T&V Editorials, Oct. 4

Amazon can’t rescue your parakeet

This week, Town & Village would like to acknowledge one of the many ways that independent, owner-run businesses, as opposed to employee-run chains, can benefit the community.

Along with helping to keep any money spent by neighborhood residents in the same neighborhood and having knowledgeable people around to answer questions instead of clueless kids telling customers to call corporate, they are also generally fiercely loyal to the communities they serve.

A perfect example of this Carole Husiak. Husiak and her husband Johnny own Ibiza Kidz, the children’s store that only reopened last Friday after the electrical fire over three weeks ago in Stuyvesant Town.

Continue reading

Advertisements

L train, noise and MCIs will be addressed at Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village TA meeting

L train construction and other train related issues will be discussed on Saturday. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

As was announced earlier this month, the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association will be holding a meeting a number of issues on Saturday, September 29 at 2 p.m.

Tenants Association President Susan Steinberg says those who attend can expect to learn more about the following topics:

One will be the L train, specifically residents’ concerns surrounding construction, and, once the shutdown begins, transportation.

“The MTA and the DOT are being awfully vague about what their plans are,” Steinberg said. “As you reported about the L train, they talk about mitigation steps but they don’t say what they are. And I love how they said they’re not really going to be 24/7, but if they need to be, they will.”

Continue reading

Teachout: More tenant protection needed against predatory equity

July19 teachout cropped

Zephyr Teachout discusses her platform in front of a Jared-Kushner-owned building. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Attorney General candidate Zephyr Teachout has announced specific tenant-friendly objectives she would implement in the office if elected in response to reports that 19 tenants are suing Jared Kushner’s real estate company for pushing them out of their rent stabilized apartments.

Teachout’s agenda, which she announced on Monday in front of the Kushner-owned building in Williamsburg whose tenants have filed the lawsuit, includes creating an ombudsman position that would be responsible for engagement with tenant groups and organizers to respond to complaints and increasing criminal prosecutions in the Real Estate Enforcement Unit, a division of the AG’s office that investigates and prosecutes cases involving bank fraud, deceptive lending practices, tenant harassment and other real estate-related crimes.

“These crimes are committed every day by real estate companies in New York,” she said. “If we really want to change their behavior, we have to go after them criminally and not just civilly.”

Continue reading

Letters to the editor, Apr. 5

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Fight for rent regs important this year

The City Council renewed our NYC Rent Control and NYC Rent Stabilization laws on March 22. “Ho Hum,” you may say, “the City does that every three years.” True as the Council’s triennial renewal of these rent laws is, I put to you that this year is markedly different. How so?

This year the NYC laws’ renewal was led by our new Council Speaker, Corey Johnson. I attended Johnson’s inauguration on Jan. 28 and on the topic of tenant rent justice I found him electrifying.  He saw clearly that the fight is in Albany and he has committed to lead the vanguard from NYC to strengthen protections.

At his inauguration he pointedly said  “Furthermore, working with my partners in state government, I pledge to help lead the fight to press Albany to not only renew our rent laws, but to finally – once and for all – close the loopholes that are allowing landlords to deregulate thousands of affordable apartments every year.”

Continue reading

Tenant lobbying event in Albany

Real Rent Reform (R3), a coalition of tenant advocacy groups, is organizing a lobbying day in Albany on Thursday, March 22 to tell the State Senate to close the loopholes that are making housing in this city unaffordable. Even in rent-regulated apartments, the rent is too high and stability is at risk. Nearly 266,000 tenants live with a preferential rent which means their rent can jump hundreds of dollars when their lease is up.

Transportation will be provided free of cost by R3 as well as a light breakfast and lunch.

The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association will have representatives there and is asking neighbors to attend.

Continue reading

Lawsuit to close election loophole

Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh

Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh (pictured at a rally in May) is one of the plaintiffs. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Tuesday, three Democratic state legislators filed a lawsuit against the Board of Elections aimed at closing the “LLC Loophole.”

The so-called loophole, created by the board in 1996, came under scrutiny this year due to all the campaign cash that had been legally funneled to legislators through limited liability companies. Many of the LLCs were controlled by real estate interests, most infamously Leonard Litwin of Glenwood Management. The loophole has allowed them to give nearly limitless contributions — up to $60,800 in a single election year by allowing them to be considered individuals.

“It’s not just (Litwin),” said Brent Ferguson, an attorney with New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, which helped prepare the lawsuit. “In the real estate industry, they can operate a separate LLC for every building they own.”

He added, “We think it’s an incorrect reading of the law.”

The Brennan Center got involved with a suit on the loophole, said Ferguson, because it’s “become very popular” in recent years. “The amount has skyrocketed.”

Since 2011, $54 million has been donated by LLCs through the loophole, and while those doing the giving are usually traceable, they aren’t always.

“We think it’s one of the biggest problems in New York’s campaign finance system and democracy in general,” said Ferguson.

The legislators who are plaintiffs in the suit include Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Senators Liz Krueger and Daniel Squadron who are all Democrats as well as

Republicans John R. Dunne, a former senator and former U.S. attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, and Maureen Koetz, who ran a campaign against Assembly Member Sheldon Silver last year.

Another plaintiff is SUNY New Paltz Professor Gerald Benjamin, an upstate Republican Party leader. The suit was filed with the Albany County Supreme Court with the help of the Brennan Center and the firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP.

In April the Brennan Center and Emery Celli asked the BOE to close the loophole, but the board, after a 2-2 vote, didn’t reverse its decision.

Prior to the rent laws being renewed last month, Kavanagh had introduced legislation that would cap contributions from corporations at $5,000 per calendar year. The bill made it through the Assembly but not the Senate.

In an official statement, Kavanagh said, “The individuals and businesses who give large contributions through LLCs have much more power than those who have not contributed or have contributed under the lower limits that apply to other entities and individuals. The result is that government does not adequately represent those New Yorkers who do not have the ability or desire to exploit the LLC Loophole.”

Krueger said that she’s encountered would-be candidates for public office who got turned off from running because they didn’t think they’d be able to compete with candidates raising more money.

“The prominence of LLC contributions has a significant effect on the willingness and ability of people to run for office,” she said.

Ferguson said the plaintiffs are hoping the litigation will be resolved before the 2016 elections. The fight is not a new one though, he said, noting that in 2007, some good government groups raised some of the points to the BOE raised in the suit.

The lawsuit argues that an LLC is not individual because: “An LLC cannot vote. It holds no political view separate of its members.” It also noted how LLCs had been looked at by the governor’s now disbanded anti-corruption panel, who believed they contributed to Albany’s “pay-to-play culture.”

A spokesperson for the Board of Elections did not respond to a request for comment.

On the rent laws’ limited improvements

By Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh

With the rent laws that protect more than 2 million tenants set to expire on June 15 this year, and the inadequacies and loopholes in the current laws all too apparent, the Assembly’s Democratic Majority, led by Speaker Heastie, fought resolutely to renew and strengthen these vital protections, in negotiations with Senate Republicans and Governor Cuomo.

In taking up this cause, we were joined by a diverse coalition, including thousands of my constituents and other New Yorkers who took the time to call and write their elected officials, attend rallies, and travel to Albany to make sure their voices were heard; advocacy organizations like the Alliance for Tenant Power, the Real Rent Reform Campaign, Tenants and Neighbors, the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, Good Old Lower East Side, and the Cooper Square Committee; and many elected officials, including Senators Squadron, Hoylman, and Krueger whose districts overlap with my Assembly district.

While it was critical that the laws be extended, and there are minor improvements in the extension passed last night, I am profoundly disappointed that notwithstanding all of our efforts, the bill fails to provide anything close to the protections we need to maintain stable, affordable communities. I voted against it.

Continue reading

Albany extends Rent Stabilization Laws for five days

Susan Steinberg, Al Doyle, Anne Greenberg, Kirstin Aadahl and Margaret Salacan of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association protest outside a fundraiser for Governor Cuomo. (Photo courtesy of the ST-PCV Tenants Association)

Susan Steinberg, Al Doyle, Margaret Salacan, Anne Greenberg and Kirstin Aadahl, Margaret Salacan and a resident of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association protest outside a fundraiser for Governor Cuomo. (Photo courtesy of the ST-PCV Tenants Association)

By Sabina Mollot

Days after the deadline to renew the Rent Stabilization Laws, with no resolution in sight, the state legislature worked to extend the laws for another five days.

In a joint statement, Albany’s three men in a room, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, confirmed the governor’s signing of the bill, and claimed to be “moving in a positive direction toward a resolution.”

But rather than offer any detail, the statement then went on to tout the legislature’s passage of unrelated bills such as protections against sexual assault on college campuses and investments in infrastructure.

Heastie, however, issued a statement of his own, stressing that the Assembly wouldn’t bend on its efforts to win stronger protections for tenants.

“We have agreed on a short term extender bill with the Governor and the Senate which will allow for more time to come to a final agreement,” said Heastie. “But one thing is clear – the Assembly Majority will not compromise its principles and agree to a package that does not provide critical rent protections for the millions of New Yorkers who depend on these laws.”

The rent law legislation the Democrat-controlled Assembly hopes to pass is wildly different from the package put forth more recently by the Republican-controlled Senate. The Senate hopes to create a database in which tenants would have to verify their incomes. Tenant friendly measures are codifying the Tenant Protection Unit and imposing stiffer penalties on landlords who harass tenants. The Assembly hopes to repeal vacancy decontrol, reform preferential rents, MCIs (major capital improvements) and IAIs (individual apartment improvements) and lower vacancy bonuses.

Continue reading

Rent regs expire with no hint of progress in Albany

ST-PCV Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg and other tenants at a vigil on Sunday outside the midtown Manhattan office of Governor Cuomo. (Photo by Anne Greenberg)

ST-PCV Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg and other tenants at a vigil on Sunday outside the midtown Manhattan office of Governor Cuomo. (Photo by Anne Greenberg)

By Sabina Mollot

It wasn’t quite the climactic end to another four years tenants were hoping for when at midnight on June 15, the laws regulating rents in New York expired without being renewed or strengthened.

The following morning, the talks continued in Albany, though there was no sign that that they’d be concluded any time soon.

Part of the reason was that Governor Andrew Cuomo has been hoping to include the passage of an education tax credit in the negotiations, while Senate Republicans also last week passed a set of rent regulation legislation that’s wildly different from the package the Assembly passed in May. The much hyped 421-a tax abatement for developers who include some affordable housing in their projects has also been a factor, but hasn’t been given as much attention as it was expected to get, according to State Senator Brad Hoylman.

Hoylman described the tax program, which also expired on Monday, as being “radioactive” to many of his colleagues because of its being “at the heart of the investigations” into corruption in Albany by U.S. attorney Preet Bharara.

“It’s understandable that it wouldn’t be a front burner issue,” said Hoylman, adding he wouldn’t be mourning the program’s loss if it isn’t ultimately renewed and that he thinks it ought to be negotiated separately.

Continue reading

Why it’s in Cuomo’s best interest politically to strengthen the rent laws

Note: the governor on Saturday made statements indicating he was interested in strengthening the rent laws further than his previous position of simply slightly raising the threshold at which apartments can be deregulated.

With Albany in a state of chaos brought on by allegations of bribery and corruption of two of the infamous three men in a room, the governor has stated that due to said chaos, the rent laws could just be renewed as is or maybe slightly tweaked. For instance, according to a Daily News article this week, he’s suggested raising the $2,500 rent threshold at which a unit can be destabilized by a whopping $200 to $2,700.

A minor change like this seems to be in sharp contrast to four years ago when the rent laws were somewhat strengthened for the first time in 18 years. This strengthening was due, at least in part, to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s influence. Clearly, the man has the power to make a difference if he wants to.

So the question is, does he want to now? It doesn’t really look that way. But hopefully, Cuomo, who is nobody’s fool, will see that with it being out in the open that legislators have essentially been for sale in Albany, it really is time for lawmakers to distance themselves from their deep-pocketed benefactors. After all, this isn’t just about bribery and kickback schemes. There is also the matter of the huge amounts of cash that have been steered to key players, including Cuomo, legally, from real estate interests.

Obviously all these elected officials want to get reelected and having the campaign cash helps, but with the state’s pay-for-play politics finally having been exposed due to ongoing federal investigations, this just isn’t a situation that’s going to be fixed with dollar bills. While we believe Cuomo damaged his credibility irreparably by shutting down his own anti-corruption watchdog panel, with the rent laws, he still has an opportunity to redeem himself in the eyes of voters. That is, if he can prove that it’s the citizens and not the powers that be he cares about protecting.

Continue reading

Letters to the Editor, June 4

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Garodnick: How rent laws in current state have been used to raise rents in ST/PCV

The following is an open letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo from Council Member Dan Garodnick.

Dear Governor Cuomo:

Many New Yorker City residents are looking to you to help us strengthen the rent laws in the coming weeks. While there are many ways in which these laws need revision, I wanted to point out two areas of the law that have been particularly destructive within Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village (ST/PCV) – a community of 25,000 renters, all rent-stabilized, which make up a portion of my Council District.

 The areas of particular concern have been: vacancy decontrol, preferential rents, and Major Capital Improvements (MCIs).

 Vacancy Decontrol: Vacancy decontrol creates some of the most perverse incentives that lay within our rent laws, and it has already done a great deal of damage in ST/PCV.  When the law allows a landlord to jack up rents upon vacancy, there is a very strong push for them to achieve a vacancy – almost at any cost.  In the case of ST/PCV, the property was sold in 2006 to an owner whose entire business plan only penciled out if they pushed rent-stabilized tenants out of their homes, quickly. The result was that tenants were pursued ruthlessly on a variety of bases to get them to leave.

Senate bill S1167 and Assembly bill A1585 would end vacancy decontrol, and would re-regulate many of the units that were deregulated over the last 15 years. I hope you will support it.

Preferential rents: Because of the “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” case, many tenants in ST/PCV have legal rent-stabilized rents that are thousands of dollars more than the market rate rents for their apartments.  These tenants are paying market rates, but well below what the law allows. The result is that on lease renewal, the landlord is hitting tenants with increases of $250, $500 or even up to $700 per month. Many tenants find themselves suddenly, and without any ability to plan, unable to afford these increases.

There are smart proposals that would give much more certainty to tenants in this position, such as S1775/A5473, which would only allow Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) increases on preferential rents, and keep them from rising to the legal rent until the end of the current occupant’s tenancy.

MCI Reform: I also hope you will support efforts to reform MCIs. MCIs were created so that landlords would have an incentive to improve the property, and to have the ability to recoup their investment. The law today allows them to add the cost of the MCI onto tenants’ rents, and leave it there forever – and long after the investment has been paid for in full by the tenants. S1493/A5373 would make these MCI’s temporary, ensuring that owners are compensated for investing in their properties, but in a way that fair to tenants.

These are only three ways in which our rent laws are broken. I have, however, seen how vacancy decontrol, preferential rents without protections, and MCI loopholes have burdened my own district, and I am certain that your efforts to reform those laws would make a difference. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Daniel R. Garodnick

Continue reading

OP-ED: The rent laws need teeth, so tenants will need to show theirs

By Susan Steinberg, Board Chair, Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association

Sometimes in the life of our community, I feel like a barker at a carnival. Two of those times are upon us: a June 8 public hearing of the Rent Guidelines Board and a June 9 major tenant rally in Albany to demand stronger rent laws.

I’m not selling you a ticket to a freak show where your pocket may be picked once you’re inside. On the other hand, thinking about it, both Albany and the RGB are freak shows, and the real estate industry does pick your pocket.

The June 8 RGB public hearing is the one opportunity tenants have to tell their stories about why rents should be rolled back or frozen. We need tenants to counteract the piteous cries of the landlords about how they can’t cover their costs (while ignoring their ever-increasing profits). Tenants need to let the RGB know that they can’t continue to be burdened to the point of spending 50 percent of their income on rent.

Getting on a bus to Albany is critical because rent laws expire on June 15 – but we need them strengthened, not just renewed. Everyone living in Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village stands to benefit from stronger rent laws. Without the laws having more teeth, the number of regulated units will dwindle to the point where tenants have no political clout, and we can all look forward to rents that are totally beyond our pocketbooks.

Experience has shown us that masses of tenants being seen and making their voices heard does have a chilling effect on the forces of darkness. That’s why showing up in numbers is important.

So here I go “barking.”

Who’s coming to the June 8 RGB hearing? Elebash Recital Hall, CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue (between 34th and 35th Streets). The hearing will be held 2-6 p.m. Pre-register to testify either by email (ask@nycrgb.org) or by phone (212-385-2934), or register in person at the start of the hearing. Keep your spoken remarks to three minutes. You may submit your views in writing by addressing them to the chair or any board member, c/o NYC Rent Guidelines Board, 51 Chambers St., Suite 202, New York, NY 10007 or by email: chair@nycrgb.org.

Who’s coming with me to Albany on June 9? The TA has hired three buses. Sign up now, while your seat is still available. Internet: http://stpcvta.org/albany2015. For neighbors without Internet access, call (917) 338-7860.

Letters to the Editor, Apr. 30

Apr9 Toon Cyclone

Why was mail dumped in wrong building?

Today, Saturday, April 25, dozens (literally dozens) of pieces of mail addressed to tenants of 435 East 14th Street were dumped in the lobby of 445 East 14th Street. Most of the mail was rent bills.

I took all of it over to the lobby of 435, though I didn’t take all the magazines because I was running late for an appointment and there were a lot of magazines, too!

Anybody at 435 should regularly check the lobby of 445 because we get their mail quite frequently, though not usually as much as today.

Obviously, it was not our regular letter carrier working today because she is very careful. I wonder why the Postal Service is going down the toilet?

Maybe it’s time that PCVST set up some way of electronic rent payment (if it doesn’t already) because I’m sure this is not an isolated incident and some tenants may be late with their rent because the Postal Service (if you can call it “service”) is so bad around here.

Frances Clarke, ST

Town & Village called the Peter Stuyvesant Post Office three times on Monday and again on Wednesday to ask about this but the phone wasn’t picked up any of those times. An employee at a window said he’d heard about it and thought someone had forgotten to lock the mailboxes. An official spokesperson for the USPS didn’t respond to an email from T&V requesting a comment. A rep for CWCapital said it was a USPS issue and referred any questions to the aforemenioned agency. T&V also contacted Congress Member Carolyn Maloney whose case worker for postal issues, Sarah Belleas, asked that tenants who experience any mail problems contact her at sarah.belleas@mail.house.gov.

Continue reading

Mayor signs legislation extending rent regulation for 3 years

Mayor de Blasio, surrounded by other elected officials, signs legislation that renews the rent laws for another three years. (Photo by Anne Greenberg)

Mayor de Blasio, surrounded by other elected officials, signs legislation that renews the rent laws for another three years. (Photo by Anne Greenberg)

On Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law Intro. 685, which extends the Rent Stabilization laws in New York City until April 1, 2018. The 2014 Housing Survey shows that New York City currently has a rental vacancy rate of 3.45 percent, which constitutes a housing emergency, and this legislation, the mayor said, is necessary to restrict rent increases and prevent evictions. This bill was approved by the City Council during a meeting on March 11.

“Rent regulations are vital to protecting New Yorkers from displacement and keeping our communities whole,” the mayor said in an official statement. “Renewing and strengthening rent rules is a top priority for us in Albany this session, and we will fight alongside our partners in the City Council and our delegation in the State Legislature to ensure we have the tools we need to preserve more than a million rent stabilized apartments.”

A spokesperson for the mayor noted that the legislation in no way shapes what the outcome will be in Albany in terms of parameters of the law when it comes up for renewal this June. In other words, an extension of the law in the city wouldn’t mean changes to the law potentially made later this year at the state level.

ST-PCV Tenants Association’s Al Doyle gives testimony at rent regulation extension signing

Apr2 TA Al Doyle

Al Doyle, board member of ST-PCV TA (Photo by Anne Greenberg)

The following is testimony given by Alvin Doyle in favor of enacting Intro 685, renewal of the NYC rent regulation laws for another three years, on Monday, March 30.

Good afternoon. I’m Alvin Doyle, a member of the board of directors of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association and a lifelong rent-stabilized tenant. I’m here to speak in support of Intro 685.

Our united developments contain over 11,000 apartments, and we have been ravaged by rapacious owners and others. We see our once-peaceful, stable, and affordable middle-class community being destroyed.

Vacancy deregulation is the worm within, slowly, painfully, inexorably eating away at our affordable housing stock.
As our neighbors have died or moved out, apartments have been renovated, chopped up to add so-called bedrooms, and stuffed with more adult occupants than they were designed to accommodate or that the infrastructure can support. The rest of the city will soon see this as real estate types seek to add value, as they say, to existing buildings.

By manipulating existing regulations, our owners have jacked rents up so high that they are well above market rate. I’m talking about as much as $7,000 for a one-bedroom apartment in a building that doesn’t even have a doorman. Families trying to put down roots regularly find themselves priced out of their homes and their school district. Young people have to submit to dorm-like living just to get a toehold in this town.

Mayor de Blasio, you have committed to adding 200,000 affordable units, and we applaud that. We have over 11,000 such units, and it’s far easier to preserve than to build. But we need strong laws to do this. We deeply appreciate your making the case in Albany recently. We need your political and moral leadership now to repeal vacancy deregulation, which makes apartments and communities unaffordable and New York City untenable.
We need to keep rent-stabilized apartments stabilized. No taking them out of the program by jacking up the rents and churning the tenants — no more automatic 20 percent increase every time the apartment turns over because with current landlord practices, they turn over frequently.

No more perpetual Major Capital Improvement costs. They should be surcharges, not part of the base rent. Once something is paid for, the cost should go away. It’s outrageous that tenants have to pay in perpetuity for what the landlord can depreciate. Who made that deal?

And we need to stop the landlords’ practice of renting apartments for hundreds of dollars less than the legal rent and then ambushing tenants with renewal increases of double-digit percentages. That underhanded tactic is destabilizing our community.

There should be room in every borough for New Yorkers at every income level. We can’t allow greedy real estate operators to buy off upstate officials to support their plan to turn Manhattan in particular into an enclave for the rich and absent. We want to keep the lights turned on for everyone so that we can continue to attract the young, the energetic, the creative — and house them. And we want those who have lived here all their lives to know they can stay in their homes in the city they have worked hard in and to which they have contributed so much.