Street were dumped in the lobby of 445 East 14th Street. Most of the mail was rent bills.
I took all of it over to the lobby of 435, though I didn’t take all the magazines because I was running late for an appointment and there were a lot of magazines, too!
Anybody at 435 should regularly check the lobby of 445 because we get their mail quite frequently, though not usually as much as today.
Obviously, it was not our regular letter carrier working today because she is very careful. I wonder why the Postal Service is going down the toilet?
Maybe it’s time that PCVST set up some way of electronic rent payment (if it doesn’t already) because I’m sure this is not an isolated incident and some tenants may be late with their rent because the Postal Service (if you can call it “service”) is so bad around here.
Frances Clarke, ST
Town & Village called the Peter Stuyvesant Post Office three times on Monday and again on Wednesday to ask about this but the phone wasn’t picked up any of those times. An employee at a window said he’d heard about it and thought someone had forgotten to lock the mailboxes. An official spokesperson for the USPS didn’t respond to an email from T&V requesting a comment. A rep for CWCapital said it was a USPS issue and referred any questions to the aforemenioned agency. T&V also contacted Congress Member Carolyn Maloney whose case worker for postal issues, Sarah Belleas, asked that tenants who experience any mail problems contact her at email@example.com.
ASSAULT IN UNION SQUARE
Police arrested 37-year-old Kyle Sutphin for assault in front of 39 Union Square West last Monday at 9:56 p.m. Sutphin allegedly punched the victim in the face for no reason. Police said that the victim was treated by EMS and brought to Bellevue Hospital for an injury on his lip.
LIPTON ‘THIEF’ NABBED ON EAST 27TH
Police arrested 55-year-old Jay Wilkins for burglary in front of 160 East 27th Street last Wednesday at 3:48 p.m. Police said that Wilkins was walking from the back of a commercial delivery truck with a box of Lipton’s Tea in his hand. The driver of the truck said that the tea was located in the rear enclosed cargo area and intended for delivery, and that Wilkins did not have permission or authority to be inside the truck. Police said that Wilkins was in possession of a box cutter that was inside his rear left pants pocket, as well as a garbage bag from his right jacket pocket. Wilkins was also charged with burglar’s tools, weapons possession and possession of stolen property.
WOMAN ARRESTED FOR ‘BITING’ CVS EMPLOYEE, ‘SHOPLIFTING’
Police arrested 24-year-old Abrigail Torres last Tuesday for robbery after she allegedly bit a CVS employee. Police said she was trying to leave the store without paying for three bottles of Tide laundry detergent valued at $21.99 and after being confronted by an employee, struggled and bit him. Information about the specific CVS location was unavailable.
CLEANING LADY NABBED FOR JEWELRY ‘THEFT’
Police arrested 39-year-old Evelyn Diaz inside the 13th precinct last Tuesday at 10 a.m. for a grand larceny that allegedly occurred last November. Diaz, who was a cleaning lady for Handy.com, was hired to clean the victim’s apartment. The victim told police that she left her apartment in the morning while Diaz was still cleaning and left her wedding band and engagement ring on her night dressing table. When she returned home the same day, the rings were missing.
MAN ARRESTED FOR ‘STEALING’ FROM CHARITY
Police arrested 28-year-old Ismael Coulibaly inside the 13th precinct last Monday at 8:15 a.m. for grand larceny. Police said that Coulibaly used a credit card from a charitable organization to make several personal purchases over $7,000.
SCRIPT ‘FORGER’ ARRESTED
Police arrested 24-year-old David Carreno for forgery at the 13th precinct last Tuesday at 12:45 p.m. Carreno allegedly used a stolen doctor’s prescription pad to obtain amphetamine and other controlled prescription substances.
TEEN BUSTED FOR DUANE READE THEFTS
Police arrested a teenager for thefts from Duane Reade locations at 71 West 23rd Street and 873 Broadway in the last month. He was arrested inside the 13th precinct at 2 p.m. last Monday. The teen was charged with two counts of petit larceny and one count of grand larceny for the theft at the West 23rd Street location, which took place on April 6. He was charged with petit larceny for shoplifting at the Broadway location on March 28. The teen’s name is being withheld due to his age. Police said that three other teens who were involved in the thefts have not been arrested.
WOMAN ARRESTED FOR $20K ‘THEFT’ FROM EMPLOYER
Police arrested 23-year-old Samantha Burgos inside the 13th Precinct last Friday at 9:10 a.m. for grand larceny that took place over a period from December, 2014 to February, 2015. Police said that Burgos reimbursed herself with more than $20,000 into her paycheck from Luxury Attache at 118 East 25th Street, her employer, without permission. The District Attorney’s office said that Burgos was a bookkeeper at the company.
WOMAN ARRESTED FOR ‘ASSAULT’
Police arrested 38-year-old Naleane Lopez for assault in front of the Hotel Kenmore at 145 East 23rd Street last Thursday at 1:50 a.m. Lopez allegedly punched the victim in the face, causing swelling and substantial pain. Lopez allegedly also bit the victim on the left hand.
7-ELEVEN ‘THIEF’ BUSTED AFTER ‘BITING’ EMPLOYEE
Police arrested 51-year-old Rupert Vanterpool after he allegedly swiped cans of Red Bull from a 7-Eleven and bit an employee who tried to stop him.
Police said Vanterpool entered the store at 395 Third Avennue last Wednesday at 8:19 p.m. and grabbed Red Bulls from the refrigerator, then allegedly put them under his coat and tried to leave without paying. Police also said that Vanterpool also was seen from the store office via video surveillance taking the drinks. He dropped some of the cans while he was trying to leave the store and the store employee, who assumed he still had some of the cans in his coat, chased him out. Police said that Vanterpool then bit the victim on the left side of his neck, causing him to bleed. The stolen items were valued at $60.65. He was charged with for petit larceny, assault and possession of stolen property.
PLATE ‘FORGER’ ARRESTED
Mohammad Islam, 41, was arrested for forgery at the corner of Third Avenue and East 23rd Street last Thursday at 12:37 p.m. Islam was driving west on East 23rd Street with an RMP directly behind him. An officer driving the RMP noticed that the license plate didn’t appear to be valid because it wasn’t reflective and had non-raised lettering. When he was stopped, police said that the license plate was found to be made of cardboard and when DMV records were checked it was found that the car was registered to his wife and the plates had been surrendered on December 19, 2014.
TWO ARRESTED FOR ‘DRUG DEAL’ ON EAST 14TH
Police arrested two people involved in a hand-to-hand drug transaction last Wednesday at 7:45 p.m. Josue Cedeno, 34, was grabbed at Third Avenue and East 14th Street and Lisa Lindahl, 42, was arrested at First Avenue and East 14th Street. Cedeno was charged with sale of a controlled substance and Lindahl was charged with possession of a controlled substance. Police said that Lindahl bought an alleged controlled substance from Cedeno.
MAN NABBED FOR ‘THREATENING’ BEHAVIOR
Police arrested 23-year-old Robert Heck for disorderly conduct last Saturday at 3:51 a.m. in front of 235 East 20th Street. Heck was allegedly causing public alarm by engaging in threatening behavior towards other pedestrians on the sidewalk.
MAN BUSTED FOR ‘FENCING’ PHONES
Police arrested 35-year-old Carl Bradley in front of the Stuyvesant Town Associated Supermarket at 409 East 14th Street last Saturday at 12:45 p.m. for possession of stolen property and unlawful peddling. Bradley was allegedly attempting to sell several items, including two cell phones. Police said that Bradley didn’t have a general vendor’s license and was found to be in possession of stolen property.
MAN BUSTED FOR ATTEMPTED ‘THEFTS’ FROM CAR
Stanley Griffin, 52, was arrested in front of 1 East 21st Street last Saturday at 5:13 p.m. for petit larceny. Griffin was allegedly casing a grey Nissan Sentra in front of the location and made two attempts to gain entry into the vehicle by pulling on both passenger side doors in an attempt to remove property.
ASSAULT ON EAST 27TH STREET
Sudanshu Sane, 23, was arrested for assault in front of 240 East 27th Street last Sunday at 2:11 a.m. Sane allegedly punched the victim in the head and face several times, causing a swollen right eye and swollen left temple.
MAN NABBED FOR ‘THREATS’ AGAINST COPS
Police arrested 34-year-old Joseph Flores for aggravated harassment last Sunday at 3:55 p.m. inside the 13th precinct. Flores allegedly made threats against the NYPD over the phone.