Friday, May 30, 2008

Sad news: Our Attorney Jacques Rose has died.

We learned with great sadness that the tenants' association's attorney Jacques Rose died suddenly on May 26, 2008.

Jacques represented us - victoriously so far - in our dealings with DHCR on "unique or peculiar" increases and on garage rents, and in court on both issues.

With representatives of the two other buildings whom Jacques represented, we will be meeting with another partner of that firm who does court work and investigating all our options in terms of representation.

We extend our condolences to his wife and law partner Carol Ule, who represented us as we went through the Mitchell-Lama buyout.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Summary of the May 14, 2008 General Tenants Meeting

We began with congratulations to new parents Wini and Denis Hayward and the Jesse Poppick-Jaime Levy household, and a note for Glenn Richter, co-star of the documentary Refuseniks, about Jews fleeing Soviet Russia. We had a moment of silence for Osby McMillan, Carol Blaufeld (a former tenant) and Shyam Prasad, all of whom we have sadly lost in the past several weeks.

We congratulated tenant Paul Fischer, our new representative to Community Board 7. Paul is the man to go to if you have questions or concerns to bring to the Community Board.


I. Community Board Report: Recently, the Community Board has dealt with an increase in car thefts in the neighborhood: Police Precincts 24 and 20 have been alerted and have increased patrols - resulting in less crime.

II. Volunteers needed: Na'ava Ades called for volunteers: our tenants association participates in several local and city-wide groups advocating on tenant issues. We would like more people to represent our building at these meetings: it’s more fun, it helps if one person can’t go, and the more people we have, the bigger our input. These groups include

  • the P.I.E. Campaign (Protection for tenants; Incentives for landlords to stay in Mitchell-Lama; Enforcement of the Law). PIE has been working on
    • Predatory equity (private investment companies buying up affordable housing and ousting rent regulated tenants in order to pay the investors a 15-20% return)
    • Legislation to protect all buildings leaving ]Mitchell-Lama by putting them into rent stabilization with protection from “unique or peculiar” increases in rent stabilized rents
  • the Real Rent Reform Campaign, since rent regulation expires in 3 ]years. We need new laws – laws that will genuinely protect the city’s stock of affordable housing.
    • Come to the Rally on Thursday, May 22nd, from 7-8 PM at the Holyrood Church, 715 W. 179th St. (enter on Ft. Washington Ave.) - to stop the loss of rent stabilized apartments when they become vacant.
  • Rent Guidelines Board public meetings scheduled for
    • Tuesday, June 3 – 9 AM to Noon, Department of City Planning, Spector Hall,22 Reade Street, New York, NY 10007
    • Wed, June 11, 4 PM– 10 PM, NYC College of Technology, Kiltgord Auditorium, 285 Jay St, Bklyn
    • Monday, June 16 – 10 AM to 6 PM, Cooper Union, 7th St. & Third Ave., Manhattan
    • Thursday, June 19 – 5:30 PM to 11:30 PM, Cooper Union, 7th St. & Third Ave., Manhattan

These meetings will determine rent increases for our next lease renewals, so we have to go and testify. Sign up on the list to be posted in the mailroom, or just go.

Contact Na’ava Ades to volunteer.



III. Submetering – Steve Koulish noted that the building owner may legally charge up to the amount Con Edison charges its directly-metered customers, but as an ethical matter the owner should not be making a profit from submetering. Tenants who met with Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell got his agreement to introduce a submetering bill that would require building owners to reveal how much they are actually paying when they buy electricity bulk rate.

The monthly electric rate we see varies since Stellar buys electricity from a variety of sources, according to Stellar’s recently resigned Chief Operating Officer, and presumably looks for the cheapest sources. If you have friends who live in the neighborhood and are directly metered, please forward the rate each month to Steve Koulish .

The Tenants’ Association executive committee is reviewing the overcharge complaints and hopes to submit them in a couple of weeks. The work is laborious, as is the photocopying and making sure each form is correct. But we greatly appreciate all the complaints that have been filed. If you had an appliance surcharge under Mitchell-Lama and have not yet filed an overcharge complaint, please contact Na’ava Ades.

In the meantime, Steve has filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request with the NYS Energy Research & Development Agency (NYSERDA) to find out about the energy efficiency study that was supposedly undertaken about our building.


IV. O’Donnell meeting – Sue Susman, Joan Browne and Eve Posen met with Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell. He agreed to support any tenant bill we ask him to, and we have asked him to take the initiative in getting a “unique or peculiar” bill passed in the next term. It is not clear that the excellent Andrea Stewart-Cousins / Gary Pretlow bill will pass, since Pretlow has not advocated for it. Click here for a sample letter to O’Donnell. Please personalize it and send it. You can also e-mail him at odonned@assembly.state.ny.us


V. Pending lawsuits

“Unique or peculiar” - Gluck successfully joined his latest lawsuit ("Highbridge House et al. v. NYS DHCR") to that of Columbus House (“Columbus 95th St. vs. NYS DHCR”), but the judge recused himself (withdrew) from the case because of a conflict of interest. The joint case has been reassigned to Justice Alice Schlesinger. Click here for a chart of the cases so far.

Garage case – the Appellate Division seemed sympathetic, and couldn’t help but notice our large turnout in the courtroom: since our case was the last, we were the only people left as spectators. Our lawyer, Jacques Rose, did well.

Our legal bills continue to mount, so your $100 legal fund contributions for the U or P case are most welcome, as are the additional $100 contributions for the garage case!


VI.Building & Neighborhood Issues

  • Elevators
    • Elevator 1 is running more smoothly and quietly, to everyone’s relief.
    • Elevator 3’s noisy, scraping door will be replaced, but we don't know when.
    • We need fans and cameras in both, and Sue has told Hezi.
    • The loss of space and height is a “diminution in service” – and therefore we can make a legal case out of it before the state’s DHCR.
  • Backyard – Thanks to Barbara Garson, Barbara Geller and Lora Kahn for the flowers they planted in the backyard. We still don’t know when the backyard will be open.
  • Thanks to Barbara Geller and Santiago Modesto (“Ito”) who planted the flowers in the front.
  • Rats! We’ve seen them going into the backyard and frightening tenants there. Hezi has called an exterminator to get rid of the rats immediately. If you still see them in a week, call 311. Paul Fischer will raise the issue with the Community Board, since the rats seem to be flourishing in part because of the construction.

See you at the Rent Guidelines Board meetings on Tuesday, June 3rd (come any time between 9:30 AM and Noon to 22 Reade St. - the NYC Department of City Planning 's Spector Hall, in lower Manhattan near City Hall.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

General Tenants Meeting THIS EVENING (Wednesday)

THIS EVENING: Wednesday, May 14
8 PM
Community Room

Come at 7 PM if you had appliance surcharges under Mitchell-Lama and never filled out an overcharge complaint. (This does not apply to SCRIE or DRIE tenants.)

AGENDA INCLUDES:
  • Report from our Community Board
  • Submetering case
  • Representing our association
  • "Unique or Peculiar" (U or P) case
  • Garage case
  • Safety, laundry rooms, elevators & other building issues
  • Financial Report
  • Report of Meeting with Assembly Member Daniel O'Donnell
  • Building issues: security, laundry rooms, elevators, etc.
BRING A CHAIR AND A NEIGHBOR.

Laundry Rooms

The laundry rooms now have what are touted to be all-new machines. You need a plastic card (provided by the building manager) to use them. The cards are similar to Metrocards - but made out of plastic.

You should have received your card in a plain white envelope under your door. If not, please contact Hezi at 212-222-4430, or hmizrahi@stellarmanagement.com .

The card has $5 already on it. To add more money, insert the card into the machine at the entrance to the laundry room (West side) and opposite the entrance (East side). The machine will tell you how much money is on it. Then insert money ($5, $10, $20 bills) into the bill slot. The machine will take the money and add that amount to the card.

To use the washing machine: After you have put in the clothes and detergent, put the card in the slot. KEEP the card in the slot until after you have selected the type of wash you want and pressed START. Only remove the card when the machine says "Pull card."

To use the dryer: After you have put the clothes in the dryer, put the card in the slot. Press the heat amount you want, and then press START. That will give you 6 minutes for 30 cents. Remove the card, and keep inserting it and pressing START for each additional 6 minutes.

NEW PRICES:
Biggest Washing Machine: $2.60
Next Biggest Washing Machine: $2.10
Regular Washing Machine: $1.60
Dryer: $0.30 per 6 minutes.

The new cards let Coinmach increase the prices in increments of under 25 cents, without many tenants noticing.

If you lose your card -- for example by throwing out the card left under the door with no indication that it wasn't an advertisement -- first ask Hezi for a replacement. If you lose it later, and he will no longer give you a replacement, you can buy a new card from the machine for $4.00.

Friday, May 9, 2008

New arrivals

We have a whole new crop of young'uns in the building.

Welcome to Nicholas Villanueva Hayward, and congratulations to his sister Katie, and parents Wini and Denis Hayward.

Nicholas and Katie join Sebastian and Xander Martin Heisler - sons of Alexandra and Aaron- and Tamar Ryder Poppick, the new daughter of Jesse Poppick and Jaime Levy.

Lobbying our elected officials

On Friday, May 9, 2008, three tenants from Central Park Gardens met with our State Assembly Member, Daniel O'Donnell to talk about pending and future bills for the state legislature. (See photo of Eve Posen, Danny O'Donnell, Sue Susman and Joan Browne.)

While it is unlikely that pro-tenant bills will ever reach the State Senate floor as long as Senator Joseph Bruno is Majority Leader, the situation may change if two more Democrats are elected to the State Senate. (Not all Democrats are pro-tenant, but the leadership of the Senate would change, and the would-be majority leader, Senator Malcolm Smith, is pro-tenant.)

O'Donnell agreed
  • to meet with the Assembly sponsor of a bill that would prevent "unique or peculiar" increases and put all buildings leaving Mitchell-Lama into rent stabilization regardless of when they are built.
  • to develop a strategy to ensure that such a bill will be passed in the first session of the January '09 legislature (or earlier)
  • to support a bill that would prevent "vacancy decontrol" -- letting a landlord take a vacant apartment out of rent stabilization forever.
We're still waiting for a meeting with State Senator Bill Perkins.

"Unique or Peculiar" Circumstances increases

Shortly after Laurence Gluck (Stellar Management) took our building out of the Mitchell-Lama program, and into rent stabilization, he filed an application under the "unique or peculiar circumstances" exception to the state law (the Emergency Tenant Protection Act of 1974), claiming that just leaving Mitchell-Lama justified raising our rent stabilized rents to market rate.

The state opposes him, so Gluck is now suing the state's housing agency to enforce what he claims is his right. Read about it on www.save-ml.org .

Garage Case

About a third of the rent stabilized tenants with garage spaces attended Gluck's May 7, 2008 appeal of the garage case against the New York State Division of Housing & Community Renewal (DHCR). See image of some of those tenants -- next to our tall attorney in the front row.

Gluck claims that our spaces should be rented at full market rate (whatever ICON - the owner of Kensington Enterprises - wants to charge). But DHCR and at least one court so far have ruled that those spaces must be rent stabilized for tenants who held them while we were in Mitchell-Lama.

Gluck appealed the last court decision to the state's mid-level court, the Appellate Division. The 5 judges were knowledgeable about the issue, and asked hard questions of Gluck's lawyer. DHCR's lawyer, Caroline Sullivan, carried the main burden since Gluck's case is against DHCR, but our lawyer, Jacques Rose, presented the important points succinctly and sharply.

The decision may take up to many months.