Hoylman: J-51 tenants need info from HCR

State Senator Brad Hoylman (Photo courtesy of Brad Hoylman)

By Sabina Mollot

With the exception of residents of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, for most New Yorkers, the letter J followed by number 51 has no meaning whatsoever. And consequently, this could mean they are living in an illegally deregulated apartment without even knowing it.

However, State Senator Brad Hoylman said he wants to make sure New York’s renters know what their rights are if they’re living in buildings where the landlords have benefitted from the J-51 tax break.

In a letter, he called on the state housing agency, Homes and Community Renewal, to inform tenants living in deregulated buildings if their landlords have been enrolled in the tax benefit program. The letter, which was sent to the agency’s commissioner, RuthAnne Visnauskas on August 7, Hoylman noted that the HCR routinely reaches out to the owners of more than 4,000 buildings with information about reregulation. But renters, meanwhile, are left in the dark as to their buildings’ history and may not know if they’re being overcharged.

He called the practice of keeping landlords but not tenants in the loop “baffling.”

Hoylman added, “It’s tenants who don’t know what their rights are and should be informed that their building may have been illegally deregulated because the owners had received J-51. It’s fine to notify landlords so that they will be compliant but they should let the tenants know.”

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Kavanagh rips State Senate effort to defund Tenant Protection Unit

Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh

Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh

By Sabina Mollot

The Assembly will be fighting back against a push from the State Senate to defund the Tenant Protection Unit (TPU), Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh said this week.

The TPU is a division of the state housing agency, Homes and Community Renewal, along with others like the Division of Housing and Community Renewal.

And according to Kavanagh, the plan to strip the TPU of its funding was in the State Senate’s budget proposal.

However, the TPU, he noted, has been helpful to tenants in fighting landlords who’ve improperly deregulated properties by getting the units reregulated and getting back rent paid to tenants.

“Unfortunately, the Senate Republicans do not want the rent laws to be enforced,” said Kavanagh about the effort, which was first reported by the Daily News. “So they’re trying to remove the funding.”

The Assembly has already put forth its own budget proposal as has the governor, with both supporting the agency. But Kavanagh said since the governor and both houses have to support it, the Assembly is bracing for a fight.

“We’re going to fight this and we expect that they’re going to fight back,” he said.

The Senate’s Housing Chair Catherine Young, a Republican from upstate Olean, did not respond to a request for comment from T&V. However, according to the Daily News, she believes the TPU has been operating with a lack of transparency.

While the focus is still on the budget, as well as school reforms and ethics reforms, renewal or expiration of the Rent Stabilization Laws (the latter of which is not expected) is set to take place in June.

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Residents mixed on MCI settlement

Those interviewed also question
necessity of improvements made

By Sabina Mollot
Following the announcement last Thursday that the ST-PCV Tenants Association had reached an agreement with CWCapital to reduce the cost of MCIs for some tenants and eliminate them completely for others, tenants have been able to talk about little else. When questioned about their thoughts by Town & Village, a few residents who got the 5 percent reduction of the monthly portion of the MCIs naturally said they wished they’d gotten more shaved off their rent bills. However, mainly what they expressed was their disgust at the system that allows owners to pass the costs of building upgrades onto renters.
“It seems very unfair,” said Katie Bernard, who’s lived in Stuy Town for 10 years. She was especially annoyed that MCIs were charged for the video intercom system, which she said was unnecessary. “I can’t tell you how little it works. I miss the old system. I don’t need a screen.”
Another resident also said she didn’t understand the need for the security upgrades that qualified for MCIs.
“It didn’t make my life any safer,” said Carol Szamtowicz. “These capital improvements, I’m sorry I have to pay for them.” As for the settlement, she thought it was good that the Tenants Association fought the increases, “but,” she added, “five percent isn’t very much.”
Meanwhile, another resident, Bob Novick, said he was glad to hear the retroactive portion of the increases had been eliminated. “They did get the retroactive off and that is significant,” said Novick. However, he too said he didn’t get why the intercom system needed replacing on the tenants’ dime. “We got new intercoms 8-10 years ago,” he recalled, adding that he thought the new ones were “essentially the same. The new ones are more sophisticated, but I’m wondering what the purpose was other than to increase the rents.”
And Bill Oddo, a longtime resident, said he wasn’t impressed with the settlement at all. “I don’t see where the success is when

Tenants Association President John Marsh, pictured last fall (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Tenants Association President John Marsh, pictured last fall (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

we’re only getting 5 percent off on all those items,” he said. “I have to pay $15 a month for video cameras and they don’t do anything. The security cameras don’t make us safe. They only help after the fact. You can’t possibly monitor 1,200 cameras 24/7.” Besides, he added, “For 65 years, this has been one of the safest communities in the city. It’s safer than St. Patrick’s Cathedral.” Oddo added that together he’ll be paying over $50 a month in MCIs, for improvements he thought his existing base rent should cover. “I can’t figure out why tenants have to pay for them,” he said. “I know (the Tenants Association) tried hard, but they’re losing this battle. People are leaving. Older people are dying and they’re just turning these apartments over. I love young people, but it’s a dormitory.”
In contrast, a “Roberts” tenant interviewed said of course he was glad he wouldn’t have to pay the increases following the settlement. “Less is more,” quipped Henry, who asked that his last name not be published. “Obviously if you’re paying less for your apartment, you’re better off.” But Henry added he wouldn’t be celebrating just yet since he’s been dealing with a lack of heat in his apartment. “I’m in the living room with two comforters and sweatpants,” he said.
On the TA’s Facebook page this week, the TA received heaping praise as well as a few complaints about the settlement.
In response, TA President John Marsh said that, though not part of the recent round of negotiations, tenants’ increases had already been reduced by 23 percent as a result of TA action. This was after the TA presented the DHCR with “detailed explanations of deficiencies” on a building-by-building basis for each MCI application, Marsh explained to T&V. This was when the work was done in 2009. After the agency reviewed the TA’s concerns as well as Tishman’s responses to them, “the total of all DHCR Orders were 23 percent less than the total of MCI rent increase applications filed by Tishman Speyer.”

Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, CWCapital settle MCI dispute

Retroactive charges eliminated for all tenants who moved in before October, 2013, monthly charges eliminated for ‘Roberts’ and SCRIE/DRIE tenants and reduced by 5 percent for others

 

ST-PCV Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg, pictured at a rally in May against mid-lease rent increases (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

ST-PCV Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg, pictured at a rally in May against mid-lease rent increases (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot
After months of negotiations, the Stuyvesant Town–Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association and CWCapital settled the dispute over the five major capital improvements (MCIs) that residents were socked with at once last fall. On Thursday morning, the state housing agency, the Division of Housing and Community Renewal, issued an order confirming the agreement, the Tenants Association announced.

The news, announced on the TA’s website, said that the settlement will “significantly reduce the impact of the recently approved MCIs for tenants.”
The settlement eliminates all of the retroactive charges for current tenants and reduces the monthly increases by 5 percent. “Roberts” tenants won’t be charged any monthly MCI, nor will SCRIE/DRIE tenants.
“The Tenants Association appreciates having been able to negotiate these issues amicably with CWCapital,” said TA Chair Susan Steinberg. “Residents have been saved a great deal of money in retroactive costs, which have been completely eliminated, and some relief in the MCI rent additions. Notably, the negotiations saved months of time and lots of money in legal filings and responses. The best news is that the outcome is at least as favorable to tenants as any we could have won the harder way.”
Andrew MacArthur, managing director of CWCapital Asset Management, also cheered the settlement.
“We are very pleased to have worked with the Tenants Association to reach a settlement,” said MacArthur. “We have worked closely with the TA to reach an agreement that mitigates the impact of the increases for our residents and brings finality to this dispute.”
The five MCI orders cover video intercoms, a security system, a video command center, water tanks/valves and repaving of the walkways. Two of the orders impact residents in Peter Cooper Village and three of them impact Stuyvesant Town residents.
The MCIs were requested by previous owner Tishman Speyer in 2009. After they were all approved by the DHCR in the fall,

Tenants pack a meeting on MCIs, held at the Simon Baruch Middle School auditorium last fall. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Tenants pack a meeting on MCIs, held at the Simon Baruch Middle School auditorium last fall.
(Photo by Sabina Mollot)

the TA said it would be challenging them. In response, CWCapital made an offer to reduce the MCIs’ retroactive portion for tenants who’d agree not to challenge them, but the TA cautioned residents not to sign on to the offer. Negotiations between the TA and CW began soon after that.
“Squeezing every penny out of residents through MCIs long ago became a common practice in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village,” said Council Member Dan Garodnick. “The Tenants Association wisely took advantage of an opportunity to negotiate a deal with CWCapital that will save tens of millions of dollars for residents over the next ten years. This is a victory for tenants that will mitigate the damage of imperfect law that favors landlords, and I am grateful for the Tenants Association’s efforts.”

Meanwhile, the settlement could still be nullified through additional challenges by individual tenants through PARs (petitions for administrative review.)
“Such PAR could result in the agreement being nullified in the sole discretion of the owner,” the TA said. “Nullification would result in forced repayment of the retroactive charges and any waived portion of the permanent charges by all tenants who benefited from the agreement. The possibility of nullification by the owner due to an ill-advised PAR is a very serious concern to the Tenants Association.”
Exceptions to this would be if a tenant filed a PAR for something like an inaccurate room count in his or her apartment, since MCI charges vary based on the amount of rooms.

According to the TA, a few more details of the settlement are as follows:
● All current residents are included in this settlement except those who moved in after the orders were issued (approximately October, 2013).
● The settlement is retroactive to January 1, 2014.
● Credits noted below will begin to appear on the May rent bill.
● In May, a retroactive credit will be added to the rent bill. This credit will include the benefit amount for January, February, March and April.
● The retroactive and permanent increase amounts noted below are all clearly stated in the MCI orders that residents received in the mail. This number is different for all residents and depends on many factors including: building, unit size and move-in date.
● If a resident cannot find his/her order, that resident is advised to call DHCR at 1-800-ASK-DHCR (1-800-275-3427) to request a duplicate copy.

The Tenants Association will hold a general meeting to discuss the settlement on Saturday, May 10 at 1 p.m. at Simon Baruch M.S. 104 on East 20th Street between First and Second Avenues.

Tenants Association: ‘Roberts’ and recent tenants should pay MCI increase — for now

Tenants Association attorney Tim Collins speaks to residents, while Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, State Senator Brad Hoylman and TA Chair Susan Steinberg listen. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Tenants Association attorney Tim Collins speaks to residents at a meeting in November, while Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, State Senator Brad Hoylman and TA Chair Susan Steinberg listen. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

After five MCIs (major capital improvement rent increases) were approved by the state housing agency last fall, residents of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village had their rents raised this month.

Though the ST-PCV Tenants Association has entered into talks with CWCapital and the state housing agency, NYS Homes and Community Renewal, over those rent hikes, in the meantime, the Association is advising “Roberts” class action members as well as those who moved in after the “Roberts” suit was settled to pay their MCIs. At least for now.

Previously, an attorney for the TA had told a resident at a public meeting held in November, who said she’d never gotten a notice about a pending MCI, that she wouldn’t have to pay it. This is because notice must be given to tenants when owners apply for an MCI. However, since the MCIs were for work done on the property by Tishman Speyer in 2009, before the Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” suit determined that apartments in ST/PCV were illegally deregulated, tenants in market rate apartments (“Roberts” class members) never got the notices. MCIs are only applicable to rent-stabilized tenants.

“Most if not all of the Roberts and preferential rent tenants never received a notice,” the Tenants Association said in an email blast to neighbors on Friday afternoon. The email, which is also on the TA website (stpcvta.org), went on to note that preferential rent is a rent that is lower than the legal rent-regulated rent for an apartment and the amount a tenant actually agrees to pay. “Roberts” and post-“Roberts” tenants pay preferential rents.

Despite the lack of warning for those tenants, the TA said in its email that while the negotiations with CW continue, tenants should pay the MCIs.

“The TA is in negotiations over the MCIs with management, hoping to resolve them to the benefit of all tenants,” the Tenants Association said. “In the meantime you should pay them as billed. Doing so will not prejudice any of your rights. We will continue to keep you posted as the situation unfolds. Please read the joint statement from counsel for the TA, Management, and the Roberts tenants below:

“The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Tenants Association (ST/PCV-TA), Owner (PCV/ST) and New York State DHCR have been engaged in discussions attempting to reach a negotiated resolution to the recently issued MCI orders. The parties are hopeful that the matter will, in fact, be resolved in the near future.

“In the interim, Owner commenced billing the permanent portion of the MCI rent increase with January 2014 bills. If a negotiated settlement is reached, to the extent agreed upon, there will be an appropriate retroactive adjustment in the rent. Payment at this time will not prejudice any party’s rights or claims. Hence, counsel for all parties have agreed that the increases should be paid while negotiations continue.”

A spokesperson for CWCapital declined to comment beyond the statement.

 

Susan Steinberg, chair for the Tenants Association, said the TA has heard from between 15 and 20 “Roberts” tenants who said they received the charges.

 

However, when asked about how the negotiations were going, Steinberg said she couldn’t say anything beyond the fact that they’re “ongoing.”

 

Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper residents won’t see MCIs on rent bills until January

Tenants Association attorney Tim Collins speaks to residents, while Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, State Senator Brad Hoylman and TA Chair Susan Steinberg listen. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

At a meeting held on November 2, ST-PCV Tenants Association attorney Tim Collins speaks to residents about the MCIs, while Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, State Senator Brad Hoylman and TA Chair Susan Steinberg listen. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Residents of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village won’t see the recently approved round of MCI rent hikes on their rent bills until after the holidays, CWCapital has announced.

In an email sent to residents on Friday, the special servicer said:

“CWCapital and CompassRock Real Estate have agreed to defer new MCI billing until January 2014. As a result, your December 2013 rent bills will not include the recently approved MCIs. CWCapital, the ST/PCV Tenants Association and DHCR are engaged in discussions regarding the implementation of the MCIs and we will keep residents informed of any developments.”

A spokesperson for management declined to comment further on the delay to implement the MCIs, which the Tenants Association also mentioned in an email to neighbors sent at around the same time in the afternoon as CW’s. The Tenants Association also noted that it was engaged in discussions with CWCapital and the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) of New York Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), the state housing agency.

In the past month, tenants have received notices that MCIs (major capital improvements) for security upgrades done in 2009 as well as work done that year on doors, resurfacing and water tanks and valves, had been approved. The Tenants Association has since said it would challenge those MCIs, while CWCapital has made an offer to reduce the MCIs’ retroactive portions by 35 percent if tenants agree not to partake in any challenge. The DHCR, meanwhile, recently agreed to the Tenants Association’s request for reconsideration of the MCIs.

Letters to the Editor, Nov. 14

The year since Sandy at VA Medical Center

On Monday, November 11, Veterans Day, our nation paid tribute to America’s Veterans. As the director of VA New York Harbor Healthcare System, the charge of maintaining VA health care facilities to provide care to veterans is always foremost in my mind.  And this year has been a daunting challenge.
With safety as our priority, over 100 inpatients were evacuated to VA facilities in Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx and Montrose, NY without incident one day prior to Hurricane Sandy’s landfall.  VA staff accompanied patients to the new locations to ensure uninterrupted care.
On October 29, the Manhattan VA Medical Center sustained catastrophic flood damage to mechanical and electrical switches, steam system, generators, elevators, heating/air conditioning/ventilation units and the Sterile Processing Service.  The storm left the facility flooded with no power, heat or fire suppression.  The ground floor, where 150,000 square feet of outpatient care suites and diagnostic imaging equipment was located, was completely devastated.
Centralized scheduling, a call center and clinic staff began calling veterans to reschedule Veteran appointments to nearby VA medical centers and VA community clinics. A Pharmacy Refill Program was established to enable Veterans to receive medication at several local pharmacies, and VA shuttles transported veterans to clinic appointments. VA mobile health units were positioned at the Manhattan VA Medical Center to triage patients, renew prescriptions, give vaccinations and schedule appointments.
Recovery efforts began immediately and lasted several months.  Mechanical, electrical and other utilities were reestablished and existing space to relocate outpatient clinics was identified, renovated and the clinics were moved.
Outpatient clinics were phased in by April and inpatient care, including surgery and the Emergency Department, were completely operational in May.  Several major projects, some underway now, will harden the facility against future flooding.
I am moved by the encouragement and support provided by veterans and grateful for a dedicated VA staff who worked tirelessly to restore services.  On this Veterans Day, we salute our veterans and take pride in overcoming the challenges to provide the quality health care and services they deserve at the Manhattan VA Medical Center.
Martina A. Parauda
Director,
VA New York Harbor Healthcare System

 

Do we have a say on 14th St. development?

Re: “Building across from Stuy Town to be redeveloped,” T&V, Oct. 24
My worst fears were confirmed in Town & Village about what’s happening on the south side of 14th St. The proposed buildings could have a monumental negative impact on our neighborhood in so many ways. How is Stuyvesant Town going to handle the onslaught of people living across the street?
The redevelopment could bring hundreds more people wanting some green space to not only sit in, but walk their dogs or just walk around. In addition, a once desirable sleepy part of 14th street will be hustling and bustling. Can the infrastructure handle all the new residents?  And, not to mention it’s going to be a major, major irreversible crime for residents who’ve enjoyed light and views all the way downtown to lose them! If ST ever goes condo or co-op, could this decrease property values?
Before it’s too late, where does Council Member Garodnick stand on this? Can he fight for us and win to limit the height and scope so the buildings are no higher then existing tenement buildings on the south side? Can he partner with Council Member Rosie Mendez to help us? Where does the TA stand on this and can they harness their power and influence to help us? Where does CWCapital stand on this?
It’s not to say that this stretch has not been blighted, but the character of the neighborhood could forever be changed for the worse. We’ve seen this type of building invade other neighborhoods. How can information be so hard to get? Is the zoning commission a secret organization? Someone, somewhere, somehow is approving plans. It’s time to rally and defeat this plan. Help!
Name withheld, ST

 

It’s time for some MCI reforms

Re: Letter, “MCIs then and now,” T&V, Nov. 7
To the Editor:
Regarding the rent increases from MCIs, Geraldine Levy asks “When and where will this end? Our legislators…regularly object to these outrages.”
Unfortunately, the majority of our legislators do NOT object to many outrages that harm New Yorkers financially, physically or psychologically. If they did, they would immediately correct this assault on affordable housing. I suggest two proposals.
First, these state reps would legislate that all legitimate MCI increases will end when the MCI is paid off.
For example, I’ve been paying for the same antique stove and refrigerator for 22 years; for what I’ve paid I could have bought new appliances every two years. These appliances may not be considered MCIs but they were considered improvements which raised the rent on my apartment and continues to this day.
Wouldn’t it be nice if I received a retroactive reimbursement for every penny I paid more than the cost of the stove and refrig, or for any other MCI that I’ve paid for many times over?
Second, these honest legislators (Is that an oximoron?) would transfer the DHCR and its authority over all housing matters for NYC including MCIs back to New York City.
Then our newly elected Democratic mayor, who promises to correct the abuse of our annual rent hikes courtesy of 20 years under Republican mayors, Bill de Blasio could fire every official in the current DHCR and hire new ones who support affordable housing in NYC, especially housing that already exists like ST and PCV and not those new housing developments that real estate moguls dream about.
Speaking of dreams, if we lived in Disneyland instead of New York State, my proposal might be the happy ending at the top of every tenant’s wish list.
But unfortunately as the saying goes,  “In your dreams! Fahhgeddaboudit!”
Perhaps under the leadership of the capable Dan Garodnick and the Tenants Association something might be accomplished to ease this burden on tenants so that our housing here in Stuy Town at least remains affordable. Let’s hope so.
Otherwise, it’s Hello, Mississippi!
John Cappelletti, ST

 

TA blasts CWCapital’s MCI info workshops

Tenants Association volunteers John Sicoransa, Judith Preble Miller and Anne Greenberg hand out fliers that urge tenants not to sign CWCapital's offer while outside 360 First Avenue, where an informational workshop on MCIs was being held. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Tenants Association volunteers John Sicoransa, Judith Preble Miller and Anne Greenberg hand out fliers that urge tenants not to sign CWCapital’s offer while outside 360 First Avenue, where an informational workshop on MCIs was being held. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Following a contentious meeting held earlier in the month by the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, during which the group’s attorney advised tenants not to accept an MCI reduction offer from CWCapital, the special servicer reached out to tenants to discuss terms.

In letters slipped underneath doors in ST/PCV on Friday, CW offered to reduce the cost of the retroactive portions of recently issued MCIs (major capital improvements) by 35 percent, as long as tenants agreed not to try to challenge them. There was also an offer to reduce $15 million on other costs. However, the letter then went on to indicate that CWCapital could end up backing out of the deal.

“It is important to understand that under the Rent Stabilization Laws a small number of MCI appeals can impact the entire community,” the letter stated. “In the event that such a minority of residents seeks to undo the effect of this settlement, we may have no option but to permanently withdraw this offer as the owner will then be forced to defend its rights.”

This letter was swiftly responded to by the Tenants Association’s attorney Tim Collins. In his own letter, he addressed CW’s attorney Sherwin Belkin to say he thought the offer was “disturbing” because “it appears to be an attempt to intimidate those tenants who support the TA’s challenge to the MCIs, by penalizing or diminishing their rights, in direct violation of…. The Real Property Law…”

The Tenants Association, meanwhile, has also taken issue with a series of MCI information workshops being held this week by CW representatives at 360 First Avenue in Peter Cooper Village. In an email to neighbors, the TA blasted the workshops as a ruse to get tenants to sign CW’s agreement rather than inform them about how MCIs work.

“The proposed agreement is illusory, deceptive and unenforceable,” the TA wrote on its website. “The language of the form encourages acceptance while the owner holds a trump card of unilateral termination.”

The TA also noted that CW hadn’t mentioned that the retroactive portions of the MCIs, which for some residents can total thousands of dollars, get paid on a monthly basis (rather than a lump sum), with payments capped at six percent of the tenants’ rent in 2009. As for the $15 million in costs CW offered to waive, the TA said this was “almost meaningless — it consists of sales tax, which can never be included, and other costs DHCR almost never approves.”

On Monday evening, the first of the series of workshops on MCIs saw only a trickle of tenants coming in and out, as well as a few volunteers for the Tenants Association standing outside the building, hoping to talk neighbors out of signing any deal with the de facto owner.

One reason for this is that as of Friday, the state housing agency, the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) of New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), has agreed to the TA’s recent request for reconsideration of MCIs for five projects that were authorized by the agency.  This means tenants are not yet responsible for paying the retroactive portion, though they will be expected to pay the monthly cost that’s added to their rent in perpetuity until the agency makes a decision.

Three of the MCIs are for Stuy Town residents, and the other two are for Peter Cooper residents. The

Tenants Association volunteer John Sicoransa talks to a neighbor on First Avenue. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Tenants Association volunteer John Sicoransa talks to a neighbor on First Avenue. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

MCIs are for work done in 2009 by Tishman Speyer on security upgrades, resurfacing, doors and water valves and tanks. All the MCIs are added to the tenants’ monthly rent with costs varying based on the room count of apartments and whether they’re in PCV or ST, and all have retroactive portions that date back to 2009.

The TA is hoping to challenge the MCIs based on the fact that Collins’ arguments made against them to the DHCR last year were not even acknowledged in the recent awarding of the increases to CWCapital. Additionally, Collins cited violations in some of the buildings, student housing in some apartments and shoddy workmanship on the resurfacing work as well as other factors.

The reconsideration means the TA will not yet be filing a petition for administrative review (PAR), as it had previously planned to do. However, the group is still collecting signatures from neighbors for pledges that would authorize the TA to represent tenants if it does file a PAR, which according to TA Chair Susan Steinberg, will most likely happen. “We’ll pursue it as far as we can carry it,” she said.

Over the years, the state housing agency has rejected almost all of the Tenants Association’s MCI challenges. However, as of Monday, the Tenants Association had collected over 2,000 signatures on its pledge.

While outside the MCI workshop, TA reps, including Steinberg and TA President John Marsh asked residents leaving if they thought they’d be accepting the offer for a retroactive MCI reduction, and a few were undecided.

One man, who moved in last year, said he was concerned that he would have to pay the retroactive portion of the MCI despite being a new tenant. A TA volunteer responded to say he thought the owner would instead have to hunt down the previous tenant to try and collect that amount, though he added something Collins had said at the recent TA meeting, which is that owners making such moves happens pretty rarely.

Another resident, a woman who lives in Peter Cooper, seemed less confused, saying she thought the reduction letter was “a non-offer.”

“I used to sell TV shows, and I learned from my boss I can’t respond to a non-offer,” she said.

When asked what she was told at the workshop, another woman, who said she didn’t know if she’d be taking the deal, said she was told that she’d have to pay “a lot higher” of an amount if she didn’t.

Another resident said she wound up feeling uncomfortable at the fact that there was a guard posted outside the workshop building, and once she went inside, saw that there were two more. Before allowing her into the workshop, the woman, who, like the other attendees interviewed, didn’t want her name published, said she was asked for her address and apartment number. Though the guards were nice, “It just made things uncomfortable,” she said. “If they can’t trust me, how can I trust them? This is a tall order without trust.”

Attending was worthwhile though, she said, since she got useful information about her own particular situation — and extra incentives to sign. Still, she thought she would most likely not take the deal.

John Sicoransa, one of the TA volunteers outside, said that neighbors of his who are “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” class members “are utterly confused” by the offer. Being former market rate tenants, they hadn’t received notices in 2009 about pending MCIs, which are for rent-stabilized tenants, though they did get the recently issued letter from CWCapital. Additionally, “the post-Roberts people got them,” said Sicoransa.

Future MCI workshops being held by CWCapital will take place on Thursday, November 14 from 5-8 p.m. and Friday, November 15 from 8:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m., both at 360 First Avenue.

A spokesperson for CWCapital did not respond to requests for comment about the MCI workshops. However, the rep, Brian Moriarty, commented on the offer to say it was done in “good faith” and also noted that tenants’ appeals over previous MCIs haven’t gotten them much.

“The owner made a good faith offer to the community,” said Moriarty. “Historically, tenant appeals have resulted in negligible increases after protracted administrative and court proceedings. We do not believe that repeating this process is healthy for the broader community. Assuming that tenant appeals achieve a five percent decrease in the approved amounts (which is more than what has been achieved over the past 20 years of tenant appeals), then it would take the average tenant approximately 25 years to equal the benefit that the owner has volunteered to make. We hope residents review their offers carefully and do their homework to understand the benefit we are offering.”

Tenants Association President John Marsh hands out fliers on the MCIs. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Tenants Association President John Marsh hands out fliers on the MCIs. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Marsh, meanwhile, in a written statement, blasted the offer as “an attempt to legitimize an unenforceable scheme” to get tenants to waive their right to challenge MCIs.

“While we appreciate any gesture by management to soften the blow of these increases, it is not enough for them to look at just the retroactive amount,” he added. “We are also concerned with the permanent increase. We will keep all channels of communication open with management while we continue to collect public membership pledges, so we can be in a position of even greater strength moving forward.”

The Tenants Association’s MCI pledge is currently on its website at stpcvta.org.

Reminder: ST-PCV Tenants Association holding MCI meeting on Saturday at 1 p.m.

tenants Assoc logoThe Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association will hold a meeting to address five recently issued major capital improvement (MCI) rent increases on Saturday, November 2 from 1-4 p.m. at the auditorium at the Simon Baruch Middle School (MS 104) on East 20th Street between First and Second Avenues. Local elected officials are expected to attend and John Marsh, president of the Tenants Association, said there would be “ample time” for tenants to ask questions, which will be answered by the association’s attorney Tim Collins.

In October, tenants in Stuyvesant Town learned they’d gotten an MCI (major capital improvement) for video intercoms, followed by an MCI issued to residents of Peter Cooper, which was also for security upgrades, including a command center. Tenants learned about the latest round last week, via notices that the state housing agency, the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) of New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) had approved MCIs for work on three more projects: water valves, doors and resurfacing. Possibly more MCIs are on the way.

Which MCIs tenants got depended on if they live in Peter Cooper or Stuyvesant Town. As far as the Tenants Association is aware, an MCI for water tanks and valves is for PCV residents only; while only Stuyvesant Town residents have gotten MCIs for resurfacing that were combined with charges for doors and water tanks/valves.

At the meeting, Collins will explain the process of appealing an MCI order and will outline what the TA’s pushback will be. He will be joined by New York State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and City Council Member Dan Garodnick.

“Both longtime rent-stabilized tenants and those who recently moved in and are receiving MCIs addressed to former residents or current occupant have been swamping our message center with questions about the MCI process,” said Marsh. “We’ve put together this meeting to answer precisely those questions.”

Subjects to be covered, according to Marsh, include: What constitutes an MCI? Why are tenants getting such a flood of MCIs at once? How do the retroactive and prospective payments work? Is there any way to put an end to paying MCIs in perpetuity? Why is there a per room charge when, for example, there is outdoor resurfacing work? Why should tenants have to pay if the improvement in question is faulty or doesn’t work?

“We have long understood that an owner needs to improve their property, but it must not be at the expense of long-term affordability,” said Marsh in an official statement. “When a co-op/condo owner is assessed for an improvement, they are assessed only once, not for the rest of their tenancy. Renters on the other hand are forced to pay forever for something that is depreciable.”

An opportunity to sign a document association with the association’s petition for administrative review (PAR) can be signed at the meeting. The association is also asking tenants to share their docket numbers and Google documents are available for this purpose through links on the association’s website at stpcvta.org. Additionally, the group is soliciting donations to help pay its looming legal bills for the MCI challenges.

Residents get MCIs for water valves, resurfacing and doors

Susan Steinberg, chair of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, pictured at a protest against mid-lease rent increases in May, said the Tenants Association will soon hold a meeting on the latest MCIs. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Susan Steinberg, chair of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, pictured at a protest against mid-lease rent increases in May, said the Tenants Association will soon hold a meeting on the latest MCIs.
(Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

While not quite the chaos caused by Hurricane Sandy a year ago, Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village are being flooded again, this time with five MCIs for work on the property done by former owner Tishman Speyer in 2009.

Earlier in the month, tenants in Stuyvesant Town learned they’d gotten an MCI (major capital improvement) for video intercoms, followed by an MCI issued to residents of Peter Cooper, which was also for security upgrades, including a command center. Tenants learned about the latest round on Friday and over the weekend, via notices that the state housing agency, the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) of New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) had approved MCIs for work on three more projects: water valves, doors and resurfacing.

Which MCIs tenants got depended on if they live in Peter Cooper or Stuyvesant Town. As far as the Tenants Association is aware, an MCI for water tanks and valves is for PCV residents only; while only Stuyvesant Town residents have gotten MCIs for resurfacing that were combined with charges for doors and water tanks/valves.

“We tenants are under siege,” the Tenants Association said in an email to residents sent on Sunday, which included a notice that a meeting would be scheduled soon to answer questions on the charges, which are added permanently to tenants’ base rent, along with a retroactive portion. Costs vary with each building and with each apartment, based on how many rooms there are.

Susan Steinberg, chair of the Tenants Association, noted how in the case of one Peter Cooper one-bedroom apartment, the MCI for water tanks, which has a cost of $2.77 per room, the retroactive portion is $407.19. Her own recently issued MCI, being for a one-bedroom in Stuyvesant Town, which includes water tanks, resurfacing and doors, will cost a total of about $25 a month while the retroactive portion is $1,199.52.

Like the previously issued MCIs, the Tenants Association is planning to challenge the ones for water valves, doors and resurfacing, based on the fact that in its decisions, the HCR didn’t respond to arguments against them presented to the agency by the Tenants Association’s attorney last year, and possibly other reasons. The Tenants Association said, via email, that it was already in the process of filing what is known as a request for reconsideration, since it believes the housing agency made a “vital (but reversible) administrative error by not considering or acknowledging our 2012 objections to all outstanding MCIs. The approvals, therefore, were issued on an incomplete record.” The association’s attorney, Tim Collins, is also preparing a petition for administrative review (PAR), in case the request for reconsideration fails. The association, therefore, has been requesting that tenants opt not to file their own PARs, though doing so would spare them from having to pay at least the retroactive portion of the MCIs until the matter is resolved by the HCR.

“Individual tenants certainly have a right to file their own PARs,” said Steinberg, “and if they want to, I wouldn’t say don’t, but we have more strength if we file a collective PAR. It’s really better if we can provide tenants with specific reasons. It’s really not enough to say the security system still doesn’t work. It’s a legitimate reason to me, but I think (HCR) requires a lot more technical information.”

Meanwhile, despite the recent communications from the agency, there has not yet been any word on the Tenants Association’s application for a rent reduction based on Sandy-related service losses in 15 PCV buildings and two in Stuyvesant Town. A spokesperson for HCR did not respond to a request for comment on the latest MCIs and has previously said the agency would not comment on its determinations.

Steinberg, however, blasted the five most recent MCIs as “a terrible burden” on tenants.

“People are gasping,” she added. “Those on SCRIE and DRIE are concerned and we want to make sure they’re not going to be slammed, and it’s right before the holidays. This is going to stretch people to the max.”

The Tenants Association will hold the MCI meeting on Saturday, November 2 from 1-4 p.m. at the auditorium at the Simon Baruch Middle School (MS 104) on East 20th Street between First and Second Avenues. Local elected officials are expected to attend and John Marsh, president of the Tenants Association, said there would be “ample time” for tenants to ask questions, which will be answered by Collins.

“The meeting will also give those in attendance an opportunity to sign a document in connection with the filing of a PAR,” said Marsh. “Residents who can’t make the meeting might consider dropping by the school any time between 1 and 4 to add their names.”

The association is asking tenants to share their docket numbers and Google documents are available for this purpose through links on the association’s website at stpcvta.org and the group is also soliciting donations to help pay its looming legal bills for the MCI challenges.

A spokesperson for CWCapital did not yet respond to a question about whether the MCIs would be reflected in the rent bills for November or December, though Steinberg has said she suspects that since the MCIs came as much as a surprise to CWCapital as they did to tenants, that they would not be charged in the November bills.

Note: This article has been updated to include additional information about the ST-PCV Tenants Association meeting.

Stuy Town residents get video intercom MCI

By Sabina Mollot

Last week, residents in every Stuyvesant Town building learned that they’d be getting a major capital improvement (MCI) rent increase of $4.17 per room in their apartment per month for installation of the property’s video intercoms.

The intercoms were installed in 2009 by then-owner Tishman Speyer, who applied for the MCI. The increase, which was finally approved by the state housing agency, is added to residents’ base rent, along with a retroactive portion tenants are also responsible for paying from December, 2009 until November of this year (47 months). A spokesperson for the agency, New York Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), declined to comment on its decision.

Meanwhile, Susan Steinberg, chair of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, said after a recent conversation with CWCapital, the TA learned CW was just as surprised as tenants to hear about the MCI, which it is now authorized to collect starting in November.

Because of this, she said it was unlikely that CW would begin charging for it right away and instead may start collecting it in December.

Steinberg added that the TA has been in touch with its attorney, Tim Collins, and as of Wednesday morning, the TA said in an official statement that it was clear to Collins that HCR “has made a reversible error” with the latest MCI approval.

“None of the orders acknowledge or consider our attorney’s general and specific objections – all of which were served on the HCR on May 14, 2012,” the TA said.

“Our attorney has advised that this is not unheard of and HCR should promptly rescind the orders and correct its error by considering our objections and giving notice to the owner’s attorney.  We will file ‘Requests for Reconsideration’ due to ‘irregularity in a vital matter’ as well as Petitions for Administrative Review (PAR) in the next few weeks.”

The TA also said it was asking CWCapital “to recognize HCR’s error” and refrain from charging the MCI in tenants’ December rent bills.

Brian Moriarty, a spokesperson for CWCapital, said the special servicer couldn’t comment on the video intercom MCI at this time.

While in the past, the TA has encouraged tenants to file their own PARs, which would protect them from having to pay at least the retroactive portion of the MCIs until the matter is settled, this time the TA said there was no need for tenants to individually file PARs at this time.

“We will provide further updates as our efforts to stop these MCIs continues,” the TA said.

Steinberg also noted, “We always protest MCIs because there’s usually something we find amiss.”

In this case, tenants have complained about the intercoms being faulty and following Hurricane Sandy, some buildings’ intercoms were unable to contact security.

(A rent reduction application previously filed by the TA for lost or diminished services after Sandy in certain buildings in Peter Cooper Village and two in Stuyvesant Town has still not gotten an answer from the HCR.)

Another potential argument against the MCI, said Steinberg, is that CWCapital may have already gotten insurance money for damaged systems “so that goes into play. This was done back in 2009, but it seems like circumstances have to be looked at afresh.”

The MCI affects tenants in all 89 Stuy Town buildings, which Steinberg called “unfortunate” due to the timing. This year, the Rent Guidelines Board-issued increase was higher than usual at 7.75 percent for two-year leases, 1,100 residents were also hit with mid-lease increases in May and more recently, tenants noticed that CW’s gotten tougher about imposing late fees. “It’s a heavy burden,” said Steinberg.

In an email to neighbors sent on Saturday, the TA said it would be filing a PAR. The TA also asked for tenants to send the association (via a form on its website at stpcvta.org) their docket numbers.

Not surprisingly, the response from tenants has been that an MCI for the video intercoms isn’t fair.

One resident told T&V this week that most of the time the system in his building doesn’t even work, so when he has visitors, he’s actually resorted to throwing down a key-card from his 11th floor window in a sock that’s weighted down with another object so it won’t flutter in the wind.

Another resident, David Dartley, vented on Facebook to tell CW, “You who are in charge did not spend any money installing these intercoms back in 2009,” he wrote. “Now you want to collect in perpetuity for something you expended no money or effort in creating?’

Steinberg also noted that in 2009, reps from the TA met with the state housing agency, then known as the Division of Housing and Community Renewal. At that time, the TA, along with local elected officials, complained that they felt the agency was rubber-stamping every MCI request the owner made. They also learned that 20 percent of the city’s MCI applications came from ST/PCV alone. “It was a very cordial meeting,” said Steinberg. “We reached out to them, but they were receptive.” She added that the goal of the meeting was to see if the agency would be willing to negotiate some of the MCIs that were still outstanding, but after the meeting, “it went nowhere.”

 

 

Letters to the Editor, Mar. 21

What is legal basis for rent reduction policy?

The following letter was written by several East Side elected officials to Darryl C. Towns, commissioner and CEO of New York State Homes and Community Renewal on the housing agency’s policy towards rent reductions for losses of services like those experienced in Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village. (The letter, though addressed to the HCR, refers to it as DHCR, its predecessor agency.)

Dear Commissioner Towns:

We are writing to request clarification of the Division of Housing and Community Renewal’s (DHCR) rent reduction policy with respect to tenants who experience a diminution of services, and to highlight an imminent issue in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village (ST-PCV).

We are concerned that the DHCR’s policy is incompatible with the Rent Stabilization Code (RSC), and runs the risk of denying tenants compensation to which they may be entitled. Specifically, we seek clarification about a serious discrepancy between the DHCR’s stated policy on rent reduction effective dates and the RSC as it pertains to applications for Rent Reductions for Decreased Services recently filed by hundreds of ST-PCV residents in approximately 110 buildings, who are represented by the ST-PCV Tenants Association.

As you know, these ST-PCV residents filed applications on February 26, 2013 for rent reductions due to loss of services during and after Hurricane Sandy. The lost amenities include loss of trunk storage service, security systems, laundry room services, bicycle and carriage room storage, elevator service and building intercom services.

Section 2523.4(a)(1) of the RSC provides that “the DHCR shall … reduce the rent for the period for which it is found that the owner has failed to maintain required services.” Of course, application of this provision is predicated on the DHCR finding that services in fact have not been maintained, but in the event of such a finding, it is clear that any rent reduction should be effective for the entire period for which the services have not been maintained.

However, it is apparently the DHCR’s practice, as stated in its Fact Sheet #14: Rent Reductions for Decreased Services, that “The effective date for rent stabilized tenants is retroactive back to the first day of the month following DHCR’s service of the complaint on the owner.”

We do not understand why the DHCR’s practice is inconsistent with the RSC. If tenants are denied contractually obligated services, neither logic nor the RSC supports limiting their remedy to the period after the DHCR has had time to serve notice on the owner.

We are particularly concerned with the rent reduction applications recently filed by ST-PCV residents and currently pending before the DHCR. We understand that the DHCR has indicated that it may take several weeks to process these applications, which could delay the start date of any approved reductions even further under the agency’s stated practice.

In light of these serious concerns, we must ask: (1) When do you expect to present ST-PCV management with the rent reduction claims? (2) What is the legal basis for the policy regarding effective dates found in the fact sheet?

Given the time sensitive nature of the ST-PCV applications, and the importance of this issue to the people we represent, we ask that you respond promptly to these questions. If you would like to discuss this matter, please feel free to contact any of us directly. If you would like to arrange a meeting or conference call, Anna Pycior in Assemblymember Kavanagh’s office is available to help arrange one. We hope to hear from you soon.

Sincerely,

Brian Kavanagh, State Assembly Member
Brad Hoylman,
State Senator
Daniel R. Garodnick, City Council Member
Carolyn B. Maloney, U.S. Representative
Scott M. Stringer, Manhattan Borough President

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ST-PCV TA to file for Sandy rent reductions

By Sabina Mollot

Workers stand by generators used to dehumidify building basements in Peter Cooper in late November.

For the first time in the history of the complex, the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association is calling for a rent reduction due to a lack of basic services such as working elevators and laundry equipment in buildings that were hard-hit by Sandy.

On February 1, attorneys for the Tenants Association served ST/PCV General Manager Sean Sullivan and Andrew MacArthur of CWCapital with a notice that it would be filing a rent reduction claim before New York State’s Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) agency for a diminution of services under the Rent Stabilization Law.

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