Friday, December 18, 2009

December 2009 Newsletter - we keep winning!


HOLIDAY NEWSLETTER


We have wonderful victories to celebrate this holiday season:

  • U or P case: The State Supreme Court agreed with us, with the New York State Attorney General, and with the NYS Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) and upheld DHCR's regulations that say that just leaving Mitchell-Lama is not a "unique or peculiar circumstance" justifying a rent increase.  So those of us in rent stabilized apartments have one more victory under our belts.  While the owners (Gluck and others) will appeal, the more victories the stronger our case.  Judge Alice Schlesinger wrote a very thorough opinion.


  • Appliance Surcharge Overcharge case: DHCR (the state housing agency) rule that Gluck overcharged tenants who had been paying appliance surcharges under Mitchell-Lama.  The first tenant to receive her letter is due $832.02 AND her rent will be rolled back by $33.  Click here to see two of the pages she received.  If you signed on, just wait for your letter; from DHCR - and then we'll see if Gluck pays up as ordered. (He could also appeal.) If you did not sign on but had an appliance surcharge under Mitchell-Lama that became part of your rent when we entered rent stabilization, you can still do it now. Contact Sue for information.
  • Reduction in Services case:  DHCR dismissed our "diminution in services" overcharge complaint mainly because while it was pending, we achieved virtually all the services Stellar had cut earlier: a railing for the front stairs, seating in the lobby, a re-opened backyard, a working television antenna, actual 24-hour security guard service, a new intercom system (almost finished) and window blind repair or replacement as a regular service. (The only two things we did not get were lighter-weight front doors and enlarged elevator cabs.)

And none of this could have happened without the strong support of tenants standing together - and contributing to our legal fund.

Treasurer Joan Browne and Barbara Geller are putting together a summary of each tenant's contributions for dues ($25/household for new tenants; and $10/year thereafter), and the legal fund.

We know money is tight around now, but any contribution we be welcome as we gird our loins for the next round of the U or P case and any other appeals.


Cold? If your apartment is chilly, have the staff check the radiators. Then keep a heat log: note the temperature in your apartment when the outside temperature is 55 degrees or colder, between 6 AM and 10 PM.  The inside temperature during those hours must be at least 68 degrees. Call Lucio Pedraza, the building manager, 212-222-4430, or e-mail him and then call 311 to report the problem. You are not required to give your name to 311.  Then give the 311 complaint number to Sue.


NEXT General Tenant Meeting:

Our next meeting will be on Wednesday, Jan. 20th at 8 PM in the Community Room.Old and new tenants welcome - but please bring a chair. We'll be voting for two new executive committee members (Prudence is retiring and we have one opening from earlier.) Contact Election Committee head Alitha Mobley in 5A if you need more information.


Have a great holiday and a Happy New Year!



Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Results of the Reduction in Services Complaint to DHCR

After Stellar took over the building in November 2004, tenants began complaining about several reductions in service.  Within the 4-year deadline of filing a formal complaint, the tenants' association filed a "diminution in services" complaint with DHCR - for a building-wide reduction in services.    And by tenants sticking together -  with that complaint pending,  Stellar finally met with us, so we asked for and got:

  • Seating in the lobby
  • A re-opened backyard
  • A stair railing that we can actually grab for the front steps
  • A working television antenna
  • 24-hour security guards who are actually there
  • repair of most broken window blinds.  (If you filed a written notice of broken window blinds at the guard's desk and Stellar has either not yet inspected them or has inspected and promised to replace - but has not yet done so, please contact the Executive Committee.)
  • A new intercom - although we still need a board showing tenants' names and code numbers (but not apartments) in the front entrance way.




We did not get lighter front doors or the elevator cabs put back to their previously larger dimensions.  (When Stellar renovated the elevator cabs a few times, it lowered the ceilings and hung panels over the existing panels on the walls, making the dimensions smaller.)

DHCR sent an inspector to the building and found that we had received most of our demands, and subsequently terminated the complaint in a letter received by those who signed on.

It ain’t perfect, but we've done pretty well!

Stay tuned.

-The Executive Committee

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tell our Legislators to Pass Our Bills!

Neighbors are sitting in the lobby this weekend collecting signatures.  We need to persuade the state legislature to pass the bills we need passed.  These include:
  • S 3326-A /A. 9230 which will put into rent stabilization all buildings that leave or have left Mitchell-Lama (and project-based Section 8) regardless of the year built, and without "unique or peculiar circumstances" increases.
  •  S.2237 / A.2005  which will repeal vacancy decontrol, so that owners may no longer remove vacant apartments from rent stabilization. The bill would re-stabilize market-rate apartments whose rents were under $5000 as of January 1, 2007 - at whatever the rent was that month.
  • And many more, that you can see at www.save-ml.org .

So please stop by the lobby between 10 and 5 to sign:
  • a postcard to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver asking him to put A.9230 on the agenda for a vote
  • a postcard to Senate Majority Leader John Sampson asking him to promote S.3326 and S.2237, and  to get them voted on
  • a petition to our Assembly Member Daniel O'Donnell - a co-sponsor of A.9230 - urging him to pressure Sheldon Silver, and thanking O'Donnell for his support; and
  • a petition to our State Senator Bill Perkins - a co-sponsor of S.3326 - urging him to persuade his friend John Sampson to promote the bills and put them on the agenda for a vote.
And since we won the first round in court of the "unique or peculiar" case, please contribute so we have enough funds for the inevitable appeals!  Contact your floor captain or treasurer Joan Browne.



Friday, December 11, 2009

More talented tenants: RENÉE & The Derelicts - Jazz

Go hear RENÉE &; The Derelicts - our own Renée Fleming and Sal Carolei - at the

P&G Bar, 380 Columbus Ave. @ 78th St., New York City, this Saturday, Dec. 12th at 10 PM.


(No cover, no minimum, just jazz).

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

We Won (1st Round of) U or P Court Case!


On November 25, 2009, Justice Alice Schlesinger of New York State Supreme Court (the lowest state court of general jurisdiction)
  • ruled that DHCR's November 2007 regulations on "unique or peculiar circumstances" are valid, and
  • sent the case back to DHCR to determine within 150 days the thousands of "unique or peculiar" applications pending regarding 24 buildings state-wide.

Click here for a copy of the decision.
Read below for a SUMMARY.

THANKS to our lawyer, DAVID RATNER of Hartman, Ule, Rose & Ratner, for doing a terrific job!



 SUMMARY of JUSTICE SCHLESINGER'S DECISION


Justice Alice Schlesinger of the State Supreme Court in Manhattan ruled on November 25, 2009 in favor of the tenants in the Columbus 95 and Highbridge House cases.

Her decision states that:

(1) the KSLM (Westgate) decision only gave landlords the right to APPLY for "unique or peculiar circumstances" rent adjustments, not an automatic right to GET such increases.

(2) DHCR's Nov. 2007 regulation is valid. That regulation states that just leaving Mitchell-Lama is not by itself a "unique or peculiar circumstance" but landlords may apply to DHCR for increases based on individual apartment issues (or building-wide based on "hardship").  (The regulation can be found at http://www.save-ml.org/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=231 - and scroll down the page. )   The court said:

  • The DHCR regulation is consistent with the KSLM decision by the State's highest court, the Court of Appeals.

  • The "aside" by the Appellate Division (the mid-level court) about whether leaving Mitchell-Lama is a "unique or peculiar circumstance" is not binding, in part because it is based on three letters from DHCR responding to a speculative (hypothetical) question in a different matter. (Similarly an "aside" - legally called "dicta" - by Judge Stone earlier in this case is not binding because it was superfluous to what he was actually ruling on.) It is also not valid because the Court of Appeals did not reference that point in modifying the decision.

  • The DHCR regulation is within that agency's legal mandate, filling in the blanks left by a statute.

  • The DHCR regulation is consistent with the history of how DHCR has applied laws with the phrase "unique or peculiar circumstances" historically. The judge went back to the 1951 Rent Control Plan, a state report, where the phrase was first used, and followed it up historically, showing that it was used only for individual apartments and NOT across the board. Most tellingly, a DHCR Bulletin of that year said U or P increases would not apply "where the maximum rents had been reduced by Federal authorities . . .during a period of Federal regulation before the building became subject to the New York State regulations jurisdiction. The Commissioner opined that, since the rents had been set pursuant to Federal laws then in effect, the circumstances cannot be considered 'unique or peculiar' so as to warrant a rent increase upon the building's entry into the State regulatory system." (page 20 of the decision.)
(3) Where a law (including a regulation) changes while an application is pending, generally the NEW law applies. In this case, there is no difference between the new regulation and DHCR policy before that regulation.

(4) The DHCR regulation is constitutional (the regulation was within DHCR's authority), so the court dismissed the owners' claims of unconstitutionality.


Justice Schlesinger's orders -  as concerns us:

(A) She lifted the stay (hold) a former judge had imposed on DHCR, and ordered DHCR to DECIDE THE U or P APPLICATIONS WITHIN 150 DAYS for all 24 buildings whose applications are pending - including ours.


(B) She did NOT order DHCR to apply its "old" (pre-regulation) policy, in part because that is not legally required, and in part because the old policy and the new regulation apply the same policy.


THE BUILDINGS NAMED IN THIS LAWSUIT ARE:

MANHATTAN
  • Central Park Gardens (West 97th St. Realty Corp.)
  • Columbus 95 (Columbus House)
  • Axton Owner LLC (New Amsterdam)
  • Columbus Manor LLC
  • Town House West, LLC
  • Westview (765 Amsterdam Ave LLC)
  • Westwood House, LLC
 

BRONX:
  • Highbridge House Ogden, LLC (formerly Highbridge House) - Bronx
  • Noble Mansion Associates LLC (Bronx)
  • Stellar 2020 LLC (Boulevard Towers I) (Bronx)
  • Stellar Bruckner, LLC (Bruckner Towers) (Bronx)
  • Janel Towers LLC (Janel Towers) (Bronx)
  • Stellar Morrison LLC (Bronx)
  • Stellar Sedgwick LLC (1889 Sedgwick) (Bronx)
  • Stellar Undercliff, LLC (Undercliff) (Bronx)
BROOKLYN
  • Stellar 341 LLC (Prospect Towers) (Brooklyn)

HEMPSTEAD, NASSAU COUNTY
  • Stellar Hempstead (Hempstead, NY)