Assembly members at a hearing on rent regulations (Photos by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
A hearing on Thursday about the rent regulations that are sunsetting this June in Albany at times got heated with a speaker representing the real estate industry being accused of racism by the crowd and even a couple of Assembly members.
After a few New York City tenant leaders and advocates spoke favorably about a package of tenant-friendly bills aimed at, among other things, ending vacancy decontrol and major capital improvement rent increases, Joseph Strasburg, the president of the Rent Stabilization Association, told the Assembly housing committee members not to “NYCHA-tize the private sector.”
The Rent Stabilization Association represents roughly 25,000 New York City landlords.
In response to his comment, a couple of audience members shouted out “Racist!”
Strasburg disagreed, but one black Assembly member, Latrice Walker, responded that as someone who had grown up in a NYCHA development, only to later lose that apartment and become homeless, she didn’t appreciate his comment.
This was echoed by another black Assembly member, Walter Mosley, who said, “I think the term used with regards to NYCHA, it’s not up to the person who doesn’t know what racism is to determine what racism is. To say it is disrespectful to the members here who are of color as well as those who live in NYCHA, who are a number of my constituents.”
State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Harvey Epstein at a rally on Sunday, held in front of a Jared Kushner-owned property on East 12th Street (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Harvey Epstein hosted a rally in the East Village on Sunday to slam local predatory landlords and to announce a bill calling for more transparency in real estate lending.
The rally was held in front of a building owned by presidential son-in-law and accused slumlord Jared Kushner, Westminster City Living at 504 East 12th Street.
At the event, the elected officials announced the joint legislation that will direct the New York State Department of Financial Services to collect data on financial institutions lending to landlords acquiring property that include rent-stabilized tenants and investigate the role financial institutions play in encouraging anti-tenant practices.
The legislation argues that predatory equity has destabilized rent regulation and the affordable housing market in the city. The practice of predatory equity involves landlords acquiring rent-regulated properties with low to moderate-income tenants through highly speculative loans and then attempting to harass those tenants out to replace them with those who’ll pay market rent.
Council Member Annabel Palma, prime sponsor of the SBJSA City Council photo)
The Small Business Jobs and Survival Act, which had been languishing in the City Council for 30 years up until a recent organized push helped get 27 Council members to indicate their support for it, has been blasted by critics as being unconstitutional. What’s interesting though is that no one, not even its stiffest opponents, are giving any reasons why this is the case.
We won’t pretend to be legal experts but what we know is this. Owners of small businesses in this city are in desperate need of some bargaining power because right now they have none. At any time, any business that is doing well and meeting the needs of the community it serves could still disappear overnight, whether it’s due to an obscenely high rent hike or a refusal from a speculative landlord to even offer a renewal at any price.
We appreciate the effort being made by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer on a bill that would at least force property owners to negotiate in good faith with a tenant. However, with the only sure thing in that scenario being a one-year lease extension for a business at a 15 percent rent hike, it just won’t be enough to stem the tide of mom-and-pops being forced out by chains and banks.
The SBJSA, however, if passed, would give an existing tenant another 10 years. This would actually make a huge dent in bringing back the stability the city’s retail landscape hasn’t known in many years.
By Sabina Mollot
On Monday, one of Albany’s former famed three men in a room, Sheldon Silver, was convicted on corruption charges, for a bribery and kickback scheme that netted him $4 million. Part of the scheme involved the Lower East Side pol using his influence to benefit two real estate developers, in particular Glenwood Management, while at the same time positioning himself as being tenant-friendly. He also directed taxpayer money to a cancer researcher while a doctor there steered patients suffering from asbestos exposure to a law firm that paid Silver referral fees.
However, his failure to sway a jury of his innocence won’t be enough to prompt Albany’s remaining power players to renounce their ways by pushing for campaign finance reform or the closure of the “LLC Loophole.”
Mike McKee, the outspoken treasurer of TenantsPAC, told Town & Village on Tuesday of this gloomy forecast, predicting things will be as they were before, with the onus on tenants to put pressure of their local elected leaders to make meaningful changes. Otherwise, forget it.
“I would hope,” McKee said, “that this would be a wakeup call to the public that something is fundamentally wrong with our system of government, and unless people start holding legislators accountable, the pay-to-play culture is not going to change ever. Why would it change?”
Following the conviction, Governor Cuomo promised some ethics reforms, according to news reports. (His office did not respond to a request for comment.) But when T&V asked McKee if he thought the embarrassment of an Albany ex-kingpin facing jail time might make the governor regret his decision to shut down his commission aimed at rooting out corruption, McKee laughed.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “Andrew Cuomo’s agenda is Andrew Cuomo. He has benefitted more than anyone from the system we have. He got more money from Glenwood than anyone else. When the Moreland Commission started investigating his fundraising, that’s when he shut it down. I really wish it’s going to change but it won’t unless constituents put on the pressure. Every time you see an elected official you have to ask, ‘What are you doing about campaign finance reform and the LLC Loophole and the election system so people can actually run against incumbents?’”
State Senator Brad Hoylman, however, disagreed with McKee, saying the Silver bombshell might be what it takes to get even his own house, where tenant-friendly legislation goes to die, to pass meaningful reforms.
“This is Albany’s Watergate moment,” said Hoylman. “I think this is a seismic event that has the potential to disrupt business as usual in Albany. The issue of outside income is key. The fact that Silver was able to take in $4 million in referral fees is on its face outrageous and is something we should consider ending.”
Hoylman said he’s been pushing for an end to this practice since his first year in office.
“It’s not a coincidence Congress came to this conclusion after Watergate,” he added. “The other key fact in the Silver case is the exploitation by real estate companies of limited liability corporations. The LLC Loophole is the primary vehicle of the real estate industry to hold sway over the legislature.”
The so-called LLC Loophole is a regulation that allows companies to make political donations for every limited liability corporation they run and real estate developers often have LLCs for each property they own.
“I think this is something we learned in the Silver case and I believe this issue is going to pick up steam — even in my house,” said Hoylman. “I think the public is rightfully outraged by what they’ve been hearing from the courthouse in Lower Manhattan.”
Earlier this year, Hoylman authored legislation that would make it a class C felony or a public servant to steer grants towards organizations that benefit their families or people they have business relationships with.
Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, who’s been pushing to close the LLC Loophole, did not respond to a request for comment on the Silver conviction.
As a result of the conviction, Silver must give up the Assembly seat he’s held onto for four decades. By Tuesday morning, Silver’s official Assembly web page was down. A spokesperson for the Assembly said she’d pass on a request for comment, but admitted she didn’t know who’d be handling Silver-related queries. One of Silver’s trial attorneys, Steven Molo, didn’t respond to a request for comment although he did tell Real Estate Weekly he’d be appealing.
“Weʼre obviously very disappointed and we had hoped the jury would see it our way,ˮ Molo said. “We are sorry that they didn’t but we believe that we’re on strong legal ground.ˮ
Council Member Dan Garodnick with Anita Chanko, widow of Mark Chanko, a former Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper resident whose medical treatment and death was filmed for a reality show without permission, Mark’s daughter Pamela, his son Kenneth, Kenneth’s wife Barbara, State Senators Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger and Assembly Member Edward Braunstein of Queens (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
Over 30 members of the City Council are calling on hospitals to respect patients’ privacy, in response to the stunning case of a man who was struck by a truck only to then have his medical treatment and death filmed for an ABC reality show, “NY Med.”
The man was Mark Chanko, at one time a resident of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. His family, who never authorized any filming of his treatment, has sued the hospital, New York Presbyterian, and ABC. Arguments for the case are expected to be heard in September at the Court of Appeals.
While there is currently legislation pending at the state level that would prohibit hospitals filming patients without obtaining prior consent, the Council said it was asking hospitals to take that step voluntarily. The Council members wrote a letter that was sent to all New York hospitals asking them not to film patients or allow third parties to film patients for entertainment purposes. Or, if they do, the Council members said hospitals should at least make sure they get prior permission to do so.
The letter was also written in response to news that a reality show similar to “NY Med” would soon begin filming at a Boston hospital.
Mark Chanko with son Ken on a family cruise in 2006
In the “NY Med” episode, Chanko’s face was blurred and his voice altered but those who knew him, including his widow Anita, recognized him immediately when she watched the show.
At a press conference at City Hall, she recalled how he’d asked, “Does my wife know I’m here?’ Whoever answered him said, ‘I don’t know.’” Since then, Anita said she’s had the segment featuring her husband pop up in her mind at unexpected moments. At these times, all of the evening’s events play out, starting from when her husband mentions wanting to run to the deli to pick up milk and bananas, to shortly afterwards, when the doorman at the couple’s building in Yorkville told Anita she needed to come downstairs, to then seeing Chanko lying in a gurney that she wasn’t allowed to get near.
“It’s a PTSD (experience),” Anita said. “It comes in unprompted. Watch a man die, now we’re going to sell you a car. Now we’re going to sell you some soap.”
When viewing the episode, which she said no one from the network or hospital warned her would be aired, she felt like she was reliving his death all over again. When the doctor told her and other family members that attempts to save Chanko were unsuccessful, he hadn’t told them he was wearing a microphone or that the conversation would be part of a show.
“We don’t want for this to happen to other people,” said Ken Chanko, Mark’s son, a teacher, who’s also a former film critic for Town & Village.
Council Member Dan Garodnick called shows like “NY Med” and its Boston spinoff, “Save My Life: Boston Trauma,” a “crude window into people’s medical care.
“Patients in our hospitals deserve to know that their sensitive moments will not be used for entertainment,” he said. “We deserve better from our medical institutions.”
Garodnick added that the Council will soon be issuing a report card for hospitals, “so you’ll know which hospitals will protect your privacy and which won’t.”
Last Thursday, Garodnick posted a petition on change.org calling on hospitals to not film patients. As of Monday it was signed over 500 times.
At the press conference, Council members also expressed their support for state legislation that would prevent future incidents like the one experienced by the Chankos.
Legislation that was authored by Assembly Member Edward Braunstein would create a private right of action for the unauthorized filming and broadcasting of hospital patients. It’s in the midst of some revising, though, with Braunstein explaining that the revisions were in response to broadcast associations’ concerns that some of the language was too vague. “But we’re confident we’ll be able to complete it next year,” said Braunstein, whose district is in Queens.
State Senator Liz Krueger, who’s co-sponsoring the bill in the Senate, said there’s no way the presence of a TV camera wouldn’t impact the quality of patient care.
“(If a doctor says) ‘we need to get over there,’ and the director says, ‘We need a better shot over there’ — we’re not supposed to have that situation,” she said.
State Senator Brad Hoylman, another bill co-sponsor, added, “Shame on Dr. Oz and others for violating their Hippocratic Oath to do no harm.” Dr. Mehmet Oz is featured on “NY Med.”
A spokesperson for New York Presbyterian previously declined to comment on the Chankos’ litigation. A request for comment on the Council’s letter was referred to the Greater New York Hospital Association, whose president, Kenneth E. Raske, issued a statement indicating his agreement with the Council’s suggestions.
“Greater New York Hospital Association and its member hospitals agree that hospitals should not allow patients to be filmed for entertainment purposes without their prior consent,” Raske said. “Further, all New York hospitals take their legal obligations concerning patient privacy very seriously. Both New York State and federal law prohibit the use or disclosure of identifiable patient information without the prior consent of the patient or a suitable patient representative. New York’s hospitals will continue to vigorously safeguard the privacy of patients and their families.”
To begin to understand the machination of Albany politics especially with the state legislature, a basic understanding of chess is necessary. For they are based on the very same principles.
Chess is a game of strategy. Unlike other games, the moves made in chess are often times disguised and not always what they appear to be. First of all, in chess each player starts with 16 pieces. The pieces are of different values and are capable of making different moves across the 64 squared checkerboard. The goal in chess is to navigate across the board using your pieces in different ways to ultimately capture the opposing player’s “King.” Each player knows that in spite of starting out with 16 pieces they will lose some pieces along the way and even sacrifice some pieces in order to position themselves for victory.
To some extent that explains why Senator John Flanagan, the newly minted Senate (Republican) Majority Leader from Long Island, is so interested in New York City rent regulations. There are many more important local issues to Senator Flanagan’s constituents and fellow legislators from Nassau, Suffolk or upstate districts. But Flanagan is deftly holding on to the rent regulation issue near and dear to virtually every city legislator in the hopes of trading it or sacrificing it for something more important to his constituents and colleagues in the Senate. Each issue is like a chess piece. Each has a relative importance and each has a value if it is to be given up for something else.
No issue stands alone in Albany. Each issue is part of the bigger picture of what can be gained or lost in negotiations. This is probably also true of New York City mayoral control of the public schools which like New York City rent regulations must be renewed. It is very important to New York City politicians. But Flanagan and his mostly suburban and rural colleagues are holding on to both of those issues like a dog and its favorite bone.
Senator Flanagan cares much more about upstate property taxes and even some changes to the state’s restrictive gun laws (although that may now be a nonstarter following yet another gun tragedy, this time in a church in South Carolina). Flanagan also cares about upstate economic revitalization issues and even tax cuts to underwrite private and parochial school costs for parents who send their children to those schools or individuals who donate funds to those schools.
So the leaders in the Democratic Assembly led by Speaker Carl Heastie and the Senate leaders will move those issues along the checkerboard of negotiations knowing that to achieve their ultimate goals they will sacrifice some of those less important issue to gain more important issues for each of them. As for the governor, He will try to broker a deal that satisfies his political priorities by cobbling together issues that are of importance to the Assembly and the Senate that satisfies his political needs. In this case the governor is using the rent
regulation issue as leverage to procure approval from the Assembly on issues that it is less interested in, but ones that the governor has a great interest.
This is the traditional horse trading that has always been part of the Albany legislative culture of getting things done. But this gamesmanship causes great anxiety to ordinary citizens who feel like pawns in the game, especially one million New York City tenants.
Rent regulations and protections against eviction or huge increases in rents is a matter of life and death for many apartment dwellers.
So my advice to the leadership of Albany is to get this done this week and allow the people of the State of New York to proceed with their lives without the uncertainty and intrigue of Albany machinations.
Really, Mr. Cuomo, Mr. Heastie and Mr. Flanagan… this is not a game!
Susan Steinberg, Al Doyle, Margaret Salacan, Anne Greenberg and Kirstin Aadahl, Margaret Salacan and a resident of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association protest outside a fundraiser for Governor Cuomo. (Photo courtesy of the ST-PCV Tenants Association)
By Sabina Mollot
Days after the deadline to renew the Rent Stabilization Laws, with no resolution in sight, the state legislature worked to extend the laws for another five days.
In a joint statement, Albany’s three men in a room, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, confirmed the governor’s signing of the bill, and claimed to be “moving in a positive direction toward a resolution.”
But rather than offer any detail, the statement then went on to tout the legislature’s passage of unrelated bills such as protections against sexual assault on college campuses and investments in infrastructure.
Heastie, however, issued a statement of his own, stressing that the Assembly wouldn’t bend on its efforts to win stronger protections for tenants.
“We have agreed on a short term extender bill with the Governor and the Senate which will allow for more time to come to a final agreement,” said Heastie. “But one thing is clear – the Assembly Majority will not compromise its principles and agree to a package that does not provide critical rent protections for the millions of New Yorkers who depend on these laws.”
The rent law legislation the Democrat-controlled Assembly hopes to pass is wildly different from the package put forth more recently by the Republican-controlled Senate. The Senate hopes to create a database in which tenants would have to verify their incomes. Tenant friendly measures are codifying the Tenant Protection Unit and imposing stiffer penalties on landlords who harass tenants. The Assembly hopes to repeal vacancy decontrol, reform preferential rents, MCIs (major capital improvements) and IAIs (individual apartment improvements) and lower vacancy bonuses.
ST-PCV Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg and other tenants at a vigil on Sunday outside the midtown Manhattan office of Governor Cuomo. (Photo by Anne Greenberg)
By Sabina Mollot
It wasn’t quite the climactic end to another four years tenants were hoping for when at midnight on June 15, the laws regulating rents in New York expired without being renewed or strengthened.
The following morning, the talks continued in Albany, though there was no sign that that they’d be concluded any time soon.
Part of the reason was that Governor Andrew Cuomo has been hoping to include the passage of an education tax credit in the negotiations, while Senate Republicans also last week passed a set of rent regulation legislation that’s wildly different from the package the Assembly passed in May. The much hyped 421-a tax abatement for developers who include some affordable housing in their projects has also been a factor, but hasn’t been given as much attention as it was expected to get, according to State Senator Brad Hoylman.
Hoylman described the tax program, which also expired on Monday, as being “radioactive” to many of his colleagues because of its being “at the heart of the investigations” into corruption in Albany by U.S. attorney Preet Bharara.
“It’s understandable that it wouldn’t be a front burner issue,” said Hoylman, adding he wouldn’t be mourning the program’s loss if it isn’t ultimately renewed and that he thinks it ought to be negotiated separately.
Council Member Helen Rosenthal at an anti-Airbnb rally earlier this year
By Sabina Mollot
Last week, thousands of tenants enrolled in SCRIE/DRIE rent increase subsidy programs learned that their benefits may end up getting reduced or eliminated altogether. The notification came by way of letters from the Department of Finance to around 5,700 people.
The programs subsidize rent increases that are faced by seniors and disabled people, respectively, who are making under $50,000 and whose rent takes up a third of their incomes.
The benefits however could expire when they attempt to renew them, according to Upper West Side City Council Member Helen Rosenthal who said last week she was approached by numerous concerned tenants who didn’t know what the letters they’d received meant.
Those letters have since been blasted by Rosenthal as being full of “technical jargon” with little detail, and she and a few other Council members have called on the Department of Finance to rescind them and not send any more until January, 2016. A moratorium, she explained, would give tenants time to plan for any changes.
Additionally, “We’re trying to understand what it means as well,” said Rosenthal of herself and her Council colleagues.
When she asked the Department of Finance why they were sent, she said she was told that previously there hadn’t been a mechanism to track whether or not recipients’ incomes were in fact one third of their rent, and now there is.
With many people enrolled in both programs living on fixed incomes, Rosenthal called the potential hikes, which she said on average would be $86, significant.
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.”
Al Doyle, board member of ST-PCV TA (Photo by Anne Greenberg)
The following is testimony given by Alvin Doyle in favor of enacting Intro 685, renewal of the NYC rent regulation laws for another three years, on Monday, March 30.
Good afternoon. I’m Alvin Doyle, a member of the board of directors of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association and a lifelong rent-stabilized tenant. I’m here to speak in support of Intro 685.
Our united developments contain over 11,000 apartments, and we have been ravaged by rapacious owners and others. We see our once-peaceful, stable, and affordable middle-class community being destroyed.
Vacancy deregulation is the worm within, slowly, painfully, inexorably eating away at our affordable housing stock.
As our neighbors have died or moved out, apartments have been renovated, chopped up to add so-called bedrooms, and stuffed with more adult occupants than they were designed to accommodate or that the infrastructure can support. The rest of the city will soon see this as real estate types seek to add value, as they say, to existing buildings.
By manipulating existing regulations, our owners have jacked rents up so high that they are well above market rate. I’m talking about as much as $7,000 for a one-bedroom apartment in a building that doesn’t even have a doorman. Families trying to put down roots regularly find themselves priced out of their homes and their school district. Young people have to submit to dorm-like living just to get a toehold in this town.
Mayor de Blasio, you have committed to adding 200,000 affordable units, and we applaud that. We have over 11,000 such units, and it’s far easier to preserve than to build. But we need strong laws to do this. We deeply appreciate your making the case in Albany recently. We need your political and moral leadership now to repeal vacancy deregulation, which makes apartments and communities unaffordable and New York City untenable.
We need to keep rent-stabilized apartments stabilized. No taking them out of the program by jacking up the rents and churning the tenants — no more automatic 20 percent increase every time the apartment turns over because with current landlord practices, they turn over frequently.
No more perpetual Major Capital Improvement costs. They should be surcharges, not part of the base rent. Once something is paid for, the cost should go away. It’s outrageous that tenants have to pay in perpetuity for what the landlord can depreciate. Who made that deal?
And we need to stop the landlords’ practice of renting apartments for hundreds of dollars less than the legal rent and then ambushing tenants with renewal increases of double-digit percentages. That underhanded tactic is destabilizing our community.
There should be room in every borough for New Yorkers at every income level. We can’t allow greedy real estate operators to buy off upstate officials to support their plan to turn Manhattan in particular into an enclave for the rich and absent. We want to keep the lights turned on for everyone so that we can continue to attract the young, the energetic, the creative — and house them. And we want those who have lived here all their lives to know they can stay in their homes in the city they have worked hard in and to which they have contributed so much.
Council Member Dan Garodnick discusses new legislation inspired by complaints from Stuyvesant Town residents about lack of notice for inspections and non-emergency work in their apartments. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
For tenants in Stuyvesant Town, getting a notice that one’s apartment is going to be inspected by management or partially torn up by a maintenance crew as part a neighboring apartment’s renovation is a bit like being summoned for jury duty. A disruptive pain, but also an unavoidable fact of life if you want to be law-abiding.
However, this week, Council Member Dan Garodnick said he plans to introduce legislation that would give tenants on the receiving end of such notices more lead time, and more information as to the nature of the work. While owners are allowed by law to inspect apartments or gain access for work the owner deems necessary, there isn’t always much in the way of notice for impacted tenants. On Monday, Garodnick, while surrounded by tenants on First Avenue, said his bill would change this.
Currently, the law says an owner must give a tenant 24 hours notice prior to when an inspection is conducted. The bill, if passed, would change that to 72 hours. It would also increase the amount of notice that must be given for non-emergency work, currently one week, to two weeks. Additionally, tenants would have to be notified of the scheduled visits by notices delivered by hand as well as by email, if the tenant has provided an email address. The notices would also have to be bi-lingual and include the reason for the requested entry and how much time would be required in an apartment. The notice would also have to include information about the legislation.
“We want to reduce the number of situations where tenants are surprised by an inspection or repair work,” Garodnick said, “and we want to make sure that proper notice is given.” He also noted that some tenants have been upset about not having the opportunity to be present during the appointments.
CWCapital has conducted many inspections of ST/PCV apartments in the past couple of years with workers looking at things like appliance types and checking for room dividers, which has led some residents to wonder if those in unrenovated units, paying lower rents, were being targeted. Garodnick said he’s heard these concerns, but has not seen any evidence that would back up such claims.
He also said he hadn’t heard of any recent wave of inspections, although inspections are still an ongoing process.
Also on hand during Monday’s announcement was Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg, who called the current inspection process a “pervasive abuse” of tenants, citing an instance when a resident, after getting out of the shower, was caught by surprise by the arrival of maintenance workers and another time when a tenant’s teenage daughter, home alone, was walked in on. She said she’d also heard of tenants leaving town, “only to come back to find the apartment in shambles.”
Garodnick said the bill would be introduced on Wednesday and that he was drumming up support for it within the Council.
He clearly already has some support among neighbors though.
One tenant at the announcement, Peggy Smith, told Town & Village she’d twice been notified that her apartment was being inspected. The first time she was told it was for illegal room dividers.
“I got very little notice,” she said, but she also recalled being able to reschedule at a date that was more convenient than the date management had originally suggested. But then, after the inspection was conducted, Smith was informed she’d be inspected again.
Fortunately for her, when she inquired as to the reason, she learned the notice of a return visit was actually a mistake.
But, Smith said, “It was very stressful, I have to say, because you don’t know what in particular they’re looking for.”
Another resident, a retiree who didn’t want her name mentioned, said just this week she was visited by someone claiming to need access to her apartment for an inspection. The inspector came before 8 a.m. when she wasn’t yet fully dressed, so the woman said she refused him entry, explaining that the timing wasn’t convenient. In response, she said he “was very polite” and left. Two days later, she received a notice in the mail that her apartment was to be inspected on Monday, March 16 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
A spokesperson for CWCapital did not respond to a request for comment.
State Senator Brad Hoylman (at podium) discusses his legislation in Albany.
By Sabina Mollot
Amidst growing interest from the media about state lawmakers’ outside incomes and last week’s quick replacement of the longtime leader of the Assembly, Senate Democrats have introduced a package of legislative reforms aimed at cleaning up the Capitol.
Mainly, the new bills, which were introduced on Monday afternoon at an Albany press conference, are aimed at capping politicians’ outside incomes, making it illegal for officials to use campaign cash for any criminal defense fees they incur and stripping corrupt officials of their pensions.
So far, the Democrats have said the Republican majority has blocked its efforts for ethics reform.
However, with the spotlight being firmly planted on state legislators’ outside activities and U.S. Attorney Preet Bhahara’s warning the public to “stay tuned,” some Democrats, like Brad Hoylman, are hopeful this might change.
“This is a great Watergate moment for the state legislature,” said Hoylman, “and by that I mean that public confidence is at an all-time low. And it is up to both parties to usher in some reform, much like the Congress did in 1974. We should look at that example.”
Stuyvesant Town tenants Arlene Dabreo and Marina Metalios were among hundreds protesting Airbnb outside City Hall before a legnthy hearing attended by Airbnb execs, hosts who use the service, tenants and politicians. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
Airbnb, the controversial home sharing listings site, was the subject of a lengthy and contentious hearing on Tuesday that consisted mainly of accusations being traded between politicians and the company’s director of global policy.
At the heart of the conversation was whether Airbnb was making efforts to comply with state law that forbids short-term rentals in most residential buildings, which the hearing’s chair, City Council Member Jumaane Williams, said he doubted. Meanwhile, Airbnb’s representative, David Hantman, threw in — at every chance he could get — a chance to defend Airbnb users who rent their homes out infrequently, who he said make up the bulk of the service’s users — and asked repeatedly why the law couldn’t be changed to exempt them. Instead, he argued, the law should just focus on “bad actors,” tenants or landlords who regularly rent apartments to tourists for short-term stays, making life hell for neighbors.
Most of the people in attendance were tenants opposed to Airbnb, due to illegal hotel activity in their own buildings, but there were also a few dozen supporters of the company, including hosts, with both groups demonstrating outside before the hearing. Those against the company carried signs with slogans like “I don’t want strangers for neighbors” and “sharing = selfish.”
A couple of demonstrators in that camp were Stuyvesant Town residents Arlene Dabreo and Marina Metalios.
Both said they’d seen suspected illegal activity in the community.
“We’ve seen it for sure, definitely in the past year,” said Metalios. “A lot of people coming in with suitcases and garbage being kept in the wrong place.”
Also at the event was ST-PCV Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg, who’d hoped to speak about illegal hotel operations in Stuy Town, but finally gave up at around 5 p.m. since she had a meeting to go to. At this time the hearing, which began at around 11 a.m., was still going on. Since the City Council chambers were filled with around 200 people, some of them standing, the rest of the attendees, like Steinberg, had gotten herded into an overflow room.
Had she been able to give testimony, Steinberg said she would have focused on how, when residents’ use of Airbnb started to take off in 2011, it coincided with an uptick in bedbug infestations in Stuy Town buildings where short-term rentals were taking place. Following meetings with company reps alongside reps from CWCapital, illegal hotel activity in the complex has decreased, though it hasn’t ended completely.
Steinberg also had included in her testimony how the TA had heard concerns from neighbors about their safety when they challenged short-term renters who wanted to gain entry into buildings. In one case, an irate guest “just pushed their way into the building.”
One tenant who did get to testify at the hearing was West Side resident Audrey Smaltz, who said she’d lived in a penthouse apartment in her building since 1977, always feeling safe with the same neighbors for many years. But in recent years, this changed, with the owner renting vacant units as hotel rooms. “The entire fourth floor is for short-term rentals and (there are) many units on other floors,” she said.
As for Airbnb supporters, not too many had signed up to testify at the hearing, which Hantman had explained as being because they’re working people who can’t afford to wait around five hours.
“They have jobs; they have no voice right now,” he said.
However, politicians seemed less than sympathetic about the plight of New Yorkers resorting to home-sharing to help pay their own rent.
Council Member Corey Johnson, who represents Greenwich Village, said he lives in a tiny studio apartment for which “the rent is too damn high,” but added with what New Yorkers pay in rent, they should have the right to not be surrounded by transients.
Another Council Member, Robert Cornegy of Brooklyn, asked Airbnb for their revenue in 2014 and projected revenue for this year, which Hantman said he wouldn’t be allowed to provide. “I’ve got to FOIL that?” Cornegy asked him. “You’ve got to go to our finance people,” Hantman responded.
When questioned about how the attorney general had found that 72 percent of Airbnb rentals to be illegal, Hantman said this was “inaccurate,” especially since Airbnb has since removed thousands of listings by users who don’t provide a “quality” experience.
In response, Williams blasted Hantman for mentioning the word “quality” more than once when discussing hosts’ renting practices.
“You keep mentioning quality — you never once mention following the law,” said Williams. “I’m sure you have lobbyists that can try to change the law, but I don’t know how you can be a business person and never mention state or federal law. You only mention quality of experience. That’s not an effective business model in the City of New York.”
Hantman had argued that very few Airbnb rentals turned out negatively out of two million people using the service to stay in New York over the past few years. He also said 1400 of those people had found places to stay when they were impacted by Hurricane Sandy.
Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side, asked about quality of life issues related to short-term rentals, when Hantman mentioned Airbnb has a neighbor hotline that can be called if a resident wants to report problems with an Airbnb guest or host. Rosenthal challenged this, asking “How would they know?” if a neighbor is in fact an Airbnb user as opposed to a client of some other home-sharing service or that the number even exists for the reporting of such issues.
When accused of putting tenants at risk for eviction for hosting, Hantman said the company does have a pop-up on its site for New York City users warning them hosting may not be legal in their buildings or allowed in their leases.
“We know how much they earn, but we don’t know what their lease is,” he said. “We ask our hosts to obey the law.”
One host there to support the company, Lee Thomas, told the panel about how after he became ill with cancer, his high-paying career on Wall Street came to an end and the only means he had of supporting himself was by renting out his getaway cottage. In response, Williams told him the illegal hotels law didn’t even apply to him because it applies to multi-family buildings while his property was just a two-family one.
Along with Airbnb, also getting quite a bit of criticism was the city office tasked with investigating illegal hotel activity, with Council members accusing its director of not doing enough or having the resources needed to adequately deal with the ongoing problem.
Elizabeth Glazer, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, kept saying she believed her office was doing a good job at keeping up with complaints, but politicians countered that the system shouldn’t just be complaint-driven. Rather, Rosenthal said, it should be proactive enough to keep up with any suspicious short-term rental listing. This was after Glazer had said her office last year had received 1,050 illegal rental complaints, up from 712 in 2013. In response, Rosenthal told her there were over 2,000 listings in Council Member Antonio Reynoso’s district in Brooklyn alone.
“I publicly take issue with what you’re saying,” said Rosenthal.
When asked how the office investigates tips of illegal activity, Glazer said there is “an array of techniques that we use,” but she declined multiple times to say what they were.
This answer didn’t impress Council Member Peter Koo, who threw back, “I don’t see you using them though.”
He told Glazer about how he’d seen an inspector show up at an address where there was suspected illegal activity and knock once. When no one answered, the inspector knocked again. Then, after a few minutes more, when the door remained unanswered, he was gone.
“How come it’s so hard to open a door?” asked Koo. “Pretend you’re a tourist. Send a decoy. Tell them they’re here to give a massage.”
Despite getting some chuckles from the audience, Koo was then cut off by Williams. Koo said he represents an area in Flushing that’s become a “gateway of Asian tourism.”
Also sitting in at the hearing were the authors of the 2010 illegal hotels law, State Senator Liz Krueger and Assembly Member Richard Gottfried. Krueger said what she hoped would come out of the event would be more and not less enforcement of the law at the city level.
“Without enforcement at the local level, it’s as if we didn’t pass it,” she said.
According to Glazer, out of the 1,050 complaints received in 2014, 883 resulted in inspections and 495 violations being issued.
Council Member Dan Garodnick, who was not at the hearing since he is not a member of the housing committee, later said he does support “more aggressive enforcement” of the law.
On November 7, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law a bill benefiting veterans that was written by a Stuyvesant Town resident.
While he doesn’t work in politics, the resident, Jerry Alperstein, is a Korean war vet and also the New York Department Legislative Committee Chair of the Jewish War Veterans group.
He’d been researching veteran-related legislation in 2010, when he discovered a discrepancy in a 2005 law that left some city employees who’d left their jobs for military duty ineligible for an existing pension credit.
The discrepancy in the 2005 law came from most – but not all – city employees called to active military service between September 11, 2001 and December 31, 2005 being able to get the pension credit.
This was tied into a benefit program that allowed city employees called to active military service to continue receiving their full salary and benefits, including pension benefits, as long as they paid back their military pay or city pay (whichever was less) when returning to their city jobs.
However, city employees who elected not to receive their city pay while on active duty were not covered by the 2005 law. Alperstein said this wound up being 60-70 people.