By Sabina Mollot
Fed up with the consistent approvals of major capital improvement (MCI) rent increases by the state’s housing agency, Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association President Susan Steinberg called on local elected officials last November to get the agency to stop what seemed to be a rubber stamping process. Or at least, Steinberg said, while hosting a meeting for neighbors, to explain the reasons for the approvals of every MCI ever applied for by the landlord, when the Tenants Association has challenged each and every one of them. She noted at the time that the agency, by its own regulations, was supposed to provide explanations for its decisions.
The two state elected officials sitting on the stage of the auditorium of MS 104, State Senator Brad Hoylman and then-Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, said they’d follow up.
Five months later, Hoylman, as well as new City Council Member Keith Powers, have penned a lengthy, legalese-filled letter to RuthAnne Visnauskas, the commissioner of the state housing agency, Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) that reiterates the TA’s arguments against the permanent rent increases.
Some of the arguments apply just to specific buildings, claiming evidence hadn’t been presented that certain work was done, while others were general claims of superfluous consultant fees, shoddy workmanship or projects that weren’t necessary or MCI-eligible.
On its website, the TA this week posted, “An MCI item must be depreciable under federal law (brick pointing is not);” and that applications were not always filed within the two-year limit.
Other arguments were that some work taking place after Hurricane Sandy may have been covered by the previous landlord’s insurance company and that allocations for the property’s commercial tenants are often understated.
The letter, dated May 4, notes that since 2009, the ST-PCV Tenants Association has filed 39 challenges to MCIs.
“Because the TA’s efforts have resulted in such minimal relief despite the validity of their objections, I ask that you reexamine the specific MCIs in question and provide an explanation for the approvals in light of the information provided herein,” Hoylman and Powers wrote.
Steinberg said petitions for administrative review (PAR) have been sent to the HCR regarding the MCIs, but the association is still waiting to hear a response. The TA has challenged hot water, intercom and façade work MCIs. Costs vary per building but most are $1-3 per room per month and have retroactive fees.
In response to the letter, HCR spokesperson Charni Sochet said the agency couldn’t comment on pending applications.
However, she stated that “DHCR” (Division of Housing Community Renewal, the agency within HCR that oversees MCIs) “is committed to protecting the rights of rent-regulated tenants and ensuring compliance with the rent laws, which are established by the state legislature.”
Additionally, Sochet said if tenants believe that an MCI order was given incorrectly, they should file a PAR (form RAR-2) within 35 days by calling the office of Rent administration at 718-739-6400.
She added that DHCR conducts inspections to verify that work was done satisfactorily when there are tenant complaints and conducts random inspections of some MCI applications even when there are no complaints, as well as conducting audits of every application.
A spokesperson for Stuy Town did not respond to Town & Village’s request for comment on the letter, although Blackstone has previously promised MCI work wouldn’t be done just for the purpose of inflating rents.