The STPCV Tenants Association announced in an email last Wednesday that management would be restoring the resident directories in lobbies and on building intercoms.
Last November, some residents noticed that tenant names had been removed from building intercoms, making it difficult for visitors to find residents’ apartments without knowing the apartment number. StuyTown Property Services General Manager Rick Hayduk said at the time that management had been receiving an increasing number of requests to have their names removed from video intercoms and the resident lists in building lobbies due to privacy concerns. After a number of complaints from residents, management later announced that there would be an opt-in option for residents that would allow tenants to still have their names listed on the intercoms, but at that point there was no plan to bring back the printed building directories, and the TA continued to push the issue with management, citing possible housing violations.
Hayduk, while noting that the law still seemed antiquated, said that management will be returning tenant names to intercoms and reinstalling the lobby directories.
“Our position is that we take privacy seriously,” Hayduk said. “We had less than 10% of residents opt-in, but the challenge is always awareness.”
The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association alerted residents last Monday that management would be allowing tenants to “opt in” to having their name listed on building intercoms, despite saying at the end of last month that doing so would be too complicated for so many apartments.
StuyTown Property Services general manager Rick Hayduk previously told Town & Village that names had been removed from building intercoms on the property due to privacy concerns expressed by some residents but the TA said that once the names were removed, they received complaints from tenants that friends, delivery people and emergency care personnel were unable to find their apartments without the intercom directory.
“Despite less than 10 residents reaching out to our team on this matter, we felt that an opt-in was a reasonable request,” Hayduk said regarding the recent change. “That said, we will do what we can to protect the privacy of all residents, especially as the issue of privacy evolves in today’s society.”
The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association is seeking neighbors’ help in an effort to challenge the recently announced video intercom MCI.
The major capital improvement rent increase, if approved, will impact the following Peter Cooper Village buildings: 420 and 440 East 23rd Street, 350, 360, 360 and 390 First Avenue, 2 and 3 Peter Cooper Road and 431 and 441 East 20th Street.
ST-PCV Tenants Association President Susan Steinberg (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
Susan Steinberg, president of the Tenants Association, said this particular MCI, one of four on the horizon, is expected to cost tenants $2.13-$2.50 per room per month.
At a meeting last month, Steinberg said the four MCIs would be challenged for different reasons, including issues with paperwork.
In recent weeks, residents in Peter Cooper Village have either seen new video intercom systems installed in their buildings or received notice that the work will begin soon. Although a bunch of buildings have had the project completed already, management’s been mostly mum on the issue, declining to discuss the intercoms themselves.
However, at least one PCV resident gave T&V a review of the new product, saying he liked the old system better. Because, explained Council Member Dan Garodnick, the intercom that was recently installed in his apartment can only be used by the front door.
“I don’t like it as much as I like being able to pick up my phone wherever I am in my apartment to let someone in the door,” said Garodnick. “With two little kids running around, I like being able to pick up the cordless phone wherever I am.”
Another resident in a building that had recently gotten a notice that work would soon begin said residents still haven’t been told what day the project would start. She added that she and neighbors wanted to know since the installation requires worker access to individual apartments.
Last week, T&V asked management about dates and on Friday, Brian Moriarty, a rep for CWCapital, said tenants would receive at minimum five business days notice before work begins at their buildings. “Management will post an initial notice indicating the commencement of work in the common areas and will provide a subsequent notice in advance of the apartment installation that includes the date of installation and contact information to ask follow up questions,” Moriarty said.
The intercoms were installed first, last year, at a couple of buildings that were Sandy damaged. A resident at 7 Peter Cooper Road said overall the new intercom works well, though, thanks to the screen, everyone at the door appears to have a huge nose.
Another resident at 8 Peter Cooper Road said the intercoms are hard to use because it takes a while to scroll to find the person’s name. “You have to be a rocket scientist and delivery people don’t want to spend the time,” he said.
As to whether or not the work will mean another major capital improvement increase (MCI) for tenants, there’s no way to know for sure until an application is filed with the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR). However, residents have gotten MCIs for intercoms in the past.
The Tenants Association said this week that it is looking into the possibility.
“We acknowledge tenants’ concerns about the new intercoms, the quality of their installation, and whether they will be subject to an MCI,” said TA Chair Susan Steinberg.
Meanwhile, the TA has also been attempting to figure out its next steps with regards to two MCIs that it had been attempting to fight through the DHCR. The DHCR had recently rejected the TA’s arguments against the MCIs, which were for roof and elevator work in Stuyvesant Town. As a result, retroactive portions of those MCIs are now collectible.
“The Tenants Association and its attorney are evaluating the DHCR decisions and are concerned about what could be procedural irregularities,” Steinberg told T&V. “We hope to have more information soon.”
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)
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)
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.
UPDATE: June 4, Attorney Alex Schmidt said a court order had been signed at around 3 p.m. to authorize the payments and checks should be going out next Thursday.
UPDATE May 30: Attorney Alex Schmidt said he will be going to court on Monday, June 2.
By Sabina Mollot
Current and former ST/PCV residents who are members of the “Roberts v. Tishman Speyer” class action should be getting their rent overpayment checks later this month, the lead attorney for tenants, Alex Schmidt said.
Though they were originally supposed to be paid earlier in the year, there was a delay because CWCapital had claimed many of the tenants owed back rent.
The delay was also due to the settlement between CWCapital and the ST-PCV Tenants Association over five MCIs (major capital improvements). As a result of the settlement, along with the monthly rent increases being reduced or eliminated, retroactive portions of those MCIs were also eliminated for most tenants.
“Once that agreement was signed and announced, we had to go back and make sure all the current tenants who were slated to receive non-payment deductions were not being improperly charged for retroactive MCIs, which the TA’s superb settlement precludes,” Schmidt said.
At this time, the process of awarding damages to over 11,000 people who still need to be paid is almost done, Schmidt said. The attorney, who’s with the firm Wolf Haldenstein, said he’ll go to court this week or the following week to get the next round of payments to class members. Those who are believed to owe rent will still get part of their damages. To get any amount that’s in dispute, the tenant or former tenant will have a 45-day period to object.
Out of a $173 million settlement for tenants in apartments that were illegally deregulated by former owners MetLife and Tishman Speyer, close to $69 million will be paid out to tenants. The rest of the money is in the form of rent savings.
“Roberts” tenants and former tenants who were owed money from when Met Life was the owner of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village were paid at the end of 2013.
A spokesperson for CWCapital declined to comment.
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.
Those interviewed also question necessity of improvements made
By Sabina Mollot
Following the announcement last Thursday that the ST-PCV Tenants Association had reached an agreement with CWCapital to reduce the cost of MCIs for some tenants and eliminate them completely for others, tenants have been able to talk about little else. When questioned about their thoughts by Town & Village, a few residents who got the 5 percent reduction of the monthly portion of the MCIs naturally said they wished they’d gotten more shaved off their rent bills. However, mainly what they expressed was their disgust at the system that allows owners to pass the costs of building upgrades onto renters.
“It seems very unfair,” said Katie Bernard, who’s lived in Stuy Town for 10 years. She was especially annoyed that MCIs were charged for the video intercom system, which she said was unnecessary. “I can’t tell you how little it works. I miss the old system. I don’t need a screen.”
Another resident also said she didn’t understand the need for the security upgrades that qualified for MCIs.
“It didn’t make my life any safer,” said Carol Szamtowicz. “These capital improvements, I’m sorry I have to pay for them.” As for the settlement, she thought it was good that the Tenants Association fought the increases, “but,” she added, “five percent isn’t very much.”
Meanwhile, another resident, Bob Novick, said he was glad to hear the retroactive portion of the increases had been eliminated. “They did get the retroactive off and that is significant,” said Novick. However, he too said he didn’t get why the intercom system needed replacing on the tenants’ dime. “We got new intercoms 8-10 years ago,” he recalled, adding that he thought the new ones were “essentially the same. The new ones are more sophisticated, but I’m wondering what the purpose was other than to increase the rents.”
And Bill Oddo, a longtime resident, said he wasn’t impressed with the settlement at all. “I don’t see where the success is when
Tenants Association President John Marsh, pictured last fall (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
we’re only getting 5 percent off on all those items,” he said. “I have to pay $15 a month for video cameras and they don’t do anything. The security cameras don’t make us safe. They only help after the fact. You can’t possibly monitor 1,200 cameras 24/7.” Besides, he added, “For 65 years, this has been one of the safest communities in the city. It’s safer than St. Patrick’s Cathedral.” Oddo added that together he’ll be paying over $50 a month in MCIs, for improvements he thought his existing base rent should cover. “I can’t figure out why tenants have to pay for them,” he said. “I know (the Tenants Association) tried hard, but they’re losing this battle. People are leaving. Older people are dying and they’re just turning these apartments over. I love young people, but it’s a dormitory.”
In contrast, a “Roberts” tenant interviewed said of course he was glad he wouldn’t have to pay the increases following the settlement. “Less is more,” quipped Henry, who asked that his last name not be published. “Obviously if you’re paying less for your apartment, you’re better off.” But Henry added he wouldn’t be celebrating just yet since he’s been dealing with a lack of heat in his apartment. “I’m in the living room with two comforters and sweatpants,” he said.
On the TA’s Facebook page this week, the TA received heaping praise as well as a few complaints about the settlement.
In response, TA President John Marsh said that, though not part of the recent round of negotiations, tenants’ increases had already been reduced by 23 percent as a result of TA action. This was after the TA presented the DHCR with “detailed explanations of deficiencies” on a building-by-building basis for each MCI application, Marsh explained to T&V. This was when the work was done in 2009. After the agency reviewed the TA’s concerns as well as Tishman’s responses to them, “the total of all DHCR Orders were 23 percent less than the total of MCI rent increase applications filed by Tishman Speyer.”
Retroactive charges eliminated for all tenants who moved in before October, 2013, monthly charges eliminated for ‘Roberts’ and SCRIE/DRIE tenants and reduced by 5 percent for others
ST-PCV Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg, pictured at a rally in May against mid-lease rent increases (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
After months of negotiations, the Stuyvesant Town–Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association and CWCapital settled the dispute over the five major capital improvements (MCIs) that residents were socked with at once last fall. On Thursday morning, the state housing agency, the Division of Housing and Community Renewal, issued an order confirming the agreement, the Tenants Association announced.
The news, announced on the TA’s website, said that the settlement will “significantly reduce the impact of the recently approved MCIs for tenants.”
The settlement eliminates all of the retroactive charges for current tenants and reduces the monthly increases by 5 percent. “Roberts” tenants won’t be charged any monthly MCI, nor will SCRIE/DRIE tenants.
“The Tenants Association appreciates having been able to negotiate these issues amicably with CWCapital,” said TA Chair Susan Steinberg. “Residents have been saved a great deal of money in retroactive costs, which have been completely eliminated, and some relief in the MCI rent additions. Notably, the negotiations saved months of time and lots of money in legal filings and responses. The best news is that the outcome is at least as favorable to tenants as any we could have won the harder way.”
Andrew MacArthur, managing director of CWCapital Asset Management, also cheered the settlement.
“We are very pleased to have worked with the Tenants Association to reach a settlement,” said MacArthur. “We have worked closely with the TA to reach an agreement that mitigates the impact of the increases for our residents and brings finality to this dispute.”
The five MCI orders cover video intercoms, a security system, a video command center, water tanks/valves and repaving of the walkways. Two of the orders impact residents in Peter Cooper Village and three of them impact Stuyvesant Town residents.
The MCIs were requested by previous owner Tishman Speyer in 2009. After they were all approved by the DHCR in the fall,
Tenants pack a meeting on MCIs, held at the Simon Baruch Middle School auditorium last fall. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
the TA said it would be challenging them. In response, CWCapital made an offer to reduce the MCIs’ retroactive portion for tenants who’d agree not to challenge them, but the TA cautioned residents not to sign on to the offer. Negotiations between the TA and CW began soon after that.
“Squeezing every penny out of residents through MCIs long ago became a common practice in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village,” said Council Member Dan Garodnick. “The Tenants Association wisely took advantage of an opportunity to negotiate a deal with CWCapital that will save tens of millions of dollars for residents over the next ten years. This is a victory for tenants that will mitigate the damage of imperfect law that favors landlords, and I am grateful for the Tenants Association’s efforts.”
Meanwhile, the settlement could still be nullified through additional challenges by individual tenants through PARs (petitions for administrative review.)
“Such PAR could result in the agreement being nullified in the sole discretion of the owner,” the TA said. “Nullification would result in forced repayment of the retroactive charges and any waived portion of the permanent charges by all tenants who benefited from the agreement. The possibility of nullification by the owner due to an ill-advised PAR is a very serious concern to the Tenants Association.”
Exceptions to this would be if a tenant filed a PAR for something like an inaccurate room count in his or her apartment, since MCI charges vary based on the amount of rooms.
According to the TA, a few more details of the settlement are as follows:
● All current residents are included in this settlement except those who moved in after the orders were issued (approximately October, 2013).
● The settlement is retroactive to January 1, 2014.
● Credits noted below will begin to appear on the May rent bill.
● In May, a retroactive credit will be added to the rent bill. This credit will include the benefit amount for January, February, March and April.
● The retroactive and permanent increase amounts noted below are all clearly stated in the MCI orders that residents received in the mail. This number is different for all residents and depends on many factors including: building, unit size and move-in date.
● If a resident cannot find his/her order, that resident is advised to call DHCR at 1-800-ASK-DHCR (1-800-275-3427) to request a duplicate copy.
The Tenants Association will hold a general meeting to discuss the settlement on Saturday, May 10 at 1 p.m. at Simon Baruch M.S. 104 on East 20th Street between First and Second Avenues.
At a Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association meeting held on MCIs in November, State Senator Brad Hoylman (right) spoke to tenants about SCRIE. Pictured with Hoylman are Tenants Association attorney Tim Collins, Council Member Dan Garodnick and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
Though residents of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village were hit in recent months with a total of five MCIs (major capital improvement rent increases), individuals on SCRIE or DRIE are exempt from having to pay them. However, the Tenants Association noted this week, the exemption is not automatic and those tenants have to file for Tax Abatement Credit Applications (TACs) for each of the MCIs they’ve received.
The MCIs went into effect this month, but as of December 27, 2013, the TA said it learned that 59 percent of SCRIE/DRIE tenants in Peter Cooper Village and 77 percent of Stuy Town residents in the programs had not filed for the abatements. Additionally, some of those tenants only filed one application. There are currently between 250 and 300 tenants using SCRIE (senior citizen rent increase exemption) and DRIE (disability rent increase exemption). The programs keep rent-stabilized or rent-controlled residents earning under a certain amount paying the rents they paid when they first signed their leases. This is actually one rent increase behind what they would have paid when signing the lease if not in the program, according to a rep for State Senator Brad Holman. For SCRIE, participants have to be 62 or older and have a household income of no more than $29,000 in the previous calendar year. Additionally, one third of that income must be spent on rent. For DRIE, that amount is $29,484 for a household income in the previous calendar year, $20,412 for single member household in the previous calendar year. One third of the participant’s income must go to rent and the person must be a recipient of government disability benefits.
In an official statement, the TA said it is currently working with CWCapital and CompassRock to make sure SCRIE and DRIE tenants will be covered by the TACS.
But, the Association warned, until tenants file properly, they will have to pay the MCIs. Hoylman, who spoke about the tax abatements at a recent Tenants Association meeting, has also been working with the TA, other local elected officials and the New York City Department of Finance to help tenants file.
“These MCI charges are an unfair burden on the ST-PCV community,” said Hoylman. “My office is reaching out to CWCapital encouraging them to preemptively file applications for adjustment on behalf of all SCRIE and DRIE recipients, who are some of the community’s most vulnerable residents.” At the meeting in November, Hoylman also noted that tenants, if not yet participating in SCRIE or DRIE, would have 90 days to apply within an MCI being issued in order for that MCI to be covered.
This week, Susan Steinberg, chair of the TA, noted that there’s been a lot of confusion among tenants, SCRIE/DRIE and others, when it comes to the MCIs, which the TA has been trying to fight.
“MCIs are definitely a confusing issue, even to those of us who have lived with them for decades,” said Steinberg. She said the TA has gotten about 50 calls and emails on the subject since the January rent bills went out.
Last month, the TA started meeting with CWCapital and the state housing agency in the hopes of reaching some sort of settlement. This is after objecting to an earlier proposal by CW to tenants to reduce the amount of tenants’ retroactive payments in exchange for not joining the TA in its pledge to challenge to the MCIs altogether. Those talks took a break for the holidays, but the effort is still ongoing.
It was in recent months that tenants got MCIs for work done by Tishman Speyer in 2009 on security upgrades, water valves and tanks, doors and resurfacing. There are two MCIs for Peter Cooper and three for Stuyvesant Town.
Meanwhile, the TA has been trying to help tenants who are DRIE/SCRIE understand their responsibilities for exemption.
“We recognize the needs of our SCRIE/DRIE population, many of whom do not have Internet access,” said John Marsh, president of the Tenants Association. “Many have called the TA about receiving MCI charges, thinking they were exempt. We are doing everything we can to assist tenants; many clearly are not aware of the filing requirements.”
According to the TA, filing can be done online as well as by mail.
Tenants can also request forms be mailed to them by calling 311 or they can pick one up at Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh’s district office, weekdays from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. at 237 First Avenue at 14th Street in Room 407. The SCRIE/DRIE program also has a walk-in office, open 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at 66 John Street, third floor.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated from its original version to add that according to Hoylman’s office, with SCRIE, a tenant’s rent is kept at what it was when signing a lease, which is what the previous rent would have been before the last legal rent increase was applied. Additionally, the word “not” was omitted in an original version when mentioning the percentage of SCRIE/DRIE tenants who’d not filed for the abatement.
At a meeting held on November 2, ST-PCV Tenants Association attorney Tim Collins speaks to residents about the MCIs, while Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, State Senator Brad Hoylman and TA Chair Susan Steinberg listen. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Sabina Mollot
Residents of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village won’t see the recently approved round of MCI rent hikes on their rent bills until after the holidays, CWCapital has announced.
In an email sent to residents on Friday, the special servicer said:
“CWCapital and CompassRock Real Estate have agreed to defer new MCI billing until January 2014. As a result, your December 2013 rent bills will not include the recently approved MCIs. CWCapital, the ST/PCV Tenants Association and DHCR are engaged in discussions regarding the implementation of the MCIs and we will keep residents informed of any developments.”
A spokesperson for management declined to comment further on the delay to implement the MCIs, which the Tenants Association also mentioned in an email to neighbors sent at around the same time in the afternoon as CW’s. The Tenants Association also noted that it was engaged in discussions with CWCapital and the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) of New York Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), the state housing agency.
In the past month, tenants have received notices that MCIs (major capital improvements) for security upgrades done in 2009 as well as work done that year on doors, resurfacing and water tanks and valves, had been approved. The Tenants Association has since said it would challenge those MCIs, while CWCapital has made an offer to reduce the MCIs’ retroactive portions by 35 percent if tenants agree not to partake in any challenge. The DHCR, meanwhile, recently agreed to the Tenants Association’s request for reconsideration of the 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)
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)
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)
“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).
The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association will hold a meeting to address five recently issued major capital improvement (MCI) rent increases 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 the association’s attorney Tim Collins.
In October, 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 last week, 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. Possibly more MCIs are on the way.
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.
At the meeting, Collins will explain the process of appealing an MCI order and will outline what the TA’s pushback will be. He will be joined by New York State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and City Council Member Dan Garodnick.
“Both longtime rent-stabilized tenants and those who recently moved in and are receiving MCIs addressed to former residents or current occupant have been swamping our message center with questions about the MCI process,” said Marsh. “We’ve put together this meeting to answer precisely those questions.”
Subjects to be covered, according to Marsh, include: What constitutes an MCI? Why are tenants getting such a flood of MCIs at once? How do the retroactive and prospective payments work? Is there any way to put an end to paying MCIs in perpetuity? Why is there a per room charge when, for example, there is outdoor resurfacing work? Why should tenants have to pay if the improvement in question is faulty or doesn’t work?
“We have long understood that an owner needs to improve their property, but it must not be at the expense of long-term affordability,” said Marsh in an official statement. “When a co-op/condo owner is assessed for an improvement, they are assessed only once, not for the rest of their tenancy. Renters on the other hand are forced to pay forever for something that is depreciable.”
An opportunity to sign a document association with the association’s petition for administrative review (PAR) can be signed at the meeting. The association is also 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. Additionally, the group is soliciting donations to help pay its looming legal bills for the MCI challenges.
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.
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.