Landlords warn warehousing could be the new normal

Stuyvesant Town

By Sabina Mollot

Landlords are warning warehousing apartments could become the new normal.

The news comes as the city confirmed it is investigating reports that Stuyvesant Town landlord Blackstone is warehousing apartments at its 11,000-unit East Side complex.

A spokesperson for the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development, which oversees affording housing developments in the city, said it is “now looking into the matter.”

Blackstone insists it is still evaluating its options at Stuy Town, a sprawling complex it bought with Ivanhoe Cambridge for $5.3 billion in 2015. As part of the deal, the city provided $220 million in tax incentives in exchange for a commitment to keep 5,000 apartments in a “reduced rent program.”

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Opinion: The difference maker

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

It has often be said that elections have consequences. That statement was never truer than last week in Albany.

 You may recall that Brian Kavanagh, after serving for ten years in the State Assembly, in a district that I represented for almost three decades, ran for an open State Senate seat in downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn two years ago. He was elected. But of even greater significance, the State Senate became a Democratic Party majority this year after the 2018 November elections. Senator Kavanagh became chairman of the Senate Housing Committee. That was important because all the New York City tenant protections laws would lapse this year and would need to be debated once again.

 For over half a century the State Senate majority was in the hands of the Republican Party almost without interruption and mostly represented by upstate and suburban legislators. For all those years the Senate was commonly referred to as the place where progressive tenant protection and rent regulation reforms went to die. I can personally attest to that.

During my years in the State Assembly, I introduced dozens of affordable housing bills designed to protect tenants from unfair and excessive rent increases and other protections as well. They routinely passed in the Assembly but rarely if ever were even allowed to be voted upon in the State Senate. Did that fact have anything to do with the other fact, which was that Republican senators received millions of dollars in campaign contributions from the real estate industry? Well, nobody can say for certain, but neither do I believe in coincidences like that. My counterpart in the State Senate, Roy Goodman, was frequently rebuffed by his own leadership in trying to advance these bills. In those days, Roy was only one of a couple of other Republican senators who represented large communities of tenants in New York State. So try as he did, he was stymied at every turn.

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Editorial: On rent regulations and politics

To say this has been a big week for tenants would be the understatement of the century. However, we’ll say it anyway. While the fine print in this epic tenant protection bill is still being examined with a fine-toothed comb, it is nonetheless safe to say that these are no token reforms like the minimal improvements in 2011 and 2015. They are incredibly significant in terms of the ways tenants will be protected from price-gouging.

Additionally, we agree with TenantsPAC’s Michael McKee who pointed out that this victory could not have been achieved without the work of die-hard activists like those in the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association. It was the tireless efforts of these individuals, combined with a city of renters dead tired of being given the shakedown, that helped turn the State Senate blue, giving long-stalled bills a chance to pass.

Civil Court judge primary
In other news, don’t forget to vote on June 25 as there will be a Democratic primary election for Civil Court judge representing the fourth municipal court district. (This is the area comprised of Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village, Gramercy, Waterside and Kips Bay.)

In recent issues of this newspaper, we’ve run interviews with both candidates, veteran attorneys Grace Park and Lynne Fischman-Uniman. Since we ran the profile of Fischman-Uniman, we’ve been contacted by a few readers who wanted to know why it wasn’t mentioned that up until fairly recently the Democratic candidate was a registered Republican. The answer is we didn’t know as she didn’t mention it.

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Stuyvesant Town golfers come out for clinic

On June 11, the Stuy Town Golf Club held a clinic that was attended by over 50 residents from all age groups. Because of its success, Stuyvesant Town management has asked that the club hold another event that has been set for July 15. The “Full Swing Clinic” will take place in Playground 10 from 7-8:30 p.m. with PGA pros Matt and Shaun. To attend, RSVP to info@stuytowngolf.org.

The club’s organizers are Rich “Coach” Remsen and Bill Oddo. Remsen will be hosting “Golf “FUNdamentals” Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings from 6:30-8 p.m. at Stuy Town’s Playground 3, weather permitting.

Other upcoming events include an outing to Rockland Lake Golf Course on June 23 (rescheduled from June 20 due to predicted unfavorable weather conditions. Another outing is scheduled for July 9 at Doral Arrowwood Resort in Westchester. Space limited, so if interested RSVP.  For more information, visit stuytowngolfclub.org.

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Letters to the editor, June 20

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Bikes not the only danger to pedestrians

To the Editor:

In advance of the Tenants Association meeting covered by the recent article “Bikes still a primary concern for ST/PCV residents” (Town & Village, June 6), I consulted NYC’s Open Data concerning collisions and injuries; this data is available to anyone. I used what I found to inform my remarks at the meeting, and I was disappointed that the article didn’t mention those remarks.

The data available on that website comes from NYPD and reaches back in time as far as July 1, 2012.

I conducted two searches covering all of zip codes 10003, 10009, and 10010 from that date through the latest date for which there is data available, April 30, 2019. I found 48 instances involving one or more bikes and no other vehicles, in which instances at least one pedestrian was at least injured. (There were no fatalities, only two instances on First Avenue, and no instances on 20th Street.)

Then I completely removed bikes from the formula, leaving in other types of vehicles, and ran the same search. I found over 1,400 instances in which at least one pedestrian was at least injured. (I encourage anyone interested to check and critique the quality of my analysis.  And as anyone using the site will see, there are ambiguities in the data.)

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Could a lawsuit really undo the rent regs?

Blaine Schwadel

By Sabina Mollot

Ever since the new rent regulations — all 74 pages of them — were signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday, real estate attorneys have been scrambling to determine what this means for the city’s property owners.

There has been at least one published report in the Commercial Observer suggesting there could be an industry-backed lawsuit, and Blaine Schwadel of Rosenberg & Estis, a law firm representing owners and lenders, said he’s pretty sure there will be some kind of legal action taken.

This reporter was unable to determine what group, if any, was behind the rumor of a planned suit, but Schwadel said there’s at least been talk.

“I have heard that various real estate groups, RSA (Rent Stabilization Association), REBNY (Real Estate Board of New York) and CHIP (Community Housing Improvement Program) are having discussions about how to challenge it,” said Schwadel.

But, he warned, “There have been very few successful challenges to rent regulations in the past.”

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Opinion: One flag, many stars

“One nation Indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” Those are the words from the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag first written in 1863 and formally adopted by Congress in 1942. Twelve years later “under God” was inserted after “one nation.” The Pledge articulates the ideal of a unified society with the common belief that everyone is valued and that freedom and fairness guides our civic life. These are principles worth reflecting upon as America observes Flag Day this week.

The Pledge contains nice words for sure, but aspirational at best. Over the decades many Americans have struggled to secure their liberty and justice. Women were only granted the right to vote in the last century and black people and other minorities were suppressed or restricted and also kept from voting by discriminatory local laws.

As for a “nation indivisible”… that is a tough one. From our inception there have always been profound national schisms. At first it was the agrarian states, mostly in the south with their particular cultural orientation vying with the industrialized northern states. The southern states coveted cheap and even free labor to work their fields and desperately protected the immoral and inhumane institution of slavery. Every school child knows that the fracture between free states and slave states led to the bloody Civil War which divided regions and even families, pitting brother against brother on the battlefields of America.

Despite Lincoln’s hopes for a charitable reconciliation at the war’s end “with malice towards none,” the defeated Confederacy lived under a virtual occupation during the Reconstruction Period. Resentments festered giving rise to hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan, which sought to restore the bigotry of a white supremacist society through intimidation and violence against blacks and others. In the succeeding years America remained deeply alienated along racial, religious and geographic lines.

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Albany passes strongest rent regulations ever

Tenants in Albany on Friday (Photos courtesy of Housing Justice for All)

By Sabina Mollot

On Friday, the governor signed the most tenant-friendly package of rent regulations the state has ever seen, including the repeal of vacancy and high-income deregulation, the end of vacancy bonuses and much stricter limitations on major capital improvement (MCI) and individual apartment improvement (IAI) rent increases.

As for what this means for tenants, most notably there will be adjustments to stabilized tenants’ rent, said Assembly Member Harvey Epstein. MCIs, which previously could be no higher than six percent of a tenant’s rent, will now be no higher than two percent. They will also be eliminated after 30 years instead of being paid in perpetuity. If tenants have signed a lease with a preferential rent, that amount, when the lease is renewed, will now only be allowed to climb as high as the rent increase voted on by the Rent Guidelines Board. Previously it could have gone as high as the maximum legal rent (often a difference of hundreds of dollars).

Additionally, while this doesn’t impact current tenants, tenants moving into an apartment won’t have nearly as much to pay in IAIs, which will now be limited to $15,000 each, and only three units will be eligible over a 15-year period. The increase would also last 30 years instead of remaining permanent. Tenant blacklists will also disappear and there will also be more protections available for tenants fighting an eviction. Additionally, any conversions to co-ops or condos must be non-eviction plans. Tenants who want to file overcharge complaints will now have longer to do so, six years instead of four.

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Candidate for Civil Court judge says she’d encourage mediation

Lynne Fischman-Uniman (center) with Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Assembly Member Dan Quart, who are supporting her campaign (Photo courtesy of Lynne Fischman-Uniman)

By Sabina Mollot

On June 25, there will be a Democratic primary in New York City, albeit a quiet one in certain districts, mainly for delegates for judicial convention, county committee members and district leader positions. But in the fourth Municipal Court district — the area comprised of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, Gramercy, Kips Bay and Murray Hill — there is a race for Civil Court judge with two serious candidates.

One is West Midtown resident Grace Park, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society, and the other is Upper East Sider Lynne Fischman-Uniman, who also practices law, in her case for nearly 40 years. Unlike other races, judicial candidates don’t need to live in the districts they’re running in and it’s quite possible that if elected, they will end up being assigned outside the area or even the borough, depending on where the demand for judges is.

Civil Court judges decide cases involving small claims of up to $25,000 and some housing cases, though sometimes they’re assigned at first to Family Court or Criminal Court.

As for why New Yorkers should care about a local race for the bench, Fischman-Uniman’s elevator pitch to voters has been that along with her experience in law, including teaching it at New York Law School, she is devoted to the betterment of the court process wherever possible.

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Editorial: For stronger rent regulations, call Cuomo

June 15 is the day New York’s rent laws expire, and although the now-Democrat controlled Assembly and State Senate have promised to stregnthen them, Albany is still Albany and this means anything can happen before then.

To ensure that all of the legislature’s bills aimed at protecting tenants are passed, the Met Council on Housing recommends calling the governor’s office at (518) 474-8390 and asking that they be kept intact. Additionally, the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association is advising tenants to do the same and also call Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Heastie’s Albany office can be reached at (518) 455-3791 and the district office can be reached at (718) 654-6539. Stewart-Cousins can be reached at (518) 455-2585 (Albany) and (914) 423-4031 (district).

The real estate industry has always given generously to Albany’s elected officials, including Cuomo, but tenants can still have power in numbers. Not a political kind of person? You don’t have to be. Just think of a time your life was personally impacted in some way by vacancy decontrol, MCIs, IAIs, vacancy bonuses, preferential rents or just plain unadulterated greed. (See? It’s easy.) And then let those elected officials know this price gouging spree has gone on long enough.

Gramercy Neighborhood Associates holds annual art show

Gramercy Neighborhood Associates President Alan Krevis (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Let it not be said that residents of Gramercy and Stuyvesant Town don’t support the arts. The annual group art show organized by Gramercy Neighborhood Associates, which ran last week from Monday to Friday at Salmagundi Club, drew a crowd of around 350 people for the reception last Wednesday.

Organizers were able to tell the size of the crowd based on a sign-in sheet and the fact that since last year’s show was jam packed, the club this year had attendees wait in line to get in once the space was filled to capacity. At that point, the line ran the entire length of the club on Fifth Avenue and 12th Street.

GNA President Alan Krevis said this year there were about 90 works on display, contributed by nearly 70 artists, mostly from Gramercy, Stuyvesant Town and Waterside as well as students from the Chelsea Drawing & Painting Workshop. The art included paintings, collages, pastels, drawings and photos.

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Letters to the editor, June 13

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Fear of scofflaw cyclists is justified

To the editor:

When graduate student Sophie Maerowitz told T&V (“Bikes still a primary concern for ST/PCV residents,” June 6) that bike lanes have made biking safer for biking, reducing fatalities by 44 percent, she addressed those ST/PCV “concerns” and “nervousness” with utterly irrelevant information.

Ms. Maerowitz’s remarks fail to address the fears pedestrians have been taught when they now cross streets that have bike lanes. To my knowledge no one has argued that bike lanes are a blunder, and no one has claimed that bikers have killed pedestrians. More so, my remarks and our fears do not come from all bicyclists running lights, nor from pedestrians splayed-out by bikes.

Plain and simple, our fear has been caused by a pattern of bicyclists’ behavior. So let’s not require what is not before our city government takes us as real.

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Albany poised to pass much stronger rent regulations

Tenants rally outside the governor’s midtown office in support of the proposed rent laws on Wednesday. (Photo by Anne Greenberg)

By Sabina Mollot

Although nothing is yet a done deal, on Tuesday night the State Assembly and Senate announced that the package of bills aimed at repealing vacancy decontrol, among other tenant protections, is being pushed forward by both chambers. A vote is expected to take place on Friday, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he would sign such a bill if it passes in both chambers.

The package’s protections for tenants, if signed into law, would:

  • Make the rent regulations permanent, instead of sunsetting every four years
  • Repeal vacancy deregulation and high-income deregulation, which has applied to residents whose household incomes were at least $200,000 for two years
  • Repeal the vacancy bonus, which allows owners to raise the rents by 20 percent every time an apartment turns over
  • Repeal the longevity bonus, which allows owners to raise rents on an apartment for new tenants based on the length of the previous tenancy
  • Prohibit Rent Guidelines Boards from setting additional increases based on the current rental cost of a unit or the amount of time since the owner was authorized to take additional rent increases, such as a vacancy bonus

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Man robbed for his Citi Bike on East 14th Street

Citi Bike robbery suspects

By Sabina Mollot

Cops are looking for a group of teenagers who robbed a man for his Citi Bike on East 14th Street.

The victim, a 23-year-old man, told police he was riding his Citi Bike on June 4 at around 9 p.m. on First Avenue when he stopped on 14th Street to get something to eat.

Robbery suspect

When he left his bike to go inside Halal Guys at 307 East 14th Street, he saw a group of teens try to take the bike. The victim confronted them and was able to grab the bike back at first, but was struck on the head by one of the teens and he dropped it. The group then fled with the bike, heading west on East 15th Street towards Second Avenue. Police later found the Citi Bike nearby.

Anyone with information is asked to call 1-800-577-TIPS (8477). All calls will be kept confidential.

Man put in headlock for his headphones

Robbery suspect

By Sabina Mollot

Cops are looking for a mugger who tried to rob another man for his headphones while riding the M102.

Police said the bus was heading south and as the victim, a 22-year-old man, was about to get off at Third Avenue and 14th Street, an unknown man snuck up behind him and tried to pull off his headphones.

The victim was able to grab them back, but the mugger didn’t give up, instead putting the victim in a headlock. The victim was able to push the other man off him, at which point, the mugger told him, “Don’t stare at me,” before fleeing the bus.

The incident occurred on Saturday, April 20 at about 10 p.m., but the NYPD released the information on Monday.

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