Tenants Association files lawsuit against Blackstone

Tenants Association President Susan Steinberg with local elected officials last Thursday (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association filed a lawsuit against property owner Blackstone last week in response to an attempt to deregulate more than 6,000 apartments.

Blackstone is attempting to deregulate units that are currently under the J-51 tax exemption, which expires at the end of June, and increase rents on those apartments for leases renewed or starting in July or later. The private equity firm is arguing that the regulatory agreement Blackstone signed with the city in 2015 supersedes the rent laws the state legislature passed last June, but tenant advocates and local elected officials argued at a press conference in Stuy Town last Thursday that the rent laws abolished deregulation all apartments, regardless of previous agreements.

“The new law is clear and unambiguous,” Tenants Association President Susan Steinberg said. “Blackstone Group is of the opinion that these pro-tenant reforms do not apply to them. We disagree. They cannot disregard state rent law and raise rents and deregulate units as if the law had never been changed.”

State elected officials at the press conference said that they were very specific when writing the rent laws that passed and that Blackstone was not interpreting the law as it was intended.

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Tenants rally for rent rollback at Gracie Mansion

Members of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association joined other residents and tenant organizations to call for a rent rollback outside Gracie Mansion on the Upper East Side last Wednesday night. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Met Council on Housing and other tenant advocacy groups rallied for a rent rollback outside Gracie Mansion on the Upper East Side last Wednesday evening. Members of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association marched with residents from the 86th Street/Second Avenue Q station and joined the protest in front of the mayor’s residence, with tenant organizers leading chants while Mayor Bill de Blasio was reportedly enjoying a showing of “To Kill a Mockingbird” on Broadway that evening.

Some protesters at the rally performed educational skits outlining the importance of attending the hearings for the Rent Guidelines Board where increases for rent-stabilized apartments are voted on and encouraged tenants to push for a rent rollback this year. Since de Blasio was elected in 2013, the RGB has approved a rent freeze on one-year leases for rent-stabilized tenants but last year approved increases of 1.5% for one-year leases and 2.5% for two-year leases. The last time that a rent freeze was approved in 2016.

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Councilmembers propose expansion of Right to Counsel

Councilmember Carlina Rivera spoke in support of bills that will expand Right to Counsel at a rally outside City Hall on Monday. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Councilmembers Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson lead a rally on Monday to support their new legislation that would strengthen and expand the Right to Counsel law that passed in 2017.

The Committee on the Justice System and the Committee on Housing and Buildings held a joint hearing on the two new bills following the rally outside City Hall.

New York was the first jurisdiction in the country to guarantee legal representation to low-income tenants facing eviction when the current law passed in 2017. The law mandated the Office of Civil Justice to provide tenants with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty line, or $50,200 annually for a family of four, with free legal representation when facing eviction. A report from the Community Service Society of New York releases this week found that the law helped reduce evictions but showed that there were still gaps.

Councilmember Carlina Rivera, a co-sponsor of both pieces of legislation, said that the current Right to Counsel law has already helped her district.

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Tenants rally to save Fifth Avenue building

Although the building is not in his district, Assemblymember Harvey Epstein spoke at the rally against the demolition of the Fifth Avenue building and the proposed development at the site. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Tenants, local elected officials and housing advocates last Friday rallied against a plan from Madison Realty Capital that would demolish a five-story, 20-unit apartment building on Fifth Avenue in a historic district and replace it with a building almost four times as tall as the existing structure but with fewer apartments.

The plan from the developer would replace the building at 14-16 Fifth Avenue, which was constructed in 1848, with a 244-foot, 21-story tower with 18 units of luxury housing.

Advocates at the rally last week condemned the project, arguing that the proposed building was an inappropriate size compared to other buildings in the neighborhood. The demolition of the building would also include the loss of at least 10 rent-stabilized units, which would then be replaced by fewer units, all of which would be unaffordable.

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Tenants Association hosts housing forum

Tim Collins, an attorney for the Tenants Association, at the housing forum last month (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association held a forum on Saturday, October 19 for residents to have their specific housing-related questions addressed by experts, local elected officials and representatives from the Division of Housing and Community Renewal.

Attorney Tim Collins, who represents the ST-PCV Tenants Association, said that tenants should be moderately concerned about the lawsuit landlords have filed to challenge the rent laws that passed over the summer.

As the New York Times reported in July, the lawsuit filed by landlords intended to completely dismantle the rent regulation system, claiming that the new laws would cripple the industry and that they violate the 14th Amendment’s due process clause, as well as the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment, which says that private property can’t be taken for public use without proper compensation.

“I am actually less concerned about the legal challenge than I am about the public relations challenge,” Collins said of the lawsuit. “I want you to understand the stakes are a very high and go way to the top, not only for New York City or the State of New York but potentially to the US Supreme Court. The real estate industry’s lawsuit says, [State Senator] Brad [Hoylman], [Councilmember] Keith [Powers], [Assemblymember] Harvey [Epstein]: You don’t matter. You don’t matter because baked within the Constitution is a trump card, which is actually two words: due process.”

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Housing, transit major issues at District 4 town hall

Councilmember Keith Powers and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson at the town hall on Tuesday. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Top priority for residents at a City Council District 4 town hall this week was affordable housing and transportation issues, in addition to addressing homelessness.

The town hall, hosted by Councilmember Keith Powers and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson this Tuesday, was held at CUNY’s Graduate Center and was attended by more than 300 residents.

Susan Steinberg, president of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, brought up the issue of affordable housing and the new rent laws for the first question of the night.

“Right away landlords went into a tailspin,” she said of the strengthened rent laws. “Blackstone who are the owners of Stuyvesant Town, have decided that they had to regroup and re-strategize because their business model no longer worked. And the way they did this was to hit the pause button on renovating vacant apartments and making them unavailable, so it’s tantamount to warehousing. And we were very concerned about that.”

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Owners sue over new rent regulations

This story originally appeared in Real Estate Weekly.

By Sabina Mollot

Seven New York landlords have joined the Rent Stabilization Association (RSA) and Community Home Improvement Program (CHIP) to sue over new rent regulations they claim are ‟unconstitutional.”

The 125-page complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, names the city, the Rent Guidelines Board along with each of its members, and the state Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas as defendants.

“The main complaint is that, after 50 years of rent stabilization, it is clear that the system doesn’t work,” said the RSA’s general counsel, Mitch Posilkin.

“If the supposed housing emergency continues to exist, maybe there’s something wrong with the system, and we believe the system violates the United States Constitution.”

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Anti-vaxxers protest local politicians at forum

Anti-vax protesters attended the housing forum to voice their concerns to state legislators, primarily State Senators Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger, as well as Assemblymember Deborah Glick, about a law that eliminated religious exemptions for vaccines. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Anti-vax protesters disrupted a housing forum held at the NYU Dental School last Thursday, frustrating tenants who wanted to learn details about the new rent laws.

State Senators Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger were two of the elected officials at the event and the two that received the most ire from the protesters, primarily because they were both sponsors legislation in the State Senate repealing religious exemptions for vaccinations.

The law requires that all students in public and private schools be vaccinated to attend, with no exceptions made for those with religious objections to vaccines, and many of the protesters at the event had signs arguing that thousands of children, including those with special needs, were being kicked out of their schools because of their parents’ religious beliefs.

The protest surprised elected officials attending, in part because local politicians who appear at community events in the neighborhood rarely have such vehement opposition to their policies, especially where the topic at hand is entirely unrelated to the subject being protested, but also because the legislation passed more than a month ago in mid-June.

Even as he was arriving at the event, Hoylman was challenged in the elevator by a man who argued that politicians shouldn’t be dictating how parents provide healthcare to their children, while Hoylman shot back, “You’re right, doctors should, and they have.”

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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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Powers, Rivera trying to reduce renters’ fees

Councilmember Keith Powers at a rally last year (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Sabina Mollot

After hearing from tenants who’ve paid up to six months worth of rent in various fees just to get a lease, Council Members Keith Powers and Carlina Rivera have introduced a package of five bills aimed at giving renters a break.

So far, Powers said 26 members of the Council out of 51 have signed on as co-sponsors.

One bill, sponsored by Powers, would limit broker fees to one month’s rent, which seems to be the typical amount charged. However, in some cases renters are charged up to 15 percent of the annual rent. This bill has already seen some pushback by the Real Estate Board of New York.

REBNY has argued that limiting the amount that can be charged isn’t fair to brokers, because they work solely on commission. In response, Powers said that he intends to listen to any concerns, and isn’t completely opposed to the idea of there being some negotiation between broker and renter, but also says the current business model isn’t fair to renters.

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Residents of Kips Bay NYCHA building worried about privatization

Tenants at 344 East 28th Street say there’s been no communication from NYCHA about the agency’s plans. (Photo via Google Maps)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Residents of the New York City Housing Authority development at 344 East 28th Street are demanding transparency after the city agency announced that a new program would be implemented for tenants in the building to privatize ownership.

NYCHA hosted a meeting at Bellevue Hospital last week to give tenants information about the Permanent Affordability Commitment Together (PACT) Unfunded Units program but tenants said prior to the meeting that they weren’t given any information about the program previously or been allowed to give any input about whether or not they want to join.

The program is part of a push by NYCHA to increase revenue for repairs in developments throughout the city that have long been neglected. The plan involves shifting management of NYCHA complexes to private developers through PACT as well as the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD).

A flyer distributed to residents claims that the program will provide funding for necessary repairs, upgrades and renovations, ensure affordability and protect tenant rights.

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Letters to the editor, Feb. 14

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

The time-honored tradition of greed

The average rent in Stuy Town/Peter Cooper Village is now higher than the average rent in the rest of Manhattan. This is pretty worrisome trend. Far from being a middle-class bastion, it is now a high-rent complex.

Greedy landlords contributed. Metropolitan Life had enormous help from city to clear 80 acres in the Gas House District and evict over 13,000 working class people and their families from their homes. They said it was a slum clearance project — but there were three churches, three schools and countless mom and pop stores all there. The landlord was given enormous tax breaks.

When Mike Bloomberg was asked to intervene when Met Life said they wanted to cash in their chips in a $5.4 billion payday, Bloomberg adapted a laissez-faire attitude and said it was a “private transaction.” He deliberately turned a blind eye.

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Council approves Waterside affordability deal

jan31watersidefromstuyvesantcove

Waterside Plaza as seen from Stuyvesant Cove Park (Pictured last August) Photos by Sabina Mollot

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The City Council voted last Thursday to approve an agreement that will protect longtime Waterside Plaza tenants against substantial rent increases as part of a lease extension between the property and Housing Preservation and Development.

The agreement will allow tenants who have been living at the property since before Waterside left the Mitchell-Lama program and will be retiring soon to receive rent protections. City Council Member Keith Powers, who has been working with Assembly Member Harvey Epstein and the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development on negotiations for the deal for over a year, was able to negotiate an additional year with HPD so that tenants have until 2020 to retire and qualify for the rent protections, compared to 2019 when the plan was first announced.

“It’s not huge but it at least gives people who might be affected a better idea of how they should plan,” Powers said after the Council vote of the additional year.

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City Council bill blitz takes aim at lying landlords

Council Member Keith Powers and other members of the Council (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

The City Council has introduced a package of 18 bills that take aim at landlords who use shady tactics to empty their buildings on lower-rent paying tenants.

To crack down on the practices, which include lying on permits and denying access to building inspectors, the legislation’s sponsors are hoping to hit back with denials of permits and doubling of fines for violating existing laws.

Keith Powers was one of the 12 council members who introduced a bill. His legislation would deny building permits to property owners for one year if they are caught lying about the number of occupied units in their buildings.

Powers told Town & Village the bills are intended to crack down on bad actors and improve coordination between oversight agencies. They were, in part, inspired by the revelation that the Kushner Companies failed to note the presence of rent-stabilized tenants in 17 buildings 42 times when filing applications with the Department of Buildings.

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Affordable housing and L train woes top concerns at East Side town hall

Mayor Bill de Blasio answers questions from audience members at a town hall co-hosted by Council Member Keith Powers at Hunter College. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The L train shutdown and the lack of local affordable housing were among the main concerns of East Side residents who packed a town hall hosted by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Councilmember Keith Powers last Wednesday evening. The mayor, along with numerous representatives from city agencies as well as Powers and other local elected officials, answered questions from more than 300 advocates and community residents during the event at Hunter College.

Stuyvesant Town resident and former ST/PCV Tenants Association president Al Doyle got in the first question of the night, asking the mayor if he would actively support a return to rent stabilization of all apartments that had been deregulated due to vacancy decontrol.

The mayor admitted that he couldn’t necessarily commit to that, at least at this point, despite wanting to.

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