Tenants, landlords both plead their case

Tim Collins, counsel for ST-PCV Tenants Association

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Each year, prior to the final vote of the Rent Guidelines Board that determines the increases the city’s stabilized renters will have to pay, tenant advocates as well as real estate industry professionals both make impassioned pleas at public hearings.

At one such hearing last Thursday, tenant advocates called for a rent freeze while landlords pushed for increases.

Tim Collins, head counsel for the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association and a former executive director of the board, noted that while last year he had urged the board to roll back rents, this year he was advocating for a rent freeze.

“The price index is significant but when weighted against other economic factors, a rent freeze would be appropriate,” he said.

Collins explained that he wasn’t basing his decision on tenant welfare.

“Although I respect and am concerned about people left out by poverty and one of the barriers to a decent life is housing, but the board shouldn’t focus on making every apartment affordable,” he said. “But the board also shouldn’t focus on making every owner profitable. If you look at what you’ve done, what prior boards have done, all told since 1990 (increases have been) higher than what is needed to keep owners whole.”

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Advocates call for rent rollback at RGB forum

Rent Guidelines Board Tenant Representatives Sheila Garcia (center) and Harvey Epstein (left) with others at rally in front of 1 Centre Street prior to the RGB’s first meeting of the year (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Rent Guidelines Board Tenant Representatives Sheila Garcia (center) and Harvey Epstein (left) with others at rally in front of 1 Centre Street prior to the RGB’s first meeting of the year (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Ahead of the Rent Guidelines Board’s first meeting of the year, tenant advocates called for a rent rollback at a forum hosted by Council Member Corey Johnson at PS 3 in Greenwich Village last Wednesday evening attended by about 100 area residents, most of whom were rent stabilized tenants.

Attorney Tim Collins, who also represents the ST-PCV Tenants Association, is the former executive director of the RGB from 1987 to 1993 and he argued that putting a stop to increases for rent stabilized tenants is long overdue.

“Last year I didn’t ask for a rent freeze; I pushed for a rollback then,” Collins said. “The numbers are clear. The board has clear data on where operating costs have gone. We know that operating costs have gone up faster than inflation at 144 percent but landlords have been given 177 percent in increases since 1990. The RGB has overcompensated owners.”

Johnson, who represents Manhattan’s District 3, periodically hosts “Let’s Talk” events for community residents to inform New Yorkers about issues important to them. He won’t be hosting any other events on the RGB this year, but he said that this event was scheduled specifically to be on the night before the board’s first meeting of the year.

“It’s important that New Yorkers understand what is going on and the massive reforms that need to happen,” he said. “And we want to make sure that the RGB is treating tenants fairly.”

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Conversion, legal issues, rent regulations to be discussed at TA meeting

Brewer, Stringer support TA’s conversion effort

ST-PCV Tenants Association President John Marsh speaking at meeting on Saturday (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

ST-PCV Tenants Association President John Marsh at a previous meeting (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association will be holding its next general meeting on Saturday, December 6 at 1 p.m.

Topics will include recent legal issues, the annual review of Tenant Association activities, a conversion update, the Fannie Mae–Freddie Mac commitment to ST/PCV, what lies ahead in Albany post-election with respect to tenant issues and how New York City’s Comptroller’s Office and the Manhattan Borough President’s office will support the TA’s conversion effort.

Speakers will include TA attorney Tim Collins, Councilman Dan Garodnick, Congress Member Carolyn Maloney, NYS Senator Brad Hoylman, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

After the speakers, there will be an open mike question-and-answer session. Tenants will have an opportunity to line up before a floor microphone and ask about critical issues.

The meeting will be held at Middle School 104, East 20th Street between First and Second Avenues. Doors open at 12:30 p.m.

MCI settlement was best possible deal for tenants, TA attorney says

Tenants Association attorney Tim Collins at a meeting on Saturday (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Tenants Association attorney Tim Collins at a meeting on Saturday (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot
On the heels of the MCI settlement between CWCapital and the ST-PCV Tenants Association, around 250 tenants attended a meeting on Saturday to learn more about what the deal meant for them.
As usual almost all in attendance at the TA meeting, held at the Simon Baruch Middle School, were seniors. A bunch came armed with questions regarding the MCIs as well as quality of life and general affordability issues. However, those with unique circumstances were herded into another room at the school where there were tables to set up to help people understand the figures on their leases and with other problems.
Meanwhile, Tim Collins, the attorney for the ST-PCV Tenants Association addressed the crowd. First, he responded to some “grumbling” the deal has gotten since for most non-“Roberts” tenants, there’s only five percent removed from their monthly payments. Collins argued that as with any settlement, “you have to make deals. You have to trade something.” “Roberts” tenants wound up getting the higher reductions or full eliminations of the monthly payments because, said Collins, “they’re already paying very high rents.”
As a result of the deal, all tenants have had the retroactive portion of their MCIs (major capital improvements) eliminated. As for the monthly or permanent portion, “Roberts” tenants paying the full legal rent get a 5 percent credit. “Roberts’ tenants paying either the maximum modified legal rent or the maximum “Roberts” preferential rent get a 50 percent credit (as determined by the class action settlement). “Roberts” tenants paying less than the modified legal rent or “Roberts” preferential rent get a credit of 100 percent.
SCRIE/DRIE tenants are also exempt from having to pay the MCIs at all.
Non-“Roberts” tenants paying the full legal rent get a 5 percent credit. Non-“Roberts” tenants paying less than the full legal rent get a credit of 100 percent.  The credits are retroactive to January of this year and appear as two separate credits on tenants’ rent bill from May (one for May, one for the other four months).
While discussing the settlement, Collins tried to discourage residents from filing individual PARs (petitions for administrative review) since that could unravel the settlement for all tenants, a clause CW insisted on. Those hoping to score a better deal, warned Collins, would have less standing as individuals with the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) than a coalition like the TA has. He also pointed out that the TA had been at work for months in the hope of getting the best possible deal.
“I think we accomplished that,” said Collins.
He also shared with tenants that the settlement almost didn’t happen, with the talks breaking down twice. He declined to explain why, but admitted he wasn’t happy about having to agree that tenants would have to give up the option to file PARs.
But in trying to see it from the owner’s side, Collins said, “They wanted there to be finality. They wanted to have peace. They don’t want to fight 500 or 1,000 PARs that disrupt the deal.”
The deal does however make exceptions for tenants who want to file a PAR in unusual circumstances, such as the room count of their apartments being incorrect, since MCI costs vary based on the number of rooms in a unit.
Collins also reminded tenants that even before the negotiations, the TA had managed to convince the DHCR to knock 23 percent off the amount then-owner Tishman Speyer asked for in 2009. The challenge that followed came about after tenants received notices of the approved MCIs last fall and Collins saw that none of his arguments made in 2012 against the improvements, such as shoddy workmanship, had been considered.
The attorney also echoed the sentiment often made by local politicians that MCIs are not just a problem for tenants in Stuy Town, but a result of a law that favors landlords by allowing them to charge in perpetuity for building improvements.
“The main problem is in Albany,” he said.

Collins’ advice: Sign a one-year lease, not two.
Collins concluded his talk by urging tenants who have lease renewals coming up before October to take a one-year lease rather than a two-year one.
The reason, said Collins, who served as the executive director/counsel for the Rent Guidelines Board from 1987-1994, is that the RGB is expected to vote for a lower increase this year than what was handed down in previous years. Even a rent freeze is possible based on the preliminary vote last week. However, the increase voted on won’t go into effect until October.
Collins added that in recent years, the board’s increases amount to “nothing less than a scandal.”
The reason, he said, is that arguments made in support of owners involved projected operating cost increases that were much higher than what they actually turned out to be. At the same time, household incomes were dropping. Collins admitted that when he worked for the board, he took a somewhat hands-off approach, telling its members, “It’s not your job to make every apartment affordable or every building profitable for owners.” But over time, he started to feel like landlords were being given too much and advised the board to implement a rent freeze.
“This year I’m asking for a rollback,” he added.
Following his comments, TA President John Marsh chimed in to say Collins was speaking for himself and not on behalf of the TA, since what kind of lease to sign is always a gamble.
Council Member Dan Garodnick also spoke about the RGB, to recommend that tenants to participate in this year’s vote process by speaking at public hearings about their MCIs. With a new chair and new mayor, Garodnick pointed out that tenants have a better shot at swaying the board this year than they’ve had in the last 20 years. “I would encourage you to make your voices heard,” he said. “It’s quite an opportunity for tenants in this city.”
(Editor’s note: In a recent editorial, T&V also recommended that tenants tell the RGB about their MCIs, in the hope that hearing about unexpected increases tenants are made to pay mid-lease will have an impact on the board’s decision on the annual increase.)
The next public hearing in Manhattan takes place on June 16 at the Emigrant Savings Bank at 49-51 Chambers Street from 2-6 p.m.

ST-PCV Tenants Association President John Marsh speaking at a Tenants Association meeting on Saturday, with Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, Comptroller Scott Stringer, State Senator Brad Hoylman and Council Member Dan Garodnick (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

ST-PCV Tenants Association President John Marsh speaking at a Tenants Association meeting on Saturday, with Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, Comptroller Scott Stringer, State Senator Brad Hoylman and Council Member Dan Garodnick (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Support for tenant-led purchase of ST/PCV
Another issue discussed at the meeting was the future sale of ST/PCV, with Garodnick saying a tenant-led deal has the support of the city’s housing commissioner.
Later, he told Town & Village that along with HPD (Department of Housing Preservation and Development) Commissioner Vicki Been, he’d also spoken with the deputy mayor for economic development, Alicia Glen.
“My sense from them was that they wanted to find a way to be supportive of tenants in our initiative if they can,” he said.
On the other hand, CWCapital has remained unwilling to talk business.
“Not just with us but with anybody,” Garodnick said at the meeting. “We all suspect that a sale is somewhere on the horizon, but we’re not sure when.”
(Three days after the meeting, the plan to foreclose on the Stuy Town’s mezzanine was made public.)

Tenants at the meeting at Simon Baruch Middle School (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Tenants at the meeting at Simon Baruch Middle School (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Why tenants are pretty much doomed thanks to Albany and City Hall
As always, there was also much depressing talk about the politics governing rent laws at the event. Local elected officials took turns at the podium explaining why tenant-friendly bills never get anywhere.
State Senator Brad Hoylman reiterated a point he’s made before, saying that until there’s campaign finance reform, the State Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, will remain a place that’s more friendly to landlords than tenants. He noted that many of the Republicans get millions in campaign contributions from real estate interests and also often live in upstate districts where there are few renters. The Olean, NY-based Cathy Young, who chairs the Senate Standing Committee on Housing, Construction and Community Development, has blocked campaign finance reform from even being discussed on the Senate floor, Hoylman said. This, he explained, is why Senate members have been reduced to arguing about yogurt.
“Her district is closer to Detroit than Manhattan,” said Hoylman of Young, who’s also legislatively tried to undo “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer.” “We need to continue to fight for campaign finance reform,” Hoylman added. “It is fundamental to changing the power dynamic in Albany.”
Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh then spoke about how the state housing agency’s new Tenants Protection Unit was in danger of being de-funded by the State Senate.
Also at the meeting was Comptroller Scott Stringer who said that the mayor’s housing plan aimed at building or preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing won’t be enough to make up for the amount of affordable units that are getting lost each year. In the last 12 years,
Stringer said, “rent have skyrocketed by 75 percent,” while in the past 16 years, 400,000 apartments that rented for $1,000 or less disappeared. “Two hundred thousand (units), it’s just not enough to deal with the crisis,” Stringer said.

Reminder: Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association will hold MCI meeting on Saturday

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

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

The Stuyvesant Town–Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association will hold a public meeting to decode for residents the terms of the settlement arrived at by the TA and CWCapital regarding recent Major Capital Improvement (MCI) rent increases. The meeting will take place on Saturday, May 10 at 1 p.m. at Intermediate School 104, East 20th Street between First and Second Avenues. Space is limited, so seating will be first come, first served.
The meeting will be divided into three parts:
Part 1. City Council Member Dan Garodnick will sum up the latest news about what we can expect from the new city administration. Tenants Association attorney Tim Collins will explain the settlement and the money it has saved virtually every tenant. State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh will discuss the outlook for changing tenant-unfriendly laws, how these laws can be changed and how tenant action can help, especially with rent law renewal coming up next year.
Part 2. A question-and-answer period will be devoted to MCIs in general and the settlement in particular.
Part 3. Residents will be invited to move to tables set up by category for guidance on questions or problems regarding their own leases. They are urged to bring copies of their leases so they can get the most informed responses.

Tenants Association to challenge round of MCIs

TA tells tenants: Ignore CWCapital’s reduction offer, 

CW says: We’re trying to avoid conflict

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

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

By Sabina Mollot

After residents were hit with five MCIs (major capital increases) in October for upgrade projects in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, management firm CompassRock made an offer to try and reduce the retroactive portions of those increases  — an offer that the Tenants Association swiftly responded to, to suggest that neighbors ignore it.

The MCIs were discussed by the Tenants Association’s attorney Tim Collins at a meeting held on Saturday at the Simon Baruch Middle School auditorium.

This meeting, which was attended by around 500 people, took place a day after tenants received a letter from CompassRock, which mentioned that management hoped to work with tenants to lower the amount of retroactive charges in the MCIs “in order to mitigate the impact of this component for our longer term residents.” It also mentioned that some residents — those whose legal rent is higher than their preferential rent (what they actually pay) — shouldn’t see any increases at all.

However, the letter, which was unsigned, then went on to warn tenants that though they have a right to challenge the MCIs, if they did, they could forget management’s offer to try and reduce the retroactive portion, and that even if tenants did appeal, the MCIs would still likely be approved.

“It is our belief based upon legal advice received that at the end of any appeal process, we will obtain all or almost all of the amounts reflected in the orders,” the note read. CompassRock then went on to say management hoped to address the issue with tenants over the next few weeks so the proper amount of rent could be issued in the December bills.

“We hope that our residents take this letter as it was intended — not as a formal legal offer, but as a gesture of our good faith and a commitment from us to mitigate the effect of these orders,” said the note.

A few residents told Town & Village they thought the letter had a threatening tone, and later, Brian Moriarty, a spokesperson for management and special servicer CWCapital issued a statement, explaining that the offer was made to avoid any conflict with the tenants.

“We intend to make public final settlement terms by the beginning of next week,” said Moriarty. “In doing so, we are seeking to mitigate the effect of the MCIs and provide residents with clarity regarding their ongoing rents. As we stated in the letter, we have received legal advice to the effect that all, or almost all, of the MCIs that have now been lawfully approved by DHCR will ultimately be granted, but perhaps after some lengthy and contentious delay.  This does not seem good for the community overall, or for individual residents, and therefore we will seek to waive a meaningful amount of the retroactive charges for residents. We are confident that this gesture of good faith will be positively received by our residents. Obviously, we respect that all residents will need to see the details in order to make their judgment. We assume that the vast majority of residents understand that it is not possible to compromise while simultaneously contesting the compromise. Unfortunately, the way the rent stabilization system works, it seems that appeals from a small minority of residents could disrupt a settlement of which a significant majority of the property is in favor. We feel that it is important people know and understand this.”

But at the meeting, Council Member Dan Garodnick commented on the letter to say that he thought the offer to reduce the retroactive amounts — but not the monthly increase that would be charged in perpetuity — was only made because the monthly increase is added to tenants’ base rents. This would bulk up the property’s rent roll, which would be attractive to a potential buyer, noted Garodnick, while the retroactive charges “do nothing for that.

“While we appreciate the gesture, we may have to challenge them in any event,” Garodnick added. “CW is well aware that we have the ability (through a challenge) to tie the system up for quite some time.”

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, while Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, State Senator Brad Hoylman and TA Chair Susan Steinberg listen. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Collins also spoke about the offer to say he was confident that the MCIs would be rescinded if appealed due to the fact that his arguments on behalf of the TA on why they shouldn’t be implemented, which were made last year, weren’t even acknowledged in the responses. Previously, he referred to this as a “reversible” error.

“You should ignore that letter,” he said at the meeting, then addressing any CW employees who might be in the audience to add, “That doesn’t mean we’re ignoring it.”

He added that complaints include the TA’s belief that since some of the work benefits ST/PCV’s commercial tenants, they too should share in the cost and that in some buildings, there were “class C” violations found, which would make the owner ineligible for an MCI. There was also the issue that some apartments were being used for student housing. Another argument, specifically against the resurfacing MCI was due to the quality of the work.

“We have 40 to 50 pictures showing what a mess it was,” Collins said. “The workmanship was horrendous. So we were really surprised when these things (MCI notices) started pouring out.”

Decisions on whether to grant MCIs are made by the state housing agency, the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) of New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR). The applications for the MCIs were made in 2009 by then-owner Tishman Speyer for security upgrades, including a now destroyed command center and video intercoms in Stuyvesant Town as well as (for Peter Cooper residents) work on water valves and tanks and (for Stuyvesant Town residents) resurfacing work which was bundled with charges for doors and water tanks and valves. Costs of the different MCIs vary per tenant, but all include retroactive portions to account for the time from when the work was done to when the decision to authorize the MCI was granted.

Only half jokingly, when Collins took the podium, he slammed down a pile of paperwork that was about six inches thick. Collins then told the audience that if he wasn’t confident about getting results from the HCR, he wouldn’t have shown up at the meeting. “I would not have canceled my proctologist appointment,” he said.

The attorney also asked residents to sign a pledge, which would allow the TA to represent them in a joint petition for administrative review (PAR). Collins has asked that tenants not file their own PARs, unless they have “unique circumstances,” since the TA believes a joint argument will have more strength. The TA is also preparing another document called a request for reconsideration.

On CW’s current offer to tenants, Collins said it could later cause increases for tenants whose preferential rents are lower than the legal rents, which are the maximum amounts an owner can charge.

“You have to understand how preferential rents work,” he said. “Preferential rents can be changed upon a renewal. They might say, ‘Right now you see no change, but next time we’re going to raise it.’”

He added, “I think we’re prepared to ask for more. A lot of the work was shoddy. A lot of the work was redundant.”

SCRIE, DRIE and MCI legislation

Along with Collins, other speakers at the event, which was emceed by TA Chair Susan Steinberg, included local elected officials such as Garodnick, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, Congress Member Carolyn Maloney, Borough President Scott Stringer and State Senator Brad Hoylman.

While at the microphone, Hoylman mentioned that there is currently some relief from MCIs for tenants who are eligible for SCRIE (Senior Citizens Rent Increase Exemption) and DRIE (Disability Rent Increase Exemption). Through those programs, tenants would be locked into the rent they paid when they first signed their lease except under extreme circumstances. To make sure an MCI would be covered, tenants would have to apply to the program within 90 days of it being issued. “But,” noted Hoylman, “it must be completed for each MCI separately.”

Kavanagh, who then discussed the state of the housing law that determines MCI policy, got some chuckles out of the audience when he mentioned that, “The MCI system is part of a larger system that was intended to protect tenants.”

However, legislation authored by Kavanagh, which seeks to end MCI payments once the cost of the improvement would be recouped by owners, has been collecting dust in Albany. He noted that the housing laws are up for expiration again in 2015 and he hoped to get the bill passed then, which would also add more oversight to the application process. At this time, the HCR has a limited ability to verify “what costs for improvements really are.”

Tenants argue against the MCIs

Following statements from local elected officials, tenants then lined up to ask questions about the MCIs, the overall theme of which seemed to be: What can be done to stop them and why is CWCapital entitled to money for work that was paid for by Tishman Speyer?

Stuyvesant Town resident Liza Sabater asks a question as other tenants line up to do the same. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Stuyvesant Town resident Liza Sabater asks a question as other tenants line up to do the same. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

“CW is nobody who actually spent money on the major capital extortion, I mean improvement,” griped one tenant.

In response to the latter question, Collins said that it was standard that a new owner step into the shoes of the old owner.

As for the former question, Kavanagh responded to say the answer was in restoring home rule from the state to the city, because in the state legislature, many of the politicians making decisions on city housing law live outside the city with few rent-regulated renters as constituents.

Another resident then suggested that the Tenants Association purchase shares of Walker & Dunlop, the parent company of CWCapital, so tenants could be at company board meetings. This got the attention of Garodnick, who responded, “How much are shares? I say we do it.”

When another resident asked if tenants could be socked with yet another MCI for the ongoing renovation of the storefronts on First Avenue, the answer was no, because it doesn’t benefit all tenants.

Another resident, introducing herself as Emily Juno, said she’d lived in the community for 18 months and was never notified about a pending MCI. She added that she had neighbors who’d told her the same. In response, Collins said she wouldn’t have to pay it in that case, but also cautioned her to check her lease and any riders to make sure there was no reference to an MCI.

A resident named Liza Sabater, who said she’s raising two children in Stuyvesant Town, said she had a “mundane” question, which was that she didn’t even know the amount to put on her rent check. The wording in the MCI documents made her wonder if her rent had been increased by over $1,000, but Collins said no one’s rent had gone up that high, because the monthly MCI payments are capped at six percent of whatever each tenant’s rent was in 2009.

A longtime resident, Tom Hickey, said he didn’t believe the resurfacing MCI was valid because he recalled similar work being done at the turn of the millennium. (Later, he said he filed his own objection in 2009 to the  housing agency since the last resurfacing was actually done in 2003 or 2004 by Met Life.) Didn’t this, Hickey asked, mean the 2009 project occurred before the prior resurfacing had completed its useful life? Collins said he’d check to see if that information was included in his objections.

Another resident wanted to know why there was a retroactive portion if MCIs get paid on a monthly basis, anyway, to which Collins replied that, “It doesn’t make sense to me if it’s in perpetuity, but that’s the way the law works.”

Following the meeting, Steinberg said that the TA had collected around 750 signatures on its pledge for a joint challenge of the MCIs, but said the association was still looking for more and would be putting the pledge online on the TA website (stpcvta.org).

In related news, Hoylman, Garodnick and Kavanagh wrote a joint letter to HCR Commissioner Darryl Towns, expressing their concern over the recent flood of MCIs, asking that they be reviewed.

 

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.

Peter Cooper Village residents hit with MCI

Tim Collins, counsel for ST-PCV Tenants Association

Tim Collins, counsel for ST-PCV Tenants Association

By Sabina Mollot

Just one week after residents of Stuyvesant Town were hit with a major capital increase (MCI) for video intercoms and a security command center installed in 2009, residents of Peter Cooper began receiving notices in the mail that their rents too would be increased, in this case $10-$15 per apartment. The MCI, also for security upgrades, comes with a retroactive portion tenants are responsible for paying of $480-$650.

Though as of Friday, only two buildings got the notices, Susan Steinberg, chair of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, said that the rest of the buildings in PCV were also likely to get the same news, and possibly Stuy Town, too.

In a Facebook post, the Tenants Association said that its attorney Tim Collins filed objections in May of 2012 to this MCI “and as in the case of the ST Video Intercom MCI, these objections have either ignored or overlooked.”

Currently the Stuyvesant Town video intercom MCI is being disputed by the TA via a petition for administrative review (PAR) and Collins will also do the same for the latest MCI.

The Tenants Association said it has a few general objections to the MCI, which include claims that:

• The system replaced a full electronic security management system installed in Peter Cooper Village only in 2004. Before a system is replaced, it must have exceeded its useful life.

• Critical documentation, such as government permits, and plans and specifications were not submitted, but should have been. There were different contract amounts cited. Change orders lacked proper verifiable information. Some change orders were for repair and restoration not eligible for MCI rent increases.

• The security command center was a new facility installed at 518 East 20th Street. This security center was relocated to 317 Avenue C as part of an overall rental plan for retail spaces on the property. This work did not qualify for MCI treatment, even before Sandy destroyed the command center.

Steinberg added that she is concerned because “there are other MCIs out there and I would hate to think they are all going to be approved. What would be horrible is getting thousands in retroactive fees and the rest will be there forever unless something happens with our rent regulation laws.”

As with the Stuy Town MCI, the Tenants Association is asking that residents don’t file individual PARs at this time, but instead send the association the docket numbers that appear on their MCI documents.

The Tenants Association will be preparing a Google form for affected tenants to send the docket numbers and will soon be spreading the word via an email blast and building postings.

Steinberg also noted that the cost of fighting the MCIs is going to be pricey and requested that tenants consider making a donation to help with the effort.

“This is going to be an enormous legal fee,” said Steinberg.

MCIs are rent increases owners of rent stabilized properties can charge for making improvements and upgrades and are added to tenants’ base rent. According to the Tenants Association, there are currently five pending for ST/PCV. In 2009, the Tenants Association learned that 20 percent of the MCI applications filed in this city came from ST/PCV alone.

CWCapital has not yet responded to a request for comment.

This article has been revised to include additional information about the the Tenants Association’s arguments against the MCI.