Stuyvesant Town’s former special debt servicer is doing battle with a company called Cobalt VR. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Jackson Chen
A decade after the cityʼs most infamous apartment deal collapsed, investors are still fighting over the money lost and won in Stuyvesant Town.
The New York State Appellate Division of the Supreme Court has upheld a ruling that could have forced special servicer CW Capital to shut down sales until a fight over the $1 billion it earned while serving as caretaker to the 11,200-unit apartment community is resolved.
CW Capital — an affiliate of Fortress Investment Group — was appointed special servicer to the $3 billion Stuy Town/Peter Cooper Village mortgage after Tishman Speyer handed back the keys to the historic East Side development in 2010 following the market crash.
The complex was originally purchased in 2006 by Tishman Speyer and BlackRock for $5.4 billion. When they defaulted on the mortgage, CW Capital was put in charge of the property management and creditors for the years the property remained in default.
ST-PCV Tenants Association President Susan Steinberg
By Sabina Mollot
Language in leases signed by Stuyvesant Town residents indicates that the owner has plans to submeter Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, which would make individual tenants responsible for paying for the electricity they use.
However, according to StuyTown Property Services, there is no plan to submeter the property any time soon.
The issue came up this week after a resident pointed out the language on Facebook and wondered if this meant Blackstone intended for file an application with the Public Service Commission (PSC) to have the property submetered.
In response, a property spokesperson, Marynia Kruk, told us, “The Facebook post (on the ST-PCV Tenants Association’s page) is accurate in that our current lease does have a clause about submetering or direct metering. However, this is not new language. New leases have contained the same language since 2009. Ownership has no current plan for submetering.”
Meanwhile, if Blackstone does eventually decide to submeter, it would be the second attempt by a Stuy Town owner to pass on the costs to renters. Tishman Speyer had planned to do this but then abruptly dropped the project upon losing the Roberts v. Tishman Speyer lawsuit at the Appellate Court level.
Last October, residents of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village who were represented in the “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” class action lawsuit saw a second wave of payouts from the initial $68.75 million pool.
Now it’s likely that there will be a third round of checks, according to Michael Liskow, who’s one of the attorneys representing tenants from the firm Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz.
As a condition of the second payout, if there was more than $100,000 left after a deadline for checks to be deposited passed, then there would be another distribution. If there was less than $100,000 left, then the remaining funds would be split among two local nonprofits, the ST-PCV Tenants Association and the Peter Stuyvesant Little League.
The 120-day deadline has already passed for most of the recipients but attorneys won’t know the exact amount that’s left in the pool until around March 15. This is when the deadline will have passed for all eligible class suit members. However, as of this week, there was over $150,000 left, Liskow said.
Council Member Dan Garodnick discusses the payouts. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
Nearly 2,000 residents of Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village who were part of the “Roberts vs. Tishman Speyer” lawsuit, which proved apartments were illegally deregulated, will soon see another round of checks.
Attorneys on the case said there was about $450,000 left in unclaimed damages from the suit, which in 2013 resulted in a $173 million settlement for tenants ($68.75 million of that amount being cash and the rest in rent reductions).
On Saturday, the checks were discussed by City Council Member Dan Garodnick at a meeting of the ST-PCV Tenants Association.
Garodnick, who’s a resident of Peter Cooper Village, told neighbors that in order to be eligible for the money, the class action suit’s plaintiffs would have had to file as current, not former, tenants, and have received more than the minimum payout, which was $150. They also would have had to deposit their original check.
In this case, “The checks should be coming in the next few weeks,” he said. Residents will then have 120 days to deposit the money. After that, any unclaimed money, if less than $100,000, will be split evenly between two local nonprofits: the ST-PCV Tenants Association and the Peter Stuyvesant Little League.
According to Garodnick, there are 1,973 people who are eligible for the payout, which would make the average check around $228. This time, no one has to file any paperwork to get their damages.
“This was a big tenant win for our community and for the city,” said Garodnick, who was a member of the “Roberts” class action suit. “I am glad that those who were harmed continue to see compensation.”
Lawyers for tenants said there were over 27,000 tenants and former tenants who were awarded damages from former landlords Tishman Speyer and Met Life. The damages were 100 percent of what the tenants overpaid based on calculations from a very complicated settlement formula, minus 30 percent for legal fees and other fees.
Jon Gray, global head of real estate for Blackstone (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
Blackstone and Ivanhoé Cambridge announced on Friday that they closed on the deal to purchase Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. This means that the companies have assumed ownership and CWCapital, the special servicer since 2010, no longer has any ownership interests in the property.
The property wound up with a price tag of $5.45 billion, the New York Times reported, which would make the cost even more than that of the historic sale to Tishman Speyer. However, according to a spokesperson for Blackstone, the net price paid was still the previously reported amount of $5.3 billion. The previous figure includes full payment of transfer taxes. Prior to announcing the deal in October, the city had agreed to provide Blackstone with around $225 million in tax breaks and a loan that will be forgiven.
Meanwhile, the closing was rushed in order to prevent yet another pesky lawsuit against CWCapital, this time threatened by commercial landlord SL Green, according to the Times. SL Green was involved the 2006 sale of the property, having lent and lost about $200 million. But perhaps more importantly, the article noted, a real estate investor whose partners include Fortress, CW’s parent company, had challenged a midtown skyscraper SL Green wanted to build. “Fearing that the suit could delay the closing, the company offered SL Green what it considered a token amount, $10 million.”
This reported threat came on the heels of another suit against CW, this one by a group of lenders led by hedge fund Appaloosa, being withdrawn. That group had filed suit over CW being able to walk off with a reported $566 million in fees from the sale and other services rendered at Stuyvesant Town.
CWCapital attorney Greg Cross (Photo courtesy of Venable)
By Sabina Mollot
It was the biggest bust of the last real estate boom, but a lawyer battling over Stuyvesant Town money claimed everybody won.
“Listen, everybody connected with this property is making a lot of money,” said Greg Cross, an attorney for CWCapital.
Cross was in court earlier this month defending his client’s right to a half-billion-dollar payment for services rendered during the period when CWCapital ran the complex and serviced the debt on the original $3 billion mortgage rung up by Tishman Speyer and BlackRock Realty which was sold to investors in five securitized tranches.
In October, investment giants Blackstone and Ivanhoe Cambridge agreed to buy the East Side development for $5.3 billion and signed a deal with the city to preserve 5,000 affordable apartments.
Ahead of the sale closing, the latest in a long line of lawsuits surrounding the complicated financing deals negotiated for the property drew to an end with the plaintiffs withdrawing their complaints.
With all the bombastic declarations of the many candidates running for President, and the electorate seemingly infatuated with political novices with little or no experience in government, we are reminded just this week why an experienced, practiced and steady hand in government is important.
The matter of the sale of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village as reported in the New York Times and Town & Village is very instructive as it is very significant.
After the unwise sale by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company to Tishman Speyer nearly ten years ago, which quickly unraveled and ultimately imploded, this community has been roiled in uncertainty and instability. At times there was near panic on the part of many tenants who were being threatened with eviction and attempts by outside suitors to convince tenants to buy their apartments at prices that were either unknown or unreliable.
The agreement announced by the city with the Blackstone Group for it to take ownership of this community is a deal that will both preserve the status of all currently rent-stabilized tenants and reserve nearly half of the total apartments at affordable housing levels for the foreseeable future. The deal also precludes any new building on the expansive green areas of Stuyvesant Town which makes this community so unique in our urban setting.
I would argue that given the realities of the housing market and the proclivities of developers, this is about as good an agreement, imperfect as it may be, for current and prospective tenants that could have been achieved.
But without the steady hand of City Councilman Dan Garodnick as well as other public officials, and the tenacious efforts of the Tenants Association led for so many years by Al Doyle, John Marsh and now Susan Steinberg, such a good plan for the future would not have been possible. These people are not novices. Dan Garodnick is among the most capable public officials in all of the City. He calmly and expertly helped to navigate this community through the ups and downs of the past ten years. He resisted quick fixes and brought an intelligence and understanding to the negotiations with the city and the array of temporary owners. He has been rock solid. A maturity that only comes from experience in government.
Council Member Dan Garodnick speaks to tenants at the legal clinic on nonrenewal notices and succession rights last Wednesday, as Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association President Susan Steinberg listens. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Over 250 people showed up last Wednesday to a legal clinic held by the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, to have their questions answered about the recent round of golub notices and to learn about apartment succession rights. Aki Younge, a paralegal working on the community development project in the housing practice area for the Urban Justice Center, offered general information about the two complicated legal topics while four lawyers from the UJC were available for individual appointments to meet with tenants about their specific concerns.
The meeting, held in the auditorium at Simon Baruch Middle School, started at 6 p.m. and TA President Susan Steinberg said that they ended up having to schedule the appointments right at the beginning of the meeting because about 30 people had requested a slot with a lawyer.
“There are only four lawyers so we needed to have them meeting with people to whole time to get all of the appointments in,” she said. “Thirty was way more than we expected. We thought it would only be a handful of people but clearly we have hit a nerve.”
Councilmember Dan Garodnick, who was also in attendance, recalled that this kind of meeting was a much more common occurrence during the days of Tishman Speyer.
“We had a lot of these meetings in those days when Tishman Speyer was using aggressive acts, trying to find ways to get people out,” he said. “We’ve had years of calm but (CWCapital) has said that they felt they had let the question lapse, but they have also said that this is a one-time push on the issue, when you’ll see this level of notices.”
Despite the frequency of building owners using specific legal issues against tenants, Younge explained that the rules are not intended to be malicious.
Council Member Dan Garodnick (pictured at a meeting in July)
By Sabina Mollot
Following a spate of residents being faced with primary residence challenges while some others have recently been denied succession, local elected officials and the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association have announced they would be hosting a legal clinic on both issues.
The event will take place on Wednesday, August 19 from 6-7:30 p.m. at MS 104 at 330 East 21st Street and will be co-hosted by Council Member Dan Garodnick, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Borough President Gale Brewer, State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh. Attorneys from the Urban Justice Center will also be present.
As Town & Village reported in late July, the Tenants Association had noticed an uptick in Golub notices or notices of nonrenewal being issued due to primary residence challenges. As of July 30, TA President Susan Steinberg said she knew of seven new Golubs being issued.
However, she noted, this was nowhere near as many as had been sent out at one time during the Tishman Speyer era of Stuyvesant Town. The former owner eventually managed to serve over 1,000 tenants with Golub notices.
Annette Beatrice said she started suffering from respiratory issues and migraines after construction began at the leasing office. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
A former leasing agent working for Stuyvesant Town filed a lawsuit against CompassRock on Friday, saying she was wrongly fired after becoming sick during a construction project at the First Avenue leasing office.
The former employee, Annette Beatrice, said she’d been working at the property since getting hired by Tishman Speyer in 2009. However, it was during February of 2013 when a project to expand the leasing office caused her workplace to be “filled with dust, pungent smells and the constant ear-piercing sounds of drilling and hammering.” As a result, Beatrice said that she started to suffer from migraines as well as respiratory issues and was vomiting at work.
Beatrice said that in an attempt to recover, she was out of work for three weeks. She’d discussed the matter of her health problems stemming from the office environment, but then nothing was done about it, she said. Meanwhile, her condition left her unable to focus at work.
Beatrice said it was on or around July 12 of 2013 when she spoke with a supervisor to request taking a few days off to try and recover from her ongoing symptoms. She was then told she could, as long as she provided a doctor’s note upon her return. However, after 10 days passed, CompassRock’s human resources manager, Hope Gause, called her to inform her she’d be terminated if she didn’t “immediately” provide the note, the suit said. Gause is named in the complaint as a co-defendant. The next day, Gause fired her, Beatrice said.
In the suit, the former employee accused CompassRock of not engaging in a “good faith” process, adding that her symptoms, such as migraines and respiratory issues, constitute disabilities under the law. She claimed her request for time off constituted “a reasonable accommodation under the (New York City Human Rights Law).”
Beatrice is suing for a total of $2,500,000 ($500,000 for lost pay and benefits as well as $2,000,000 in damages including “pain and suffering, anxiety, humiliation, loss of enjoyment of life, physical injury and emotional distress and medical expences”).
Beatrice’s attorney, Douglas Lipsky, declined to comment on pending litigation. A spokesperson for CWCapital also declined to comment.
According to Beatrice’s LinkedIn profile, she currently works for Stellar Management. An email sent to a company email address requesting comment wasn’t returned.
Santa (Town & Village publisher Charles G. Hagedorn) arrives at the Oval where he took over 250 photos with kids in 1949. (Photo from T&V archives)
By Sabina Mollot
While much of the talk about Stuyvesant Town these days is about how much the place has changed in recent years, one thing that’s managed to remain the same is the community’s celebration of Christmas and Hanukkah.
Putting up Christmas decorations and a nativity scene on the Oval along with an ornamented tree has been a tradition for decades. Another longstanding tradition has been having Santa take pictures with residents, from kids to seniors. It was in 1949 when Charles Hagedorn, the publisher of this newspaper, donned a Santa suit to hear the Christmas wishes of over 250 children in Stuy Town. The appearance was sponsored by the Town & Village Camera Club with proceeds from each photo taken going towards the Town & Village Polio Fund for the Willard Parker Hospital. (A total of $253 was raised.)
In the Stuy Town community, other traditions during Christmas time have included tree lighting ceremonies, caroling and the occasional concert. Hanukkah too has also been recognized, celebrated over the decades with menorah lightings led by a resident rabbi and activities for kids and families.
Santa (Town & Village publisher Charles G. Hagedorn) arrives at the Oval where he took over 250 photos with kids in 1949. (Photo from T&V archives)
In 1949, Town & Village’s staff artist Edward Caswell created this Christmas-inspired illustration.
This Edward Caswell illustration ran originally in Town & Village in 1951 and has also run in many other Christmas week issues since then.
Kids gather around the tree in 1976. (T&V archives)
Recreation staffers decorate a tree on the Oval in 1978. (T&V archives)
Stuy Town Christmas decorations in 1982 (T&V archives)
Stuy Town Rabbi Julius Gershon Neumann helps a child light the menorah in 1982. (T&V archive photo)
Decorations in 1983 (from T&V archives)
Nativity scene in Stuy Town in 1983
Families attend he menorah lighting in 1985. (T&V archive photo)
ST/PCV general manager Steve Stadmeyer at the tree lighting in 2006.
Kids chase after snowflake lights by the fountain in 2006.
Pre-ice rink, figure skaters had a home on the Oval as well as other nondenominational holiday decorations in 2006. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
The holidays are celebrated with a concert by rock band Fountains of Wayne in 2007. There was also a performance by a chorus and several original residents were invited to light the Christmas tree, a 44-foot spruce.
Kids spin dreidels as part of the Hanukkah festivities in 2008. (Photo courtesy of Tishman Speyer)
Santa at Oval Kids in 2008 (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh and Peter Cooper Rabbi Chezky Wolff at the PCV menorah lighting in 2010
Rabbi Chezky Wolf leads a menorah lighting in Stuy Town in 2010.
Dickens carollers stroll the complex in 2012. (Photo by Blair Hopkins)
The menorah and the tree in 2013 (Photo by Michelle Lee Photography)
Residents gather at this year’s menorah lighting. (Photo by Michelle Lee Photography)
Live music was played at this year’s menorah lighting. (Photo by Michelle Lee Photography)
By Sabina Mollot
Developer Gerald Guterman, who recently expressed his desire to see Stuyvesant Town tenants organize to demand a conversion and re-settle the “Roberts” and MCI settlements, while also hiring him as a consultant to help with the effort, has continued to pursue tenants as clients by drawing up a contract over the weekend.
However, he wants to see at least 5,000 tenants participate in such an effort. Otherwise, he warned, his LLC company, West Palm Beach-based Guterman Partners, won’t take the job.
“Before we can accept an ST/PCV assignment, it will be necessary for at least five thousand (5,000) separate residents families to sign a Consulting Agreement with a consulting subsidiary of Guterman Partners, LLC,” he said.
In exchange for his services as an independent contractor, he’d get $10 per participant (a total of at least $50,000).
His statement was part of a letter he wrote directed to tenants (though so far unmailed) asking them a number of questions such as whether tenants were told they’d be charged for the MCIs they received and for the “Roberts” tenants, if they received “the full dollar recovery” in damages for all the rent they overpaid. The letter also went into quality of life issues.
“ST/PCV residents, were you told (when you signed your lease) that the building you lived in was being converted to ‘high population’ student/dormitory housing?” He also blasted the recent concerts in the Oval as a scheme to attract students.
He also said, after the news that CW’s parent company Fortress was preparing a bid of $4.7 billion, that he wasn’t sure he was still interested in preparing a bid of his own, preferring instead to be a consultant in a tenant-led effort.
The contract itself, while saying Guterman would provide consulting services, makes no mention of the re-settlement of litigation, student housing or other issues he wants tenants to fight. Those issues are instead mentioned in the letter. Questions include asking if tenants were told, upon signing their leases, that the Oval would be rented out for commercial purposes or that businesses would come “alive” right on the Oval or that the quiet of tenants’ apartments would be disrupted “because the landlord is using mass-entertainment to attract students to the recently converted dormitory housing?”
He also invited tenants to contact him through the email address: email@example.com.
A spokesperson for CWCapital declined to comment on Guterman’s letter.
As for the odds of Guterman being able to secure all the signatures he wants, it may prove a challenge. In May, 2013, attorneys representing tenants in the “Roberts” suit had a tough time just getting tenants to file their paperwork authorizing them to receive their damages checks. So much so that the Tenants Association and local elected officials stepped in to go door to door in ST/PCV in an effort to get tenants to file. This, recalled lead “Roberts” attorney Alex Schmidt, was even after all the “Roberts” tenants received documents in the mail with application forms.
Schmidt declined to comment on Guterman’s letter.
In previous statements directed at tenants, Guterman urged a “gloves off” fight in court against CWCapital in order to renegotiate “Roberts” and the MCI settlement and force a conversion and the end to student housing and apartments with pressurized walls.
When asked about this, an attorney very familiar with “Roberts,” Leonard Grunstein, said he thought that a court agreeing to re-consider the case was highly unlikely. After Stuy Town was put up for sale by Met Life, Grunstein was hired by the Tenants Association to help with a tenant-led bid. It was then that he discovered that landlords benefiting from J-51 tax abatements could not deregulate apartments, which is what ultimately led to the “Roberts” lawsuit.
“I don’t think that can change,” said Grunstein. “Anything is possible, but it doesn’t sound realistic. You would have to prove that they are overcharging new tenants.”
Another attorney, Jeffrey Turkel, who represents owners and groups representing the real estate industry, told Town & Village that generally, courts don’t like to overturn cases.
Turkel, along with a partner at his firm, Rosenberg & Estis, represented the Rent Stabilization Association, an owners’ organization, in “Roberts” when the RSA submitted an amicus brief, or document in support of Tishman Speyer.
Although he didn’t want to comment on “Roberts” specifically, Turkel said, “If someone wanted to undo or overturn a stipulation, they would have to establish fraud or mistakes or overreaching or something like that. Once a stipulation of a settlement is signed by two parties it is binding. What courts don’t like is for people to sign a stipulation and then come back and say, ‘We didn’t mean it.’ That’s basic, settled New York law. Otherwise, you’d have chaos.”
The Tenants Association, meanwhile, responded to the letter by defending its own conversion plan and partnership with Brookfield Asset Management.
“Now that our property is in play again, we expect old and new players to surface from time to time,” TA Chair Susan Steinberg said. “We are committed to delivering on our goals of long term affordability and stability for this community, and believe we have the right advisors and partners to accomplish that goal.”
The recently announced one percent RGB increase is a small step toward putting the “stable” back in rent stabilization.
As tenants, we all need to support this action by selecting the one-year option when we renew our leases. This will send a clear message to the RGB and Albany that we want to preserve our community and affordable housing for all New Yorkers.
It will also reject the risky business model followed by the equity predators. This business model is named for its last two words: “It doesn’t matter how much you pay, you can always sell it later to a bigger fool.” The problem with this model is who is going to be the next bigger fool?
Not the current tenants. We realize that the choice of a 2.75 percent two-year increase is the equivalent of selecting a 1 percent increase this year and a 3.5 percent increase next year! While landlords deserve to cover realistic cost increases, we will not pay for yet another round of replanting because the previous round was done wrong.
Not the future tenants. The equity predators are all targeting recent graduates and other newcomers to the housing market to fill current and future vacancies. But saddled with large student loans and entry-level salaries, the only vacancies they can fill are the empty bedrooms in their parents’ homes.
Not the equity lenders. They have been burned once by the Tishman Speyer default and other failed large real estate deals. They will be following the model established by Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac. (Thank you, Senator Schumer.) The equity predators will have to prove the viability of their projections with more than just an “I said so.”
In other words, the times they are a-changin’ (with apologies to Bob Dylan.) Gone are the days where equity predators can entice bigger fools with frivolous, self-congratulatory costs like the vanity plates on the PCVST security vehicles.
Gone too are the days when the mayor turns a blind eye because, “It’s a private matter.” If the equity predators continue to believe their own hype (the cardinal sin committed by Tishman Speyer), they will find that they are the biggest fools.
Responsible parties within the real estate industry have already shown signs that they are adjusting to accept a different business model based on realistic income forecasts and controlled operating costs.
Let us all give our support to these leaders by overwhelmingly accepting the one-year, one percent increase and rejecting all rent increases that exceed true cost increases. Bill Huebsch, ST Resident for 36 years
Mayor didn’t deliver on rent freeze
To the Editor:
Mayor de Blasio is now batting with two strikes against him here in Stuyvesant Town.
First, he sandbagged Councilmember Dan Garodnick, by actively campaigning for Dan’s opponent for City Council speaker.
Then, the mayor capitulated to the real estate industry and disavowed his supposedly ironclad campaign pledge of a rent freeze.
Sandbagging tenants like this has a real cost. A rent increase of one percent will cost ST/PCV residents a total of $3,236,680 every year – calculated as an average rent of $2,000 over 11,235 apartments. Plus, everyone’s base rent is now raised in perpetuity.
This $3,236,680 is money that tenants could have used to support our local community. Or, tenants could have strengthened their retirement savings. Instead, it will go to line the pockets of the hedge fund that controls the property.
The mayor needs to decide whether he is on the side of tenants or the side of hedge funds. Name Withheld, ST
Can we give Citi Bike hogs the boot?
The following is an email sent to Citi Bike by John Marsh, president of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, shared with T&V.
Subject: “Reserving” or Booting a Citi Bike By For Your Exclusive Use
I wanted to formally bring to your attention the following unfair practice of reserving your own Citi Bike by putting a lock on it, or effectively booting it so other riders can’t take it out.
I came along at 8:20 a.m. on Thursday, June 19th delighted to see a lone bike at the E. 20th and FDR station in Dock #34. After inserting my Citi Bike key in I was surprised to see that a U-Lock had been placed around the back wheel of bike number 06656. I immediately re-docked the bike, took these photos and called the incident into Citibike Customer Support number.
Whomever (whichever member) successfully undocked and rode this bike next to another Citi Bike station should be warned or disciplined in some manner for this inappropriate behavior.
Jennifer Kops, pictured with daughter Kiki at a Peter Stuyvesant Little League Parade in 2013, has moved within ST/PCV three times in four years. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
Last week, residents and former residents of ST/PCV who were members of the “Roberts” class action finally received their long awaited damages checks.
As Town & Village first reported, over 5,000 of them received non-payment deductions and class members who were former residents were subject to retroactive MCI fees.
This week, T&V spoke with a few “Roberts” tenants to ask how the damages as well as the lawsuit itself, which led to lowered rents for many, changed their lives (or didn’t.)
Here’s what they had to say:
Jennifer Kops, a Stuyvesant Town mother of two who works as an administrative assistant, said she didn’t get anything in damages. She thought she’d be getting $434 but didn’t see a dime after legal fees, MCIs and nonpayment deductions. She grew up in Peter Cooper Village and after divorcing, returned over four years ago with children Jack and Kiki. In that time, she and her family have lived in two one-bedroom apartments in Peter Cooper and now a two-bedroom in Stuyvesant Town.
“We’re fine, but the suit didn’t do anything for me,” said Kops. She moved the last time since the upgrade to a two-bedroom was $3,350 a month, only $100 more than what she’d been paying at her last apartment. “Stuy Town is always a little cheaper,” she said.
Though making the rent has never been simple, “we wouldn’t want to leave,” Kops said.
Kops had been on the board of the Tenants Association for a few years, her kids are in the Peter Stuyvesant Little League and she is currently involved in the PTA at her daughter’s school, PS40. There she’s met other moms in similar situations to her own, tenants in Stuyvesant Town, who’ve turned living rooms into bedrooms with either pressurized walls or bookcases for their kids. This is what Kops had done in her last place, but found life in a one-bedroom too difficult.
“The kids are getting older and I needed more space myself. I don’t like sleeping in the living room.”
The new place is on the main floor and she often hears the conversations of the maintenance employees whose lounge is below her apartment, but that’s her only gripe.
“We hear their morning roll call and we can hear them yelling at each other,” said Kops, “but we overlook a garden area. It’s actually very quiet and peaceful.”
Maurice Owen-Michaane (right) and his husband Michael got a $13,000 payout.
Former resident Maurice Owen-Michaane, who lived in Stuy Town for five years until September, 2012, said it wasn’t “Roberts” that changed things for him or his family, but other factors like constant construction that made him think the complex was going downhill and more importantly needing more space after having a baby.
So he moved to Washington Heights where he now lives with his husband and son, and apparently, many other families nearby.
“There are lots of families and kids and strollers,” he said. “It’s nice up here.”
This week, Owen-Michaane went straight to the bank after receiving his $13,000 in damages, which, he said, will be used to send his son to pre-school and pay some of the couple’s student loans, which total $200,000.
“We’re not going on some big vacation,” he said.
Additionally, out of the damages, $1,600 was taken out for retroactive MCI fees. Not having known about that, Owen-Michaane felt that a heads up from the attorneys or tenant leaders “would have been nice.”
Owen-Michaane, who works in real estate sales for the firm Maz Group NY, added, “No one told us anything.”
That said, overall, Owen-Michaane said the suit was definitely still a win for tenants.
“It was a victory for the little guy, the middle class, who usually get forgotten,” he said.
“Roberts” tenant Jill Pratzon, who owns an art restoration business, said after getting her check, she felt misled about the entire lawsuit.
Pratzon, who moved into Stuy Town with her son and husband, a high school teacher, towards the end of the Met Life era, said due to “Roberts,” she got a $90 rent reduction. This brought down the rent for her one-bedroom apartment on Avenue C to just over $3,000. In damages, after deductions, she and her husband each got checks for $37.50.
“I feel like a fool for staying,” said Pratzon, who got a $500 increase at the time of their first renewal when Tishman Speyer took over the property. The couple’ son had just come home from brain surgery, and they asked management to consider not increasing their rent. In response, it was lowered to a $400 increase. Pratzon said she was told at the time that the owner was planting a lot of trees and that she’d love living there because it would be like the Garden of Eden.
“I come home after dark,” she said. “I don’t have time to enjoy the f—ing greenery.”
When Pratzon moved in it was because the building had an elevator and her son was in a wheelchair. “Then he was out and this lawsuit happened and I thought it was going to mean something,” said Pratzon.
Pratzon, who’s 52, said she’s recently begun taking on more clients, working longer hours, six days a week. Now she and her husband are the oldest people on their floor. People in two other apartments moved out this week.
“Everyone is young and coming and going,” she said. “We introduce ourselves and then a few months later, they’re moving out. They’re professionals or about to be young professionals. I’ve got no grievances with them. It’s management.”
Pratzon also pointed out that in order to afford the rent, her family has no savings.
“We’re hanging on with our fingernails. I felt for years that New York doesn’t want us, me with my small business and my husband who helps at-risk kids in Brooklyn.”
Jill Campbell at her new apartment in Williamsburg
Jill Campbell, a documentary maker, moved into Stuyvesant Town in 2008. The following year, with the “Roberts” case being won by tenants, she was attending tenant meetings and hearing about how the apartments were re-regulated and later, about the Tenants Association’s hope of going condo. At one point, she recalled her rent going down slightly as a result of the case, but just last month, after the most recent increase, she felt she couldn’t afford it anymore. And this was after haggling and getting a significant amount shaved off the bill. Campbell asked that the amount of her rent and what she received in damages not be published. However, she noted that due to legal fees, the damages were less than what she thought she’d be getting.
Overall, Campbell, who now lives in Williamsburg, said she doesn’t feel like the lawsuit impacted her, other than if she hadn’t gotten her hopes up for lower rent similar to what those in unrenovated units were paying, she would have moved out sooner.
But that wasn’t the only reason for leaving.
“It felt like we were living in a dorm,” she said. “Especially on weekends when they would leave pizza boxes scattered on the hallway floors. The door badge system particularly felt like an invasion of privacy as I had to register any guest that I wanted to provide a key for. The price tag was way to high to live in a dorm. All the ‘Roberts’ expectations and the town meetings surrounding the case did was to raise false expectations that my rent would be lower and that one day I might buy the place at an inside price. When both of those did not materialize we had no choice but to leave.”
While she doesn’t feel the suit did much for “Roberts” tenants, Campbell said she believes it did help the older residents in that it stopped the wave of primary residence challenges aimed at getting them out.
“I think it was good for the old-timers who now have peace of mind,” she said.
Software writer Nick Furness, a resident since 2001, said he first lived in Stuyvesant Town in a two-bedroom, then moved into a one-bedroom in 2003 when the rent got higher than he could afford. He and his wife, a handbag designer, were okay until the rent there got to be around $3500. They then started looking around at other places and though they found other places in the East Village that were slightly cheaper, “they were horrible.” Plus, Stuy Town rent at least included utilities and the large windows offered a lot of light.
After the market crashed, in 2008 or 2009, Furness said he was able to negotiate a significantly lower rent. He wasn’t aware of the “Roberts” litigation at the time and now wonders if it was the reason he was able to get Tishman Speyer to agree to reduce his rent to around $2600. Since then it’s been slowly “creeping back up,” said Furness and he now pays a little over $3,000.
“We’re happy to pay it because it’s the going rate for apartments in this neighborhood.”
In damages, the Furnesses were due $17,000. After fees, the amount was around $11,000. He was a bit surprised by the amount, admitting he hadn’t read all the fine print of the settlement. “It’s like how no one ever reads the iTunes contract.”
At the end of the day, while Furness said he wished attorneys had done more to protect tenants from high fees, he believes he’s better off with a rent regulated home.
“With the rules in place,” said Furness, “I feel happier staying here than I would being in the free market. When the market went up stupidly, our rent went up 30 to 40 percent. That would have been hard to bear.”