Tenants protest mid-lease rent hikes

Tenants protest outside the leasing office on Saturday. Photo by Sabina Mollot

Tenants protest outside the leasing office on Saturday.
Photo by Sabina Mollot

By Sabina Mollot

Following the discovery last week that close to 1,300 residents were being hit with mid-lease rent hikes that have been as high as $2,200, the Tenants Association, along with a handful of other tenants, have taken their grievances to the leasing office.

The plan has been to have “sustained” picketing, with sign-holding tenants warning potential renters and passersby on First Avenue about the increases as well as various quality of life issues like the lack of laundry rooms in some buildings and bedbug sightings in others.

On Saturday alone, TA members said they spoke with with around 50 people outside the leasing office.

John Marsh, president of the Tenants Association, said protesters were telling anyone thinking of renting not to accept verbal representations by leasing agents. “Have everything in writing.”

Most people they spoke with, added Marsh, ending up being concerned about how mid-lease hikes and other issues like broken elevators could affect them. Others, however, simply ignored protesters as they went in and out of the leasing office.

After being asked by a reporter if he’d be moving in, one person in a small group of people leaving the leasing office, would only say, “We read our lease.”

Additionally, CWCapital fired back at the TA by having its leasing agents escort

Tenants Association Chair  Susan Steinberg talks to a neighbor outside the leasing office on Saturday. Photo by Sabina Mollot

Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg talks to a neighbor outside the leasing office on Saturday.
Photo by Sabina Mollot

prospective renters to model apartments after meeting them at the back of the leasing office. ST/PCV security also, on Saturday morning, called the cops on protesters, asking officers to force protesters to stand behind barriers that were put up over six feet away from the leasing office, close to the curb. However, according to protesters, the cops said the tenants were fine where they were, as long as they remained peaceful and didn’t block traffic. A couple of security officers remained outside the leasing office though for as long as the picketing continued.

As for those who were there on Saturday, around a dozen residents were participating, most of whom were longtime tenants, unaffected by the rent hikes that have been issued to “Roberts” class members.

“My heart’s breaking for the community,” said Susan Kasloff, a 17-year resident as she handed out flyers by the First Avenue Loop.

Marsh and TA Chair Susan Steinberg were also on the scene, as was TA Board Members Steven Newmark and Kirstin Aadahl. Both Aadahl and Newmark are “Roberts” class members, though she got a mid-lease increase and he didn’t. Aadahl said she’s been telling people who enter the leasing office to ask questions such as whether there have been bedbugs in the building. “Because we’re finding out that some tenants are being told after they sign their lease.”

She also said despite the hike she got, she’ll be sticking around. The increase was for $550, but this follows another increase of $200 when she last renewed her lease in February.

“We love living in Stuyvesant Town, but it’s going to be very hard,” said Aadahl.

According to Marsh, the TA is exploring its options, and there has been talk among tenants about a rent strike. However, Marsh said if anything, it would be a rent slowdown, and this would only be done as a last-ditch option since “Roberts” class tenants have a clause in their leases that would allow the owner to hit them with a $50 fee for not paying their rent on time. More longterm tenants however could technically participate in a rent slowdown and not pay their rent for three months before CWCapital could try to evict them, said Marsh. At this time, however, the TA is not recommending that anyone withhold or delay paying rent.

Tenants Association President John Marsh and residents Sandra Lynn and John Giannone Photo by Sabina Mollot

Tenants Association President John Marsh and residents Sandra Lynn and John Giannone
Photo by Sabina Mollot

In response to the protesting, Brian Moriarty, a spokesperson for CW, said that the special servicer was acting within its rights following the settlement.

“The rent adjustments were negotiated as part of the settlement and approved by the nine tenant representatives, their attorneys, and the court,” he said. “We intend to implement the agreement in accordance with its terms.”

The rent hikes came on the first day that CWCapital was legally allowed to issue them, which, tenants were warned back in January, the special servicer could do following the “Roberts” settlement. What kind of increase tenants got varied from $100 to $2,200 with most impacted tenants getting increases of hundreds of dollars. Residents were also initially told they’d have two weeks to decide whether they’d be staying or moving. However, the next day CW announced residents would get an extra month.

Residents T&V spoke with on Saturday, though, didn’t seem impressed by the concession.

Two residents protesting outside the leasing office on Saturday, Sandra Lynn and John Giannone, said they hadn’t gotten increases, but have been hearing horror stories from neighbors who did. Giannone said he found out about them when neighbors knocked on the door to ask if they’d gotten one. “They got a statement under their door that said their rent was going up $1,100 with no explanation,” he said.

Another resident who approached the protesters said she was unaware of exactly what her rent hike was, though it wasn’t for her lack of trying. The woman, who didn’t want her name printed, said she was listed one new price somewhere in her lease renewal document and another elsewhere in the paperwork, and said she’s been unable to reach anyone in the leasing office to ask what she’s supposed to be paying. It’s either $600 or $800 more. After going in, she was told that no one in there could answer her questions and was referred to the property’s legal department. However, when she tried to negotiate the rent increase with an attorney, she said he wouldn’t budge. Interestingly, when she later walked into the leasing office with her boyfriend and the two posed as would-be tenants, they were given the impression that there was some wiggle room in price for new tenants.

In other “Roberts” related news, the case’s attorney for tenants, Alex Schmidt, said on Monday that an effort to extend the deadline for class members to file for their damages has been successful. The original deadline was May 15 and the new date is May 31. However, if residents don’t file their paperwork by then, their share of the nearly $69 million in rent overcharge returns will go back to CWCapital and MetLife.

The extension will likely be seen as good news by a member of the class action suit who approached Steinberg on Saturday to ask what it was all about. The resident wanted to know if he was entitled to anything even though he thought he may have gotten someone else’s paperwork. No one in the apartment, he explained, is named Roberts. However, after getting filled in on what Roberts meant, he said he’d be filing.

The Tenants Association planning protests outside Stuyvesant Town Leasing Office

The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association is calling for volunteers in an effort to protest CWCapital’s high, mid-lease rent hikes, starting tomorrow outside the leasing office.

Read the TA’s notice online or below:

Hit CW Capital in the Only Place it Knows, its Pocket.

If you are angry and fed-up about any of these things:

  • Your staggering mid-term rent increase?
  • That you are still slugging your laundry blocks away?
  • Your’e still without reliable elevator service?
  • Your personal belongings rotting in a shipping container for six months?
  • Tepid enforcement of the rules?
  • Noisy, disrespectful neighbors?
  • Worrying your next service visit might become a police complaint?
  • All of the above?

Well we hear you!  

Now it is time to communicate to CW Capital in green language.

Make your thoughts and feelings known to prospective renters and neighbors infront of the Stuyvesant Town Peter Cooper Village Leasing Office.

All neighbors, new or tenured, young or old, need to stand together and support this action.

A rapid loss of hard-earned neighbors will result in less stablization and quailty-of-life for all.

We’ll start this Saturday and Sunday and if enough neighbors respond to our call for weekday shifts, well then we’ll carry on.

Each 1-2 hour shift will promote our message of how it really is to live here.

We’ll do that by displying hand written posters, distributing flyers to — and talking with — prospective renters in front of the rental office.

  •  We’ll tell them about CW Capital’s family busting rent increases.
  • We’ll also make sure prospective renters know about our noisy and inconsiderate neighbors and management’s minimal rule enforcement.
  • Make sure they know of the legal requirement that leasing agents must disclose which builidngs have been infested with bedbugs in the past year.
  • Show them how to check the TA’s Bedbug Registry
  • We’ll tell them which 17 buildings have no laundry facililies and have rotting basements and of no schedule of resolution to buidling wide problems.
  • About the recent burglaries and the need to remember to lock up and be present for service appointments.
  • Make sure they understand there is really (wink wink) an 80% carpet rule.
  • And best of all, we’ll give them homework!  We’ll ask them to read the blogs likeStuytown ReportEscapeStuyTownTown and Village Newspaper and the TA Facebook and Official page.

Working together we can sustain this for a long time.

  • Retirees and night workers can help on weekdays while folks are working.
  •  We have loving grandparents here to help watch young ones while moms and dads take a shift.

Can’t make a full shift?   Stop by and support your neighbors.  Bring water or just a smile.

Find out what else you can do.

  • Send CW Capital a Video Message
  • Join an adhoc tenant advisory legal committee to explore legal options.
  • Help with Social Media.
  • Post flyers in your building.
  • Make a donation

Register below to learn more, join a shift, or do something else

CW to tenants: Pay up

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

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

By Sabina Mollot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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