Our choices: Lhota for mayor, Lappin for boro prez, Mendez for Council

With the primary just days away, the residents of Peter Cooper Village (always a strong voter base) have remained unsure about who it is they want to make their next mayor. And based on the very cluttered ballot, we can’t say we blame them.

Republican candidate Joe Lhota

Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota

In the last issue of Town & Village, we made an endorsement for the candidate on the Democrat side, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, because we believe he is genuinely interested in fighting for the preservation of the middle class and the rights of renters in this city. However, finding a Republican candidate with similar interests has proven to be a wee bit tougher. Last week, Town & Village reached out to the three Republican mayoral hopefuls to ask for their thoughts on how they would help middle class New Yorkers, including tenants, which we hoped to share with readers here. But unfortunately, none of the candidates responded to the question. Not one.

So what we did here was pick a candidate that we believe wouldn’t have a hands-off approach to matters like tenant rights and housing costs. It is after all that way of thinking that allowed a culture of predatory equity to go unchecked and result in real estate disasters like the Stuy Town sale to Tishman Speyer and the frivolous primary residence challenges of tenants and eventually, the default that followed.

Of the three Republican candidates, we think former MTA head Joe Lhota has the most potential to tackle the housing crisis New Yorkers now face. Though he isn’t committed to building or preserving a particular number of units of affordable housing as a few of the Democratic candidates are, he has acknowledged the need for more housing and for the government to step in to make it a reality.
In June, at a candidate forum held by CUNY covered by Town & Village, Lhota said,  “The city government should give tax incentives for housing. We have a million more people; where are we going to house them? Where is the property? We need to renovate existing housing and bring more onto the system. We need to evaluate property that’s not being used. Post offices aren’t as needed as they used to be. The government should grab them and use them through a building incentive program.”

Lhota is also an old hand at the workings of city government, having been the city’s budget director in Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s first term and deputy mayor for operations during the second term. Education is another important issue to him; he’s said he’s not in favor of a system that punishes teachers (as educators believe Bloomberg does in failing schools) and he has promised not to be “anti-teacher.”

Though we were somewhat tempted to go with Lhota’s Republican rival George McDonald, here’s why we didn’t. McDonald, founder of the Doe Fund, believes that everyone who “wants a job should have one.” This sounds great, but in order to make this a real positive for New York, there needs to be a clear plan that provides for the creation of jobs at all income levels, not just low income jobs that would be an improvement for the people the Doe Fund helps, who were at one point homeless or incarcerated. The idea is for those who work in the city to be able to pay rent or a mortgage there, too. To be fair, no one else has come up with a way to create jobs at all levels, but… we’re still not even sure what else McDonald’s campaign is about. Billionaire Gristedes chain owner John Catsimatidis has also not shown his platform to be a unique one, beyond an admittedly worthy goal of trying to reduce fines and other nuisances for small business owners.

So, though we disagree strongly with his position on kittens, for the Republican side, we endorse Joe Lhota.

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CW to tenants: Pay up

Council Member Dan Garodnick (at podium) blasts the latest round of rent hikes. Pictured with him are: Steven Newmark, Tenants Association board member; Kevin Burke, an impacted resident; Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh; State Senator Brad Hoylman (behind Garodnick); Tenants Association President John Marsh and Council Member Jessica Lappin Photo by Sabina Mollot

Council Member Dan Garodnick (at podium) blasts the latest round of rent hikes. Pictured with him are: Steven Newmark, Tenants Association board member; Kevin Burke, an impacted resident; Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh; State Senator Brad Hoylman (behind Garodnick); Tenants Association President John Marsh and Council Member Jessica Lappin
Photo by Sabina Mollot

By Sabina Mollot

On Tuesday night, well over a thousand residents of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village were shocked to see notices slipped under their doors alerting them to the fact that their rents would be raised mid-lease. Additionally, in most cases the hikes were for hundreds of dollars and in at least one known case, went as high as over two thousand. Residents were also told that they’d have 60 days to figure out whether they’d be staying (paying the higher rent in two weeks time) or going.

The notices were immediately blasted by local elected officials and the Tenants Association, who at an impromptu rally the next morning, called CWCapital’s actions “crass” and “destructive.”

“A mid-lease rent increase of $900 is nothing less than an eviction notice,” said a livid Council Member Dan Garodnick, who lives in Peter Cooper Village. “Have you ever heard of such a thing from any decent landlord? Or any landlord?”

Garodnick also noted that he believes there have been deceptive business practices on the part of CWCapital’s leasing agents who’ve given tenants the impression that their rents wouldn’t be increased mid-lease. He added that he’s bringing the matter to the attention of the attorney general. “Leasing agents were telling people not to worry,” he said.

Other elected officials at the event, saying they were supporting tenants, were State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Council Member Jessica Lappin, who’s running for borough president.

John Marsh, president of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, said he was concerned the hikes would make living in the complex unaffordable to anyone except “groups of transients” packing into apartments with pressurized walls. “Who will replace these families? The woo-hoo generation,” he said.

He added that if this is being done so CWCapital can sell soon, the TA has approached the special servicer more than once with an offer to buy. “We’re ready to make their bondholders whole, yet they ignore us.”

TA Chair Susan Steinberg added that she thought “This is the most ruthless action in the history of ruthless landlords. They want to eject as many tenants as they can.”

The increases came on the heels of the final approval of the “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” settlement, in which it was mentioned that CWCapital did have the right to issue the increases, even mid-lease. The TA and Garodnick, who’ve cheered “Roberts” as a historic win for tenants, have also refrained from fully endorsing the settlement due to concerns of possible rent hikes.

In response to the concerns, CWCapital issued the following statement:

“CW Capital took over Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town in October 2010, nearly four years after the class action suit was originally filed.  Almost immediately we began to work with the plaintiffs to reach a settlement.  Last fall, we agreed to a historic settlement with the impacted residents.
“Those tenants who are affected by these increases participated in a $173 million settlement agreement that was approved by the court and every one of these residents received notice several months ago with respect to the terms of the settlement, including the ability of the landlord to increase the rent mid-lease term.
“They were represented by counsel in that process and their counsel was directed by a group of nine tenant representatives.  The attorneys and tenant representatives were fully aware of these terms and concluded that they preferred this outcome to others that were available to them during the negotiations.  These terms were widely publicized and the tenant attorneys specifically addressed the issue of midterm rent increases during their information sessions in January.  Nonetheless, there were no objections made to the court with respect to these terms.
“Despite these facts, we recognize that the timing of these increases may pose logistical challenges for some residents. In recognition of this, we are extending the date on which increases will go into effect by 30 days.  Rent increases will now go into effect on July 1st and not June 1st as allowed for in the Settlement.  Additionally, the Settlement give residents receiving the mid-term adjustment the option to terminate their lease by providing notice to the landlord within 30 days. We are also extending this deadline. Anyone who gives notice of their intent to terminate their lease by July 1 will have until August 1 to vacate and will not receive an increase during that time. New notices will be distributed confirming these dates.”

Tenants’ “Roberts” attorney Alex Schmidt said that the rent hikes were not a result of the settlement, but language CWCapital had included into new leases after it took over operations of the property. Schmidt said because attorneys became aware of language that would allow the special servicer to raise rents mid-lease, they negotiated to include some protections for tenants should they end up getting the hikes. Had it not been for the settlement, said Schmidt, CW could even sue tenants if they choose to break the lease and leave. But because of the settlement, a tenant can break the lease, penalty-free. He also noted that while around 30 percent of the units in ST/PCV are being hit with rent hikes, “up to 10 percent are getting rent reductions.”

However, this didn’t come as much comfort to tenants who attended Wednesday’s event in front of the leasing office.

Carla Massey, a 28-year-resident and a psychologist, carried a homemade sign expressing her concern that she was going to become homeless as a result of the 21 percent rent increase she received.

She declined to share what she’s currently paying, but said, “I have no place to go.” She hasn’t yet told her two children that they’ll be moving. “I think it’s a little traumatizing,” she said.

Another resident, who’s currently paying $3,900 for a two-bedroom apartment in Peter Cooper, said his rent will be going up by $1,000.

“To add insult to injury, I live in one of the buildings affected by hurricane Sandy and my wife has to do laundry a quarter mile away. There’s no use of the basement.”

The resident, John Beasely, said he does plan to stick out another year in the apartment since he works for Con Ed, but after that, he’s gone. “I’m going back to Oregon. I’m done with New York and I’ve been here five years.”

Kevin Burke, another resident socked with a rent hike, said after he saw the notice under the door he went to the leasing office, demanding answers. But he didn’t get any. “They said, ‘We’re clueless.’ Damn right you’re clueless,” he said. Burke added that he and his wife had spent three months trying to figure out where to send their children to school and were now given “two weeks to figure out where we’re going to live. This is not something New Yorkers should tolerate.”

Arlynne Miller, who was at the rally, said she was there because, “My entire community is being destroyed. It’s like a never ending tsunami of destruction around here. They’re boosting rents and they don’t care if it’s unrealistic or unsustainable. They want to roll rents as high as they can so they can go to potential sellers and get what they can get.”

Mitchell Posilkin, general counsel for the Rent Stabilization Association, a group that represents apartment owners, said the rent move shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

“There were some tenants in Stuy Town and Peter Cooper Village who were paying less as free market tenants than they would have been paying as stabilized tenants,” said Posilkin. “These notices are intended to increase their rents pursuant to the formulas that were agreed under the terms of the settlement.”

The landlord lawyer, who was not involved in the settlement discussions, added, “The settlement was agreed to between the tenants and their attorneys, the owners and their attorneys and, ultimately was reviewed and approved by the court, so it was no secret that there was a potential for rents to go up.”