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.

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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