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

Continue reading

Advertisements

IAIs were inflated at hundreds of NY apts. suit says

Attorney General Letitia James

By Sabina Mollot

A property manager is being accused of lying about the costs of hundreds of apartment renovations in order to have the rents reach the threshold where they could be converted to market rate.

The property manager, David Drumheller and his company, JBD Realty Services, were both named as defendants in a lawsuit that was filed by Attorney General Letitia James last Thursday.

The suit accuses Drumheller of fraud and repeatedly violating the Rent Stabilization Law for the individual apartment improvement (IAI) scheme, which was allegedly perpetrated at hundreds of apartments in Manhattan and Brooklyn. At that time, he was working for Newcastle Realty Services, a firm that manages roughly 2,500 units in the city. He also, along with an unnamed associate, allegedly collected $1.2 million in kickbacks from contractors who did renovation work at Newcastle-managed apartments. Some contractors were said to have paid the pair directly, while others paid for their expenses such as country club dues, Porsche payments and home improvement projects. Most of the contractors made most of their money from the Newcastle jobs, including a landscape design firm that had no apartment renovation experience when hired by Newcastle.

According to the attorney general, the scheme went on for years between 2012-2016, with Drumheller manipulating the IAI system that allows property owners to charge permanent rent increases to tenants based on the cost of the renovations that were done in their apartments. An owner can charge 1/60th of the cost in buildings with over 35 units, and 1/40th of the cost in buildings with 35 or fewer units. The goal was to get the rents to reach the threshold where they could be deregulated.

Continue reading

Civil Court judge candidate Grace Park wants you to know that there is a primary

Grace Park has been an attorney with the Legal Aid Society for 14 years.

By Sabina Mollot

Midtown resident Grace Park, an attorney for the past 20 years and a mother of two teen boys, is on the ballot for a position that doesn’t pop up too often — Civil Court judge.

And considering that most people don’t know that judges even need to be elected, and considering that this is a quiet election year, Park knows it’s going to be tough to get voters out to a June 25 Democratic primary.

She’s just begun the process of getting the word out about the race, in which she is running against Lynne Fischman Uniman, another experienced attorney.

There is no Republican candidate for this position, which is to represent the 4th District, an area that covers Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, Gramercy, Kips Bay, Murray Hill and Midtown East.

Continue reading

Student MetroCard program set to expand

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The MTA Board officially approved a proposal that expands full-fare MetroCard access for students on Wednesday. The proposed resolution expands access to three-trip, full-fare student MetroCards for students who currently have half-fare MetroCards, and would eliminate the half-fare MetroCard program.

Half-fare student MetroCards allow bus-only access for K-12 students who live at least half a mile from their school. Students with half-fare cards are supposed to pay $1.35 in coins for every ride, which the MTA said increases dwell time and can be challenging to collect.

The resolution would give half-fare recipients the same three-trip MetroCard that other students already receive, which gives students three free rides every day and can be used on buses and subways.

There are currently 27,000 daily bus trips using half-fare cards. The MTA issued 200,500 half-fare MetroCards to the Department of Education for distribution for the spring semester of 2018, and data from the DOE shows that 66 percent of the half-fare MetroCards that are shipped to schools and distributed are never used, and of the cards that are used, they are used on only eight percent of school days.

Continue reading

Maloney bill that would reveal true owners of LLCs gaining support

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney discusses her legislation in Washington, DC. (Photo courtesy of Carolyn Maloney)

By Sabina Mollot

For the past decade, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney has been pushing legislation aimed at preventing money laundering, often via real estate purchases, by cracking down on shell companies.

On Tuesday, May 14, Maloney held a press conference in Washington, DC about the bill, which she said is finally starting to gain traction in Congress along with having the support of law enforcement agencies, banks, credit unions and four real estate industry associations. Real estate groups in support of the bill are American Escrow Association, American Land Title Association, National Association of REALTORS, Real Estate Services Providers Council, Inc. (RESPRO).

“I’ve never had such huge support for one of my bills before,” said Maloney. “If this bill passes, it’ll be harder to finance terrorism.”

After reintroducing the Corporate Transparency Act, which is co-sponsored by Reps. Peter King and Tom Malinowski last week, she expects it to have a markup soon. A markup, unlike a hearing, is aimed at getting legislation passed in committee and moved onto the house floor. There have already been hearings for this bill, and there is also one set for next week. The bill hasn’t yet been discussed in the Senate.

Continue reading

City Council passes 17 tenant bills

The City Council Housing and Buildings Committee holds a vote on anti-displacement bills the day before they were passed by the full Council on Wednesday, May 8. (Photo courtesy of City Council)

By Sabina Mollot

Last fall, the City Council introduced a package of 18 bills aimed at preventing tenants from being displaced due to aggressive tactics from landlords like exploitative buyout agreements or nuisance construction. On Wednesday, May 8, all but one passed. They still require the mayor’s signature, but he has indicated his support for them.

A spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio, Jane Meyer said, “From free access to legal services in housing court to the new Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants, this administration has been fighting for tenants from day one. These bills will help bolster our efforts to protect all New Yorkers.”

Here is a rundown of what each of the City Council bills will do:

Property owners will be required to share certain information about the terms of a buyout agreement a tenant is entering into with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) within 90 days. The bill’s sponsor is Mark Levine.

Continue reading

Maloney on fire at Met Gala

CAMP CHAMP–At a star-studded bash that’s become a glorified photo op, one guest made that work to her advantage, while decked out in FDNY. (Photo courtesy of Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney)

By Sabina Mollot

At a party jam packed with celebrities and others jockeying for the position of the guest with the most “camp” outfit, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney still managed to stand out, glowing in an FDNY jacket.

The congresswoman was in attendance at the Met Gala, which is considered to be one of the toughest, if not the toughest events in town to get on the guest list to. However, the veteran legislator wasn’t there to preen.

The firefighter’s jacket was worn in an attempt to draw attention to the 9/11 compensation fund for first responders. Its upcoming expiration, Maloney is warning, will leave thousands of responders and their families without badly needed money.

Maloney was gifted the fireman’s jacket by 9/11 first responders and has pledged to wear it to all events, including the Met Gala, in the hope of growing support for her legislation aimed at renewing and permanently funding the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund.

Continue reading

Landlords grilled at hearing on proposed rent regulations

Linda Rosenthal

Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal discusses the package of bills at a pre-hearing rally. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

 

By Sabina Mollot

Politicians left no doubt that the balance of power in Albany has unquestionably shifted during a hearing of the New York State Assembly last week.

At the heart of the debate was the understanding that a package of tenant-friendly legislation stands a good chance of being passed in June, following last November’s elections that turned the previously industry-friendly State Senate blue.

At one point, Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side, turned her attention to a panel of real estate professionals who were there to give testimony. 

“How much money have you used to influence our laws?”, she asked.

When none answered, Rosenthal told them, “You’ve had a lot of friends in Albany over the years. Now you have fewer friends.”

Earlier in the hearing, Paimaan Lodhi, senior vice president of policy and planning for the Real Estate Board of New York, cautioned that the city’s housing stock would deteriorate as a result of the bills’ passage. 

However, he said the industry is in favor of passing rent regulations that “increase transparency that protects the public from a few bad actors.”

But Rosenthal told the room, “We have many good bills and we are going to pass them. There is no reason why tenants shouldn’t be protected. You guys get tax breaks. In return, you have obligations you have not met. How come so many landlords fail to register their rent-regulated units?”

In response, Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, said the RSA encourages its members to resister their units, warning there are consequences if they don’t. He then said there should be more enforcement mechanisms and countered there wasn’t “an upside” to trying to game the system.

Continue reading

JP Morgan Chase employee running against Maloney

Lauren Ashcraft at one of her comedy benefits, pictured on an evening she raised money for survivors of 9/11 (Photo by Kristen Wilson)

By Sabina Mollot

On the heels of what was the most competitive primary race Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney faced in about a decade last year, another millennial who’s never held office is now also attempting to unseat the 25-year incumbent.

Lauren Ashcraft, a Turtle Bay resident who works as a project manager for JP Morgan Chase, officially launched her Congressional campaign at the end of March.

Since then, the 30-year-old Democrat has been raising some small donations (around $2,500 so far) from those who like her elevator pitch promising to get big money out of politics.

“I feel it’s a central issue because progressive issues are stalled because it,” said Ashcraft, who has pledged not to take any corporate or superPAC money. Her donations have been mostly in the $50 range, but she’s hoping her campaign will be taken seriously with the help of a volunteer staff of 15 and by getting a head start. The Democratic Congressional primary isn’t until 2020 and candidates won’t even have to start petitioning until next year.

Continue reading

Accusations of racism fly at rent regs hearing

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.”

Continue reading

Assembly taking aim at MCIs, IAIs, vacancy de-control

Photo by Sidney Goldberg

Assembly Member Harvey Epstein during a recent tenant lobbying day in Albany (Photo by Sidney Goldberg)

By Sabina Mollot

With the rent regulations set to expire on June 15, the New York State Assembly has set public hearings on May 2 and 9 to discuss a package of proposals aimed at strengthening the current laws.

Among the legislation includes a bill that would end major capital improvement (MCI) rent increases and also require the state housing agency to create a program ensuring property owners maintain a certain level of repair. MCIs are charges tacked on to a tenant’s rent to pay for improvements to the property.

“The major capital improvement rent increase program is a flawed system which has been overly complex for property owners to navigate,” said the bill’s sponsor, Assembly Member Brian Barnwell, “and has been a great disservice in our efforts to preserve the affordable housing stock.”

Another bill would end individual apartment improvements (IAI). Under the current law, landlords are allowed to raise rent after making IAIs, which can range from cosmetic repairs to redoing various rooms.

Continue reading

Rent Guidelines Board vote and rent regulation debate are both on the horizon

Mike McKee of TenantsPAC (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Spring has sprung and every four years in New York means one thing: that government decisions made at the city and state levels will be directly impacting the affordability of over a million stabilized apartments.

The city’s Rent Guidelines Board is beginning the process of debating what this year’s increase will be for renters with its first meeting of the year set for this Thursday. The final vote will be made in late June.

The rent regulations that affect the city, made in the state’s capital, are also set to expire on June 15. Though they’re expected to be renewed, lobbying from both the real estate industry and tenants has already begun to hammer out the details.

Both parties will of course have their hands full in terms of advocacy. What this means for tenants, who don’t necessarily have the time to be in two places at once, is that they should prioritize Albany. So states Michael McKee, treasurer and spokesperson of Tenants Political Action Committee (PAC).

Continue reading

March for Mueller report

 

By Sidney Goldberg

On Thursday evening, a protest was held to demand the full release of the Mueller report that began in Times Square and ended in Flatiron outside Madison Square Park.

The protest was organized by MoveOn.org together with the Nobody is Above the Law Coalition and was said to be one of almost 300 similar protests around the country yesterday.

There were protest songs led by the group Sing Out, Louise! and a few speakers, including the NYC public advocate, from a stage that was set up on Broadway.

Despite the large turnout of at least hundreds, the event was hampered by a delay in marching, with the crowd being held at Times Square and a half. This caused some grumbling among the participants about the need for all the stage time commanded by the speakers.

Small biz bills called helpful, but not enough

By Sabina Mollot

Last month, members of the City Council introduced a package of bills aimed at helping small businesses. They ranged from creating a registry of vacant retail spaces to having landlords sign a “certificate of no harassment” before getting construction permits to providing training to help small business owners digitally market themselves.

Since then, Town & Village reached out to operators of three local storefront businesses to ask if they thought the bills would help them — and if not, what would.

In response, Carole Husiak, who owns the Ibiza Kidz clothing shop in Stuyvesant Town, said she liked all the bills.

That said, Husiak doesn’t feel the bills address what she considers to have been her biggest problem as a business owner for the past 30 years — real estate taxes.

Continue reading

Pied-à-Terre Tax killed in final budget

State Senator Brad Hoylman (center) discusses the Pied-a-Terre Tax at a February press conference. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

A real estate tax bill sponsored by State Senator Brad Hoylman that had recently gotten its second wind after languishing in the capital for years has just been killed in the finalized state budget. After being fought tooth and nail by the real estate industry, what had been dubbed the Pied-à-Terre Tax was instead substituted with other tax increases.

The Pied-à-Terre tax, which would have been charged to owners of properties worth over $5 million that are not the owner’s primary residence, was besieged by accusations that it would gut the luxury market and even significantly reduce the value of impacted units.

Prior to its demise, Hoylman acknowledged all the controversy and various headlines surrounding it.

“We’re calling it the Pied-à-Scare Tactic,” he told T&V. “They’re trying every argument against it.”

Continue reading