CW makes early lease offer, but TA advises caution

By Sabina Mollot

Last fall, the Tenants Association urged caution when CWCapital offered a deal to residents who’d accept a reduction in their MCI charges in exchange for agreeing not to challenge the recently imposed rent increases.

Now, the TA is again warning tenants to think twice before agreeing to another deal offered by the special servicer.

This time, it’s saying yes to an early lease renewal, in exchange for CW’s promise not to raise rents for a period of either 12 or 24 months. However, there’s a catch, warned the TA in an email to neighbors on Monday.

“Management will not show tenants the leases they will be signing, and are giving them little time — from 48 hours to seven days — in which to decide,” the TA said.

So far, the association has heard from about 20 residents with regards to the offer, which was sent to more recent residents paying higher rents. Some are “Roberts” tenants and some aren’t.

“I am not aware of any long-term stabilized tenants who have received such offers,” said Susan Steinberg, chair of the Tenants Association. However, since the association wasn’t aware of exactly how many people had been contacted, she wasn’t sure exactly who’s been targeted.

One thing that was constant was that the residents’ leases would be up for renewal in the fall, but the goal was to get the recipients to sign a new lease this spring.

“In what they claim is a marketing-driven effort, CWCapital/Compass Rock is attempting to match lease expirations with rental patterns in New York City — apartments are most in demand March through September — and is seeking to align fall lease starts in spring,” the TA wrote.

“However, through occupant turnover, the schedule of when leases start drifts into the slower months. If an owner of rent-regulated apartments wants to ‘correct’ the lag, the only recourse under Rent Stabilization Law is to offer to cancel a lease early and renew it at the same rate.”

The TA’s concern is that residents who accept the offer will have to first cancel their current lease before getting the new one and could possibly lose rights currently offered under the Rent Stabilization code. This is something “no sensible tenant feels comfortable” doing, the TA wrote.

In response to the concerns, Brian Moriarty, a spokesperson for CW, said the offer is voluntary and has already proven to be popular among tenants.

“Our residents are accepting this offer in significant numbers,” said Moriarty, though he didn’t have exact figures available.

He added, “We don’t understand why the TA is intent on creating an issue with this purely voluntary promotion which benefits tenants. Despite the TA’s claim, they haven’t contacted CWCapital to discuss their concern. If they had, they would know that we started providing letters outlining the offer as well as a link to the lease form to address any concerns.”

Meanwhile, a few residents contacted with the offer have said their deals included a one-time rent credit of $500. However, when discussing the issue on Facebook, it seemed some new lease offers involved a temporary rent freeze while others’ rents would still be raised, though they also got the $500 credit offer.

This comes on the heels of a handful of tenants reporting that they’d gotten credits for their MCIs. One woman said it was done as “a result of the negotiations” between the TA and CWCapital. Those conversations are still ongoing and there have been no announcements or comments from either party.

Editorial: RGB desperately in need of reform

Last Thursday night, a mixed crowd of tenants, tenant advocates and even a few landlords wearily took part in a dreaded tradition that each and every party in attendance understood was a complete sham.

As tenant reps begged, as they do each year, for a rent freeze, citing the economy and job market, owner reps asked for rent increases that few people’s annual raises (assuming they even get them) could possibly match. And as for the so-called “public” reps of the Rent Guidelines Board, they did what they do every time they vote for what over a million New Yorkers’ rent increases are going to be: nothing at all.

For years, both tenants and landlords have griped that the RGB system is broken. Tenants in particular have had no confidence in the board since its members are all picked by Mayor Bloomberg.
There is legislation, that if passed, would reform the RGB by giving the City Council more oversight in making sure those appointed to the board are actually qualified to make the decisions that they do (and not just vote the way the mayor would).

The bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, said it passed the Assembly on Friday, just before the session ended for summer. This is not surprising, but what will be a surprise if it can make its way through the State Senate, where tenant-friendly legislation typically goes to die. This is unfortunate, since that legislation may be the best hope for the stabilized renters in this city, who’ve seen a rent increase every single time there’s been a vote.

Additionally, for the past several years at least, the June vote, which is the final event after a series of public hearings and meeting at which countless tenants, owners and advocates give testimony on why rent increases are either a disastrous idea or a necessary one, the evening plays out the same way each time. The two tenant reps propose a freeze, eventually hoping to negotiate by offering up percentage figures on the low side. The two owner reps usually propose increases around 10 percent, and then the board chair picks a number somewhere in between and the other four public members vote with him, giving that amount the majority vote.

In April, when the preliminary vote took place, RGB Chair Jonathan Kimmel insisted that the votes are not, as critics charge, decided beforehand. But this is pretty difficult to believe when the process is always carried out the same way, and in the same hurried manner too as if the RGB members feel they have better things to do than get heckled by tenants who fear getting priced out of the city.

While he wasn’t betting the bill would be given the blessing of the Senate this year, Kavanagh said progressive issues, such as this one, are now being pushed hard in Albany and RGB reform in particular is one of the top priorities of tenant advocates.

“The City Council having a say would be quite significant,” he said. “We don’t know if any of the current members believe there should be rent stabilization at all. If we had a hearing where (prospective board members) could explain why they want to sit on the board, we’d have a very different kind of process.”

Letters to the Editor, June 6

No closet door left unopened

My apartment was recently inspected by CompassRock.  Their notification letter was commanding but having no option and nothing to hide anyway, I waited for the day to arrive.

The inspector entered politely, accompanied by a security guard, and immediately informed me that he would also be “looking at” the closets.

Taken aback yet somehow not surprised in this environment of mistrust, I followed him from room to room and he opened the doors himself.  The security guard remained inside the front door.

The inspection lasted just a few minutes but, sadly, the negative effects on me have lingered. I approached the inspection in good faith, under the impression they were looking for illegal subdivision of rooms or major structural problems or similar. I consider it a violation of privacy and an insult to my integrity for a total stranger to inspect closets which, as well as utilitarian items, hold personal items.
The community newsletter, which arrived after the inspection, writes of ensuring apartments are in compliance with applicable laws, lease terms and community rules, looking for unsafe conditions, unregistered dogs and compliance with the 80 percent carpet rule. It had never occurred to me that closets fell into this category.

With nearly 25 years of tenancy, I have come to love where I live. For the most part, I welcome the physical and demographic changes, which have taken place.  Sadly, my experience with the inspection has left me feeling like some kind of criminal, and has further fostered the culture of unease that successive managements seem to enjoy encouraging. Indeed, a neighbor whose apartment was inspected in their absence with their agreement (but who did not share my feelings), advised me against speaking out for fear of reprisal.

Furthermore, I have now discovered that not all apartment inspections included closets – and not all were conducted by more than one representative.

Eileen Aarons, ST

Continue reading

Effort to protest mid-lease rent increases continues

May30 sign

The ST-PCV Tenants Association’s signs, like the one pictured, have been popping up at local stores.

By Sabina Mollot

Two weeks after CWCapital announced that mid-lease rent hikes would be issued to around 1,300 residents of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, the Tenants Association and local elected officials are still hoping to get the special servicer to change its mind.

On Tuesday, several East Side elected officials asked Andrew MacArthur, vice president of CWCapital Asset Management, for a sit-down aimed at “holding off on any increases until leases expire.” The request was made via letter signed by State Senator Charles Schumer, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Public Advocate Bill De Blasio, Council Member Dan Garodnick, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Borough President Scott Stringer.

In the letter, the pols noted that leasing agents had been telling renters that it was highly unlikely CW would raise rents mid-lease.

“Since there is regular sharing of information within the community, it is very likely that many more residents believed they would be free of rent hikes mid-term,” they wrote.

The Tenants Association also continued to encourage neighbors to picket outside the leasing office. Though initially the intent was to have “sustained” protesting outside, the association was unable to have a continued presence mid-week, and has instead, since early this week, been focused on a flyer door dropoff campaign. Additionally, John Marsh, the president of the TA, said another plan has been to approach local businesses to ask if they’d agree to keep protest signs and flyers on sight. That way residents could drop by, pick up flyers, protest and then return the sign.

“Even if they can only give a half hour, if we can get 500 people to do a half hour, we’d be fully covered,” said Marsh. “To make it meaningful, you have to have a sustained effort, so now we have self-service protests.”

One volunteer, who didn’t want his name used, mentioned that he and his wife had already gotten a bunch of local retailers to participate. Those include Adam’s Deli and the Associated supermarket on East 14th Street and Duane Reade, CVS, Zeichner’s, Ess-A-Bagel and Nature’s First Pharmacy, Frank’s Trattoria, Duro Carpet and Johnny Mozzarella on First Avenue. The volunteer added that he was one of a handful of tenants who’d picketed over Memorial Day weekend, scaring off a few potential renters with tales of bedbugs and mid-lease rent hikes.

CWCapital increased the rents following the “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” settlement. Fine print in the leases had mentioned the rents could be raised, even mid-lease.

As reported by T&V last week, tenants had protested in front of the leasing office to tell prospective renters about the mid-lease increases as well as other problems such as continued lack of basic services in Sandy-battered buildings. Management responded by having leasing agents meet clients in the back of the leasing office or at the model apartments.

Additionally, in a newsletter emailed to residents last Wednesday, CWCapital said,

“In accordance with certain residents’ leases and in accordance with the court order approving the settlement agreement, some residents have received a rent adjustment. Some rents have gone down and some rents have gone up. If your rent has been adjusted, you already received a notice on May 14th.  

“We respect the fact that adjusting rents mid-lease term is disruptive and can be confusing… We look forward to resolving these last uncertainties and restoring stability to our community.”

In related news, since Tuesday, the Tenants Association has also been hearing from residents who received unusually high June rent bills. Those were not the same tenants who received the mid-lease increases, who’ve all been members of the “Roberts” class action, but tenants living in “Roberts” affected apartments, said Marsh.

However, according to a CW spokesperson, this turned out to be a clerical error. There was no comment on the continued effort to overturn the mid-lease increases.

In other news, residents have also been concerned about CW’s recently begun campaign to inspect all apartments for “unsafe conditions, unregistered dogs and compliance with the 80 percent carpet rule.” Tenants have told Town & Village via Facebook that in some instances, inspectors have looked inside their closets and Marsh said he’s heard the same, “which is disconcerting.”

In light of the recent spate of no-forced-entry burglaries, the TA has advised residents to comply with the inspections but make sure they can be present.

Marsh said the TA was successful in getting management to agree to take requests for appointments for an inspection via email. Previously it had only been by phone, which Marsh said concerned some tenants who weren’t sure there would be follow-through after leaving a message. The notice period may also be getting extended to 7-10 days.

This article was updated from the print version to include a response from CWCapital on the June rent bills.

Letters to the Editor, May 30

Tenants should pick next mayor carefully

Re: Letter, “Rent hikes will destroy community,” T&V, May 23

To the Editor:

When the chair of the ST-PCV Tenants Association cries, “Where’s our mayor?” several times, we’re in trouble. Susan Steinberg concludes her letter with, “The silence is deafening.” But to me the answer to her question, “Where’s our mayor?” is loud and clear.

First of all, we tenants have not had a mayor we could call “ours” in over 20 years. During the Republican administrations of “their” mayors, Giuliani and Bloomberg, we have suffered rent hikes every year. Why? Because the Republican Mayor’s handpicked Rent Guidelines Board, which is stacked 5-4 against tenants, automatically votes in favor of the landlords every year.

If you want to find “their” mayor, go to a Republican fundraiser where you’ll see him surrounded by smiling landlords and developers. Years ago you could see him shaking hands with Republican Senate Majority Leader Bruno, no friend to tenants, who would travel to NYC from Albany using official state helicopters and official state-chauffeured cars to conduct “state business” with the Republican mayor, but only in person and only at the fundraiser.

I agree with Ms. Steinberg that rent hikes will destroy our community; they’ve been doing that for years. But the question should not be “Where’s our mayor?” but rather where’s an electable Democrat who supports affordable housing?

Surveying the current crop of candidates, that’s not going to be an easy question to answer, but only if we find one and elect him can we stop rent hikes every year and/or at the whim of the landlord.

John Cappelletti, ST

Continue reading