Mendez hosting town hall with the mayor on October 12

Council Member Dan Garodnick with Mayor Bill de Blasio at a recent town hall (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

If you missed the recent town hall with Mayor Bill de Blasio hosted by Council Member Dan Garodnick, you can still share your thoughts with the mayor at another town hall on October 12 at 7 p.m. to be hosted by Council Member Rosie Mendez.

The event is intended for residents of the Council District 2, encompassing the neighborhoods of East Village, Gramercy Park, Kips Bay, Lower East Side, Murray Hill and Rose Hill. Along with Mendez, co-sponsors are Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, Community Boards 2, 3, 5 and 6, Grand Street Settlement, Henry Street Settlement and the Loisaida Center. Along with the mayor, commissioners and NYPD representatives will be present.

To attend, RSVP by October 10 at 5 p.m. via email at manhattantownhall@cityhall.nyc.gov or by calling (212) 788-2781. Space is limited. Doors open at 6 p.m. and close at 7:30 p.m. at P.S. 188 The Island School, 442 East Houston Street. (Enter on corner of East Houston Street and Baruch Drive.)

Mendez, in an email to constituents, has also mentioned the following rules: Each constituent who is called on to ask a question will be able to ask one question. No signs will be permitted into the event. Chanting is not allowed.

 

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Pols pushing mayor to sign Commercial Rent Tax reform bill

Council Member Dan Garodnick, standing next to the bill’s co-sponsor Council Member Helen Rosenthal (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Monday, Manhattan politicians and small business advocates gathered on the steps of City Hall to push the Commercial Rent Tax reform bill sponsored by Council Members Dan Garodnick and Helen Rosenthal.

This was the third public announcement in recent months about the bill, which so far the mayor hasn’t committed to supporting.

Garodnick said at this point, the Council has had a hearing on the CRT bill and although there’s been no vote yet, 38 of his colleagues have signed on as co-sponsors. Asked why there hasn’t been a vote, Garodnick said Council members usually first want to know if the mayor “will support it rather than veto it.”

Rosenthal later said, “We are optimistic that he will embrace it.”

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Help for mom and pop lies in pending legislation

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Council Member Robert Cornegy, pictured last year while introducing a bill that a rep for Cornegy recently insisted isn’t dead (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Council Member Robert Cornegy, pictured last year while introducing a bill that a rep for Cornegy recently insisted isn’t dead (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Recently, a couple of City Council members proposed ideas on ways to combat “high rent blight” and promote retail diversity, or at least, keep the city from completely getting overtaken by chains.

This was at a hearing where the council members’ ideas, such as putting legislative restrictions on chain stores and imposing penalties on landlords who warehouse storefronts, were shot down by city planners.

According to the planners, as Town & Village previously reported, many stores that appear to be chains are actually individually owned franchises and as for lengthy retail vacancies, sometimes, the planners argued, they are not necessarily intentional on the part of property owners.

Meanwhile, a few legislators, including Council Member Robert Cornegy, the small business committee chair who’d chaired the aforementioned hearing on September 30, have come up with some legislative ideas to deal with the problem already.

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Woman who called in Chelsea bomb honored with proclamation at event

NYPD Deputy Inspector Brendan Timoney of the 13th Precinct, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Public Advocate Letitia James, honoree Jane Schreibman,  Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, Daniel Campanelli , aide to Comptroller Scott Stringer, and Dr. Joyce Brown, president of FIT, at an event on Friday (Photo by Michelle Deal Winfield)

NYPD Deputy Inspector Brendan Timoney of the 13th Precinct, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Public Advocate Letitia James, honoree Jane Schreibman, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, Daniel Campanelli , aide to Comptroller Scott Stringer, and Dr. Joyce Brown, president of FIT, at an event on Friday (Photo by Michelle Deal Winfield)

By Michelle Deal Winfield

On Friday, September 30, a celebration was held to honor Jane Schreibman, a professional photographer, who reported finding a bombing device on September 17 in Chelsea. The event was held at the Fashion Institute of Technology and coordinated by Manhattan Borough President Gail Brewer.

At the event, Brewer presented a Proclamation from the City of New York naming Friday, September 30th “Jane Schreibman Appreciation Day” in the borough of Manhattan. Jane had found a pressure cooker with a cell phone attached in a plastic bag, a secondary bombing device, on 27th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. The proclamation was unusual because it contained multiple gold seals and multiple signatures of elected officials. Brewer read from the Proclamation, the “rigged device was ready to explode.” And called Schreibman her “Shero.”

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Tenants and owners blast Airbnb at RGB hearing

Joanne Joemelti

An East Village resident, Joanne Joemelti, argues that tenants shouldn’t be punished because of the ones that use Airbnb. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

With just a week to go before the mayor’s Rent Guidelines Board votes on the year’s increases for roughly one million people, the city’s stabilized renters, both tenants and landlords went before the board to argue why they needed a break — in rent rollbacks or rent increases high enough to cover operating costs, respectively. The usual reasons for both were mentioned: desperate tenants citing stagnant wages while rent increases have steadily been granted until last year’s historic freeze, and owners blaming soaring real estate taxes and other factors like water/sewer fees and building maintenance.

But one thing both sides had in common was a mutual loathing for the increasingly common practice of short-term rentals.

Tenants brought up owners who flout the law to rent vacant units to tourists since it’s more lucrative than monthly rent and doubles as a form of harassment to longtime renters who’ve lost a sense of safety and community. Meanwhile, equally frustrated owners lamented how tenants live elsewhere, while paying under market rent and earning a windfall through Airbnb.

The arguments were made at the auditorium of the Cooper Union building on Monday afternoon. Tenants and landlords lined up to speak along with several elected officials at an RGB hearing.

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No help in sight for mom and pop

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer introduces her bill at a press conference in March.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer introduces her bill at a press conference last March. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

We have written before about the plight of small businesses and the fact that their owners have virtually no power when attempting to negotiate renewals of their leases. Like many we believe this phenomenon has been largely to blame for the disappearance of neighborhoods’ unique identities as banks and chain stores take over. Specifically we’ve focused on legislative efforts to help fix the problem such as the Small Business Jobs and Survival Act as well as a so-far unnamed bill by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer with partner Council Member Robert Cornegy of Brooklyn.

The latter bill would force a property owner to enter into good faith negotiations with a storefront tenant and if need be mediation, albeit nonbinding. If no agreement can be reached after that the tenant would get to stay on an extra year with a 15 percent rent increase. The bill was first introduced last March, presented by Brewer as a lifeline to mom-and-pops disappearing at the whims of speculative landlords. Since then the borough president has insisted progress has been made on getting the bill drafted but as of this week, no one from Brewer’s office could say when this would be. Cornegy’s office didn’t return our call. A spokesperson for Council Member Annabel Palma, the prime sponsor of The SBJSA, didn’t get back to us either.

The SBJSA, which has been controversial to say the least, has been languishing in the Council for 30 years though its supporters say it was closest to getting passed in 2009 when then Speaker Christine Quinn quashed it before it could come up for a vote. Its opponents in the real estate industry have called it unconstitutional as it’s aimed at giving any commercial tenant, who wants to the opportunity, to renew with a 10-year lease.

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CB6 gets new chair

New Community Board 6 Chair Rick Eggers (Photo courtesy of CB6)

New Community Board 6 Chair Rick Eggers (Photo courtesy of CB6)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Community Board 6 has a new chair in Murray Hill resident Rick Eggers, who was elected this past October. Eggers’s election brings an end to Stuyvesant Town’s reign over the board, as community residents Mark Thompson and Sandro Sherrod, respectively, have headed the body for the previous two three-year terms.

Eggers, who has lived in the district for 33 years and formally started as the board’s chair in November, was appointed to the board in 2008. He was a member of the Budget and Governmental Affairs Committee for eight years and served as chair on that committee for five years. He was also Vice Chair of the Board for the last three years before being elected Board Chair.

When the bylaws were revised in 2014, Eggers was chair of the Special Committee on Bylaws and was also a member of the Health and Education Committee for almost eight years. He represented the community board on the Bellevue Community Advisory Board and the Mount Sinai Beth Israel Community Advisory Council for about five years.

Eggers is currently retired but was previously a tax law specialist with the IRS and also previously did product research and product management for TIAA-CREF. He is currently a member of the New York County Democratic Committee and a member and officer of the Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club.

Eggers’s predecessor received a proclamation from Borough President Gale Brewer for his service that declared November 18, 2015 “Sandro Sherrod Appreciation Day” in Manhattan. State Senator Brad Hoylman also honored Sherrod with a proclamation, declaring December 16, 2015 as “Sandro Sherrod Appreciation Day” in the 27th Senate District.

In other CB6 news, District Manager Dan Miner parted ways with the board. Eggers said in a notice to board members in December that Miner was resigning to take a job involving community education on resilience, sustainability and energy efficiency. The position has yet to be filled.

Editorial: SBJSA could be the only hope for saving mom-and-pop shops

Council Member Annabel Palma, prime sponsor of the SBJSA City Council photo)

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.

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Garodnick, Brewer say keep the plazas

By Sabina Mollot

In response to the countless news stories about topless women in body paint shilling for tips from tourists in Times Square, one response that’s been panned by pols is the idea to scrap pedestrian plazas. This was first brought up by Police Commissioner Bratton, since the Times Square plaza is where most of the complaints about professional photo bombers — both the painted women and costumed Elmos and Olafs — have been stemming from.

But while the city plans its task force to study the legality of the business being done by both groups — specifically whether these “performers’” First Amendment rights trump the rights of tourists and locals who don’t want to be accosted by them —pols have come out in defense of the plazas.

Council Member Dan Garodnick, whose district recently shifted to include the eastern half of Times Square, is one of them.

Garodnick does want the panhandling pandemonium to be addressed, though. He told Town & Village that while he’s looking at both issues, he feels it’s mostly the costumed characters rather than the painted ladies who are the bigger problem.

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Construction begins on VA flood wall

Barriers section off part of Asser Levy Park. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Barriers section off part of Asser Levy Park. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Last Monday, the VA Medical Center began its long-planned work on its flood wall at Asser Levy Park.  Mark Thompson, Community Board 6’s chair of Parks, Landmarks and Cultural Affairs, noted that the project has taken over a portion of the park about seven to eight feet wide, intruding upon the fitness equipment area and the track. However, Thompson said, the turf field should remain open for the duration of this project, except for a few days if the hospital needs to make a new water connection.

When asked about the project, and how long it would take, a spokesperson for the VA said it’s expected to be completed by March 10, 2016.

The rep, Claudie Benjamin, also sent T&V a letter that had been sent to Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer in advance of the project getting underway, which stated the plan of the hospital’s floodwall contractor, J. Civetta and Sons.

The letter, by Mike Bozeman, director of major projects at the VA’s Manhattan campus, stated that the project began with putting up a barrier along with length of the park, and by doing so, closing the western run of the track oval and decommissioning benches, ping pong tables and exercise equipment.

“J. Civetta and Sons recognizes that this encroachment into a public space presents a nuisance and therefore has affirmed that they are committed to complete all the necessary contractual work and to restore the park in a timely manner; not later than six months from the start – by March 10, 2016,” Bozeman said.

Hundreds head out for tenant rally

Tenants carry signs at a rally for stronger rent laws. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Tenants carry signs at a rally for stronger rent laws. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Thursday night, hundreds of tenants and housing activists and numerous politicians gathered to rally for stronger rent laws, with the laws expected to be renewed in Albany on June 15.

The rally took place downtown in Foley Square, followed by a march over the Brooklyn Bridge.

During the rally, politicians spoke on the theme of needing to end vacancy decontrol and end 20 percent vacancy bonuses and to reform MCI (major capital improvement) rent increases to make them temporary as well as reforming IAI (individual apartment improvement) increases.

City Council Housing Chair Jumaane Williams was one of the speakers, eliciting cheers when he told the crowd if the rent laws weren’t strengthened it would be the fault of one person — “Governor Andrew Cuomo.” He then led a chant of “We will remember!” that reverberated through the street.

Other speakers at the event included Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer and Assembly Housing Chair Keith Wright. Local attendees included State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Council Member Dan Garodnick.

The real stars of the event, however, were the many creative signs brandished by tenants, including a bunch that depicted building windows with spaces for their holders’ faces to show through with the slogan “Not moving.” Some tenants carried signs or wore boxes designed to look like buildings. Even more signs included, “Blood sucking landlords call for stronger rent laws” with a graphic of a giant bedbug, a banner with landlords depicted as dragons shootings flames onto a building, and the ST-PCV Tenants Association’s graphic of a vulture overlooking Stuyvesant Town.

One of the Stuy Town residents marching, Nancy Arons, commented on statements recently made by Cuomo about how the rent laws could just be extended as they are or tweaked slightly. The reason for this, the governor had explained, was all the turmoil in Albany.

“Well,” commented Arons in response. “That’s not our fault, is it? He wants to run for president, but if you don’t support the people who vote for you, I’m not going to vote for you for president. He thinks he’s his dad, I guess.”

Another marcher was Kavanagh, who, while heading across the bridge, discussed the fact that the “LLC loophole” has been getting some attention in Albany. The loophole has allowed developers to funnel enormous amounts of campaign cash to elected officials through numerous limited liability companies.

Legislation authored by Kavanagh would cap contributions from corporations to a total of $5,000 per calendar year to candidates and/or committees. The legislation passed the Assembly on Tuesday. “Now it’s up to the Senate,” said Kavanagh, although he added that new Senate leader John Flanagan has been dragging his feet on bringing it up.

As for whether or not the legislation will be voted on in the Senate before session ends in five weeks Kavanagh said he doesn’t know. But, he added, “I want to say this is about doing the right thing because people are watching and people are realizing the corruption both in legal and illegal forms.”

One of the rally’s organizers was the healthcare workers’ union, with an 1199SEIU speaker explaining that 70,000 healthcare worker members live in rent regulated housing.

Pols tell tenants their stories are needed in rent law fight

 

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)

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)

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.”

Brewer throws lifeline to mom-and-pop shops

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer discusses her legislation at the Upper West Side location of Halal Guys. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer discusses her legislation at the Upper West Side location of Halal Guys. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Legislation would make it mandatory for landlords to negotiate with retail tenants

By Sabina Mollot

New legislation could curb a trend of mom-and-pop businesses being replaced by banks and chain stores.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said she’s drafting legislation that would make it mandatory for a building’s owner to at least allow a retail tenant a chance to negotiate to keep his or her space.

“The future of street level retail stores and restaurants — I call them storefronters — has begun to look murky,” Brewer said on Monday. “Every day, the press has another story about a kids’ clothing store or a shoe repair shop closing to make room for a chain or a bank.”

The bill, which is being sponsored by the City Council’s Small Business Committee Chair Robert Cornegy at Brewer’s request, along with giving tenants a chance to negotiate, would also give the tenant the option of a one-year lease extension with a maximum rent increase of 15 percent. Additionally, a building owner, if planning on evicting the tenant, would have to give the tenant notice of that intention 180 days before the end of a lease. “So businesses will have enough time to find new space and make a transition, hopefully in the same neighborhood,” said Brewer.

Brewer also said she wanted to help business owners threatened by rent increases the option of purchasing the storefront through “condo-ization.”

“Many of the long-standing small businesses that are here today are only here because they had an opportunity to buy the building,” she said. “There was a time where you could buy a building, but that opportunity today is dim.”

While this is technically already possible under current law, Brewer said there are ways the city could be helping the process along. It may be possible, she added, to create a condo if the business portion of the building is split from the residential portion. Additionally, if 51 percent of the property or more is occupied by the business, it could qualify for a federal Small Business Association loan of up to $5 million.

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Ribbon cut at newly expanded Asser Levy Playground

Feb5 Asser Levy Garodnick equipment

Council Member Dan Garodnick tries out the adult fitness equipment. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Last Friday morning, in near-freezing weather following the second snowfall in a week, local community leaders and politicians cut the ribbon on the newly expanded Asser Levy Playground.

Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver joked that “It’s a pleasure to cut a ribbon on this warm and sunny day,” as the politicians on either side of him sat bundled up for the cold. He then went on to say the project had been successful in terms of being both “on time and on budget and that gets a double round of applause.”

New features along the two-block-long park that was formerly a street include a track, adult fitness equipment, a synthetic turf field, drinking fountains, lighting, trees, tables and benches.

The work was funded with allocations of $1,175,000 from Council Member Dan Garodnick, $500,000 from the UN Development Corporation, and $670,000 from the mayor.

While at the podium, Silver joked that Garodnick was so enamored with project, “he named his son Asher.”

In response Garodnick confided that he’d actually told his son that the playground had been named after him.

“There are no limits to my deception,” he quipped. “I told him it was a typo on the sign.” He added that since he also has another son, “We’ll have to see what we can do for Devin.”

While construction had been underway at the site, the Council member said he and both of his young sons would pop by each day from their apartment in Peter Cooper Village and ask the project supervisor for status updates. And, he added, the supervisor was very nice about it.

The playground work was tied to a land deal that would allow the United Nations to put a building on space occupied by Robert Moses Park.While naturally the plan to remove that park space has been met with some opposition from neighbors, Garodnick said Robert Moses Park is underutilized, as the space now occupied by Asser Levy Playground was when it was a street.

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Garodnick: Bondholders say they’re owed $4.7 B

Dec11 TA crowd

Tenants pack the auditorium of the Simon Baruch Middle School for the Tenants Association meeting on Saturday. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buchel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel
While the future of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village remains as uncertain as ever, at a meeting held on Saturday, tenants got walked through what some of the legalese concerning the foreclosure that had been planned for earlier this year and then canceled means for the community.

This was one of the topics covered at the meeting, which was held by the ST-PCV Tenants Association and attended by around 500 residents who packed the auditorium of the Simon Baruch Middle School.

Council Member Dan Garodnick discussed how when the foreclosure was canceled, the deed of property was transferred to the senior level of the trust. He said that this means the bondholders now own the property but CWCapital continues to represent their interests. He noted that the agreement put in place means that CWCapital could represent the bondholders for a term of three years, which is renewable for a second three-year term. He added that they originally acquired the property for $3 billion and are open to the possibility of conversion but only if they get back the $4.7 billion they are owed.

When a resident asked later in the meeting why the amount had increased so much, Garodnick noted that it was due to interest and fees.
“A whole list of junk,” he said. “‘Special servicing fees,’ that’s what they claim to be owed.”

Garodnick also addressed a question from a resident about CWCapital’s parent company, Fortress. While Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have pledged to not approve of any deal that reduced affordable housing, Garodnick noted that it was possible to cut Fannie and Freddie out of the process if CWCapital hands the property over to Fortress, although he noted that this scenario is unlikely.

State Senator Brad Hoylman speaks to the crowd, while Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Council Member Dan Garodnick listen. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

State Senator Brad Hoylman speaks to the crowd, while Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Council Member Dan Garodnick listen. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Along with Garodnick, other local elected officials were in attendance to address the TA’s conversion effort, the state of affordable housing and other topics.
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh were also at the meeting and were joined later in the afternoon by City Comptroller Scott Stringer, State Senator Brad Hoylman and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

Stringer assured the crowd his office is committed to preserving affordable housing, especially given the recent Democratic losses in Albany.

“Our office is ready to partner with whatever plan this Tenants Association puts forward,” he said. “Even the most important and ambitious housing plan can’t make up the loss if Stuyvesant Towns and Peter Cooper Villages of the world are lost.”
Stringer added that it was his son’s third birthday, eliciting cheers from the crowd. But when State Senator Brad Hoylman, who spoke next, made sure everyone was aware that it was also Governor Cuomo’s birthday, the room was silent.

“It’s just a fact. We’re gonna need him,” Hoylman said apologetically among laughs from the crowd after the negative reaction.

Holyman then discussed the Democrats’ current fate in Albany.
“Unfortunately it’s not very different from what you see out the window: cold, dreary and windy,” he remarked.

Hoylman blamed poor voter turnout in the recent midterm elections for Democratic losses in the state. With the rent laws up for renewal next year, he said that the Republicans’ new operational majority will make protecting tenants more difficult.

“Some Republicans live closer to Cleveland than to Manhattan,” he said. “But physically making yourself known makes a difference. We have numbers on our side and a lot of smart people on our side.”

He added that legislation protecting tenants did get passed in 2011 when Republicans also had a majority so he encouraged residents to remain optimistic.

TA attorney Tim Collins also spoke to address specific questions and concerns about rent and MCIs.

Collins discussed rent and MCI concerns at the beginning of the meeting. Residents of 431 East 20th Street in Peter Cooper Village said that they had received MCIs for façade work at the end of November and residents from 601 East 20th Street and 2 Peter Cooper Road also received docket letters from DHCR about MCIs for façade work.

“How is it restoration and improvement?” one tenant asked, prompting laughter from neighbors. Collins agreed with the assessment, noting, “It’s not an improvement, it’s a repair.”

A notice from the TA that was released on Monday said that more buildings will likely be hit with the MCI for façade work. The statement encouraged residents to keep the docket letters they receive about MCIs from DHCR and send copies to the TA so it can keep track of which buildings have received them and help tenants fight the rent increases.

Another issue discussed was apartment inspections with tenants skeptical that management only needs to give a day’s notice to come in for inspections. However, Collins confirmed that this is correct. If management needs to get into an apartment to do any work or make repairs, the tenants need to be informed a week in advance but if they need to get in just for inspections, they only need to inform tenants 24 hours before.

Collins also addressed late fees that some tenants have been charged with, including tenants who have been charged but said they don’t have a provision for late fees in their lease.

“If you have been charged a late fee, talk to management because there is no legal recourse for the fee,” he said, adding that tenants with such a provision who have been charged more than five percent should be getting a refund. He noted that there is also some leniency for tenants who are late on their rent the first time and he recommended talking to management about the fee.

TA chair Susan Steinberg noted that the TA will be meeting with management on December 16 and would be able to address questions from residents raised at the meeting, including the lack of action from public safety concerning speeding electronic bikes, disruptive NYU students and residents who are in non-compliance with the floor covering rules.