Tuesday, December 28, 2010

We Won at APPELLATE DIVISION on U or P CASE!!!!

HURRAH!!
 
As we worked hard for, the state's mid-level court - the same court that issued the "unique or peculiar" decision that started our problems - has supported us unanimously.  This affects not only us but tenants in some 60 buildings. The landlords whose tenants brought the case own these buildings:

Boulevard Towers I (now Stellar 2020 LLC)
Bruckner Towers (now Stellar Bruckner LLC)
Central Park Gardens (now West 97th St. Realty Corp.)
Columbus House (95 W. 95th st.)
Columbus Manor LLC (70 W. 93rd St.)
Dancia - 1889 Sedgwick (now Stellar Sedgwick LLC)
Janel Towers LLC (Bronx)
Hempstead Plaza (now Hempstead Stellar Plaza LLC)
Highbridge House (now Highbridge House Ogden LLC)
New Amsterdam (now Axton)
Noble Mansion (now Noble Mansion Associates LLC)
River Park (now Stellar Morrison LLC)
Town House West Apts (now Town House West , LLC)
Undercliff (now Stellar Undercliff LLC)
Westview (now 765 Amsterdam Ave LLC)
Westwood House, LLC

The Appellate Division, First Department (the  state's mid-level court covering Manhattan and the Bronx), has ruled VALID the state's housing agency regulation that says that just leaving Mitchell-Lama is NOT by itself a "unique or peculiar circumstance" justifying a big rent increase.    You can read the court decision at
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2010/2010_09569.htm .

This applies to all buildings constructed before 1974 that have been (or will be) taken out of Mitchell-Lama.  Those buildings go into rent stabilization under the 1974 Emergency Tenant Protection Act.  A loophole in that law says that in "unique or peculiar circumstances" the state's housing agency can adjust the first stabilized rent.  The definition of what those "circumstances" are was at stake.  Landlords   claimed that just leaving Mitchell-Lama qualified, while the courts (and the tenants) pointed out that "unique or peculiar" (sometimes called "unique and peculiar" or U&P) means what it says: a few, not every apartment coming out of the program.

Thanks to David Hershey-Webb of Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben,Donoghue & Joseph, the attorney for the Columbus House Tenants Association who wrote the brief and argued the case on appeal to the Appellate Division.  (The other tenant associations - including ours - were not permitted to remain as "intervening parties" at this level, although they had been at the lower State Supreme Court level.)  It is extremely likely that the owners will try to appeal to the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals.

But what a nice victory to savor right now!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Candlelight Vigil - Monday, Jan. 3rd to Save our Homes


Candlelight Vigil
 

Join your fellow tenants and community leaders,
Assembly Housing chair Vito Lopez
and other elected officials

Tell Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo and our state legislators 
that our
RENT LAWS need to be RENEWED and STRENGTHENED:

*Full Repeal of Vacancy Decontrol.
*Extend Rent Protections to all Mitchell-Lama and
Section 8 buildings taken out of government programs.


Monday, January 3, 2011, 6:00 pm sharp!
(get there are 5:30 to go through security)
City Hall Steps, Manhattan


Bring signs, banners, neighbors and warm clothes!


On June 15, 2011, state rent protection laws will expire, threatening the stability of NYC and suburban neighborhoods and putting HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of New York residents at risk of losing their homes. Join us as we call on Governor Cuomo and NYS legislators to strengthen and renew our rent laws NOW!

Meet Steve Koulish in the lobby at 4:30 PM and go down together!

For more information:
Anderson Fils-Aimé
Tenants Political Action Committee        (347) 392-9851
For the Real Rent Reform Campaign         andersonfilsaime@yahoo.com

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cards for Cuomo, Governor-Elect - We got lots and lots!

Photo by Dan Bryk
Tenants in this building really came through, and we've gotten over 150 cards for Governor-Elect Cuomo.  Some were sent off before we could count them, and some tenants sent their own. Tenants offered cards (so we went through some 150 -) and stamps.

Photo by Dan Bryk
Thanks to: Renée Belzile,  Paulie Fisher, Linda Greenman, Monica Jenkins, Patricia Jordan, Steve Koulish, Jesse Poppick, Eve Posen, Carmen Reyes, Claude Saucier, Maxine Soares  - and anyone and everyone who sat at the table! And thanks to the many, many tenants who signed cards at the table, sent off their own cards, contributed money for postage and cards, contributed cards, and joined in the fun. (Some took a cookie or two.)
Photo by Dan Bryk
If you'd like to send a holiday card to Governor-Elect Cuomo but haven't gotten around to it, you can write your own -  or contact Sue and get a pre-printed card that you just have to sign (and print your name and address on) and send off.

Click here for a sample card.

With the other buildings and groups sending Cards to Cuomo, there should be big stacks of cards on Governor-Elect Cuomo's desk before he takes office!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Summary of Nov. 17, 2010 General Tenants Meeting

The meeting began with State Senator Bill Perkins giving some general information about what he does and the legislature, and then focusing in on questions.  Sue noted that Sen. Perkins is one of the few senators who stood up for tenants when no one else would. 

Given the uncertainty of which party would control the State Senate at the time, he was unwilling to speculate about specifics. (He was confident that the Democrats would win all three disputed seats, but in fact only one went to the Democrats while two went the Republicans – with one of those still being contested.)

He urged that tenants be active in the coalition (the Real Rent Reform – or “R3” campaign) of tenant groups and that we tell our representatives loud and clear what we want and need.  He said he expected angry letters on his desk by January 1st from tenants – letters he could then show John Sampson (who would have been the Democratic majority leader had the Democrats held the majority).
And he said we should tell Governor-elect Cuomo what we need.


As a consequence, the tenant association has maintained its membership in the R3 Campaign (this year they required $500 dues, which our board approved in its December 8, 2010 meeting).   Steve Koulish has joined R3’s Legislative Committee and Sue Susman is on the Communications Committee. 

And part of the very first R3 action is to send holiday cards to Governor-elect Cuomo telling him what we need to make our New Year happy:
  1. Renewal of the rent regulation laws, which expire in June 2011.  (They are always renewed, but with anti-tenant people holding the State Senate, the laws may well be diluted further, in the landlords’ favor.)
  2. Repeal of vacancy decontrol (that lets owners take apartments out of rent regulation once they’re vacant and if the owner makes improvements to raise the rent to $2000 or more).  It could put market rate tenants back into rent stabilization, and
  3. Protection of tenants in former Mitchell-Lamas and Section 8 buildings from big rent increases.
(Check out the R3 Facebook page too!)

So tenants later arranged to gather in the lobby on Saturday, Dec. 18 and Sunday, Dec. 19  to share a little holiday spirit and collect holiday cards.

Steve Koulish then announced that we’ve won the submetering overcharge case.  Stellar has credited those tenants who already received DHCR orders resolving their cases.  Those who have not yet filed still have time.  If you had appliance surcharges under Mitchell-Lama that were rolled into your first rent stabilized rent, contact Sue for help putting the complaint together.  Your first step: get a copy of the tenant ledger from Stellar Management down at 70 West 93rd Street.  Then call Sue to set up an appointment.  Why pay more than you have to?

Since tenants got back hundreds and in some cases a few thousand dollars (those who paid more in appliance surcharges got back more), we urge that those tenants and others contribute $100 (each year) toward the legal fund that made it possible.

The Major Capital Improvement (MCI) application that Stellar filed is still pending.  Our lawyer filed his response in September- and we have not heard anything yet.  It may well be that there will be some increase, but we hope it will substantially below the $18 per room that Stellar requested.  This will not affect market-rate tenants.

Joan Browne gave a financial report – and thanked Rosa Delgado and Debbie Gonzalez for their fundraising work on October 30th at which we raised over $4000.

Save the date:  Monday, Jan. 3, 2011, join the R3 campaign’s candlelight vigil (with handwarmers, we hope!) in front of City Hall at 6 PM.  Several of our elected officials will be there to set forth what we really need – and to point out that despite the fairy tales of landlords and the now-indicted Pedro Espada, rent regulation is not a subsidy, but a way to level the playing field between tenants and landlords. 

Our next General Tenants Meeting will be January 19, 2011 at 8 PM in the Community Room.  Old and new tenants welcome!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Send Holiday Greetings to Gov-Elect Cuomo on Tenant Issues

By the time Andrew Cuomo becomes Governor on January 1st, he should have read through hundreds and hundreds of holiday greetings urging his active support for tenant issues.  The Real Rent Reform Campaign is asking everyone to 

SEND A HOLIDAY CARD to GOVERNOR-ELECT ANDREW CUOMO !
Ask Cuomo to support stronger rent protection laws. 

Below are fivemodels for your message. Please use your own words.  If you don't have a spare card, join us in the lobby on Saturday, Dec. 18 and Sunday, Dec. 19th - we'll have lots!  (And if you have some cards and envelopes to contribute, bring them down on the weekend.)
 

                             (1)   Dear Governor-elect Cuomo: 
 
Happy New Year. I hope that you will make 2011 a good year for tenants by making sure that the rent protection laws are renewed and strengthened.

 
(2)  Dear Governor-elect Cuomo:

 Wishing you a Happy New Year. Please do not enact a property tax cap while ignoring the ongoing phase-out of rent controls. We need you to fight for stronger tenant protections, and to renew the rent laws without any more weakening amendments.

 
(3) Dear Governor-elect Cuomo:  

I wish you and your family a happy New Year, and urge that you make it happy for tenants as well.  Please  protect those of us in former Mitchell-Lamas from skyrocketing rent increases, and close the other loopholes in our rent laws to preserve affordable housing.   


(4)  Dear Governor-elect Cuomo,


Happy New Year. You have talked a lot about property tax relief for suburban homeowners, but you have said nothing about the need to close the loopholes in our rent laws to better protect tenants and preserve affordable housing. I urge you to repeal vacancy decontrol.



(5)  Dear Governor-elect Cuomo,

I wish you and your family a happy and prosperous New Year. Please do something for tenants in 2011. The state rent laws are due to expire on June 15. These laws have been dramatically weakened and are being phased out through vacancy decontrol. We need you to repeal vacancy decontrol and make sure the rent laws are renewed with no additional givebacks to the real estate lobby.


SIGN YOUR NAME, AND PRINT YOUR NAME. INCLUDE YOUR FULL ADDRESS INCLUDING APT. NO. AND ZIP CODE.
 
ADDRESS THE ENVELOPE TO:

Andrew M. Cuomo
Attorney General
State Capitol, 2nd Floor
Albany, New York 12224


 Put a stamp on it and mail it!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Rent Regulation Law Expires in June 2011. What's Next?

The state's Rent Regulation Law expires in June 2011.

What that means for tenants and tenant advocates is laid out clearly in a FACT SHEET provided by Tenants & Neighbors.

Tenants &Neighbors 

FACT SHEET on RENT LAW RENEWAL


I’ve heard that the rent laws are set to expire in 2011. What does this mean?

New York State’s rent laws, which allow for the continued existence of rent regulation, expire or “sunset” periodically. When the laws are scheduled to sunset, the state legislature has to decide whether or not to extend them. Our rent regulation system protects tenants from the negative impacts of the severe housing shortage we face, such as speculative and unwarranted rent increases and baseless or retaliatory eviction, so if the rent laws were allowed to sunset it would have catastrophic consequences for tenants. The next sunset date is June 15, 2011.


How often do the rent laws expire?
When they renew the laws, the legislature decides when they will next sunset. Between 1974 and 1993, the typical renewal was for two years. The last three times that the rent laws came up for renewal were in 2003, 1997, and 1993.


Which laws are set to sunset in June of 2011?
The Emergency Tenant Protection Act of 1974 (the ETPA) and the Emergency Housing Rent Control Law of 1946 are set to sunset. 1 [Our building is rent stabilized under the 1974 Emergency Tenant Protection Act.]
_________________

Footnote 1: New York City has its own local rent laws that are subject to renewal by the New York City Council, not the State Legislature. These local laws were enacted under the authority of a 1962 state law, the Local Emergency Housing Rent Control Act, and are not set to expire. Tenants protected by these laws may continue to be rent stabilized even if the state rent laws are allowed to expire.
_________________


If the rent laws are allowed to expire, what will happen to rent stabilized tenants?
If the rent laws expire, all the rent stabilized apartments outside of New York City and apartments in New York City’s that are regulated by the ETPA would most likely be converted to market rate housing when the tenants’ leases expire.


What will happen to rent controlled tenants?
The apartments of the few remaining rent controlled tenants outside of New York City would probably be decontrolled immediately and subject to eviction without cause on thirty days’ notice. There are probably no more than a few hundred of these units, most of which are in Westchester and possibly Buffalo, since most rent controlled units outside of New York City have already been decontrolled. In New York City, it is possible that rent controlled tenants would continue to be protected by the City’s Rent and Rehabilitation Law, which would mean that their rent controlled status would continue through March of 2012, when the Council would need to extend rent control, which it is expected to do.

I’ve heard that the last few times the rent laws were set to expire, the state legislature approved them, but with weakening amendments. What were these amendments?

1993
  • Enacted the first decontrol amendments since 1971, high rent vacancy decontrol and high income high rent decontrol 2
  • Eliminated meaningful penalties for landlords' failure to register rents and services
  • Established the Individual Apartment Improvement Rent Increase formula [One-fortieth of the cost of the improvement including labor is added to the tenant's rent permanently]
1997
  • Instituted a twenty percent statutory vacancy bonus
  • Tightened the four-year rule on challenging rent overcharges
  • Enacted permanent high rent vacancy decontrol and high income decontrol at the state level, extending them to the suburban counties and pre-empting the ability of the
    New York City Council to repeal these mechanisms  [If your rent is $2000 or more and your household income is above a certain level for 2 years or more, your apartment ceases to be stabilized.]
2003
  • Tightened the Urstadt Law, which prevents New York City from enacting stronger tenant protections than New York State
  • Changed the preferential rent system so that landlords can raise preferential rent tenants’ rents to the legal regulated rent upon lease renewal.  [Capital grant tenants: you may be listed as having a "preferential rent" on your lease, so contact the tenant association for details.


Footnote 2: The New York City Council made these permanent features of the rent control and rent stabilization laws in 1994.


What weakening amendments might the landlord lobby try to push through in 2011?
The landlord lobby may try to undermine the 2009 Roberts v Tishman Speyer court decision, which clarified that landlords cannot deregulate rent stabilized units while receiving J-51 tax abatements.  [Our building did not have this.]   They may also try to lower the threshold at which apartments can be decontrolled and to reverse the recent Cintron and Grimm decisions, rulings by the state’s highest court that made the four-year rule on challenging rent overcharges less rigid.

How can I help ensure the rent laws are renewed without weakening amendments?
The New York State Tenants & Neighbors Coalition is working with our allies in the Real Rent Reform Campaign to make sure that the rent laws are renewed without weakening amendments. We are also fighting to get the legislature to pass strengthening amendments to undo the damage that was done in previous years.  [Our building's tenant association has been and will continue to be a member of the Real Rent Reform Campaign!]


Sources:
McKee, Michael: “How the Landlords Weakened our Rent Laws,” 2008
© 2010, New York State Tenants & Neighbors Coalition

Monday, November 29, 2010

Side Door Keys for Seniors & Disabled

SENIOR TENANTS
and DISABLED TENANTS 
The side door locks were changed on WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2010.
Both will have the same lock.

To get a key from Carlos, you must provide

  • $25 DEPOSIT (tenants on SCRIE, DRIE,  Section 8 or Capital Grant may get a key with no deposit) AND
  • Proof of age or disability such as ONE OF THESE:
    • Birth certificate from before 1946
    • Driver's license or non-driver's NYS ID showing your age as 65 or more
    • Bus pass reduced for age or disability
    • Social Security Disability letter
    • Social Security Retirement letter
    • Veterans Administration disability letter
    • Access-a-Ride pass
    • State or Federal Park Pass for age or disability
    • Letter from your doctor.
The same key operates both the East and West side doors, and the keys cannot be copied except by Stellar.


If Carlos runs out of keys, contact Stellar's local office at 70 West 93rd Street: 212-222-4430.

Contact Senators about Renewing Rent Regulation!

The state's Rent Regulation laws expire in June 2011.  If the Republicans control the State Senate as of January 1, 2011, they will not renew those laws without worsening them for tenants.

The State Senate is in session on MONDAY, NOVEMBER 29th.  Call:

Senate Majority Leader John Sampson, 518-455-2788  or e-mail him via his website
TODAY.

Urge him to have the Senate pass the Rent Regulation Renewal bill that has already been passed by the state's Assembly.  Do it TODAY! 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Today  - among the other things in our lives - we can be thankful for . . .

  • Having a roof over our heads,
  • Being part of a strong tenant association that has kept rents affordable for those in stabilization and is working to get rents affordable for market rate tenants,
  • Having wonderful friends and a community of support in the building and the neighborhood, and
  • Having something to eat.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Going to Albany Nov. 29th?

IF the Republicans are the majority in the State Senate come January, the renewal of rent regulation as we know it is in jeopardy.  Rent regulation for the entire state expires in June 2011.
 
The State Senate is re-convening briefly on Monday, November 29, 2010.  Please urge


to renew rent regulation now!

And if you're free to go to Albany on Monday, Nov. 29th, please contact Michael McKee of Tenants PAC: mmckee@tenantspac.org .


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

General Tenants Meeting - Wed., Nov. 17, 2010

Come hear 

STATE SENATOR BILL PERKINS*


at our
General Tenants Meeting

THIS WEDNESDAY, NOV. 17th 
at 8 PM 
in the Community Room.

Sen. Perkins will talk about what we can expect in tenant legislation that affects
rent stabilized AND market-rate tenants. 

*HE'S A REAL HERO FOR TENANTS!  HE STOOD UP FOR US IN THE LAST TERM WHEN FEW OTHERS DID, SO LET'S SHOW UP FOR HIM !

Bring a chair and a neighbor! - Old and new tenants welcome.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Tenant Musician's Tour of South East Asia on line . . .

Our neighbor Danny Mallon is on a musical tour: 

The Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad is a program administered by Jazz at Lincoln Center on behalf of the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Stellar Repaying Thousands in Submetering Case!!!!


STELLAR IS NOW CREDITING US FOR THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS for APPLIANCE OVERCHARGES !!

If you have already filed a Submetering Appliance Overcharge Complaint, read below to verify  the amount of the credit.

If you paid an appliance surcharge under Mitchell-Lama and are not yet part of the lawsuit,  skip down to read about how you can join in and save money.

YOUR dues and legal contributions paid for our lawyer’s hard work and this terrific savings!   Let’s keep those contributions coming.  You know that contributing $100 toward our legal fund now can be worth thousands of dollars in savings.
 
HOW TO READ YOUR RENT BILL IF YOU ARE ALREADY PARTICIPATING IN THE SUIT

I.   If your rent shows a minus sign ( - ) in front of the "Amount due,"  that is a credit and you don't owe anything this month (and your rent may be much less next month).  Circle the minus sign and keep the rent bill safe.  If it would make you feel safer, you can make a copy of the bill and send the original with the circled minus sign to Stellar.

II.  If you want to make sure that Stellar gave you the proper credit next to the words "Pursuant to the DHCR order" on your rent bill:

1. Look at the "Subtotal" on the top right of the DHCR Calculations Chart you received with the DHCR letter granting your complaint.  That chart includes the overcharge amount, interest, and any excess security,  up to a specific date.  You have to find out what that date is.   So read on!
      2. Look at the last line on the bottom of the Calculations Chart.  On the left-hand side, DHCR lists the lease period for the last lease it considered.  On the right-hand side of the same row, DHCR states the number of months for which it credited you in the calculations.  Using that number of months, start counting from the beginning of that lease to figure out which was the last month for which DHCR is crediting you  for the appliance surcharge.
      EXAMPLE:  
      Tenant Green's lease began 12/01/08, and they gave Tenant Green credit for 13 months.  That is one month in 2008 and 12  months in 2009.
      3. Subtract the number of months in 2009 and 2010 that DHCR gave you credit  for (in the example above it is 12 months) from 22 (the number of months in 2009 and 2010 for which Stellar has charged the tenant).

      4. Multiply the answer by the amount of the appliance surcharge.

      5. Add that total to the "Subtotal" at the top right of the page.

        ANOTHER  EXAMPLE FROM START TO FINISH:
        1. The "subtotal" amount on the top right says $800.
        2. The monthly surcharge Stellar has been billing the tenant is $25.  During 2009 and 2010, Stellar billed for 22 months so far (through October 2010).
        DHCR credited the tenant for 10 months - through October 2009.   

        From October 2009 to October 2010 is 12 months for which the tenant did not get DHCR credit on the Calculations Chart: 
        => November and December 2009 (2 months)

        plus
                =>  the 10 months so far in 2010.
        Multiply those 12 months times the amount of the surcharge:
        12 X $25.  That comes to $300.

        Add $800 (the "subtotal" amount) and $300.  That comes to $ 1100.

        That (or something a little larger to include interest) should be the amount WITH A "MINUS" SIGN on your rent bill next to the words "Pursuant to the DHCR order."  That is your credit.
        ___________________________________


        IF YOU NEVER FILED AN OVERCHARGE COMPLAINT, NOW IS THE TIME.

        If your Mitchell-Lama appliance surcharge became part of your first rent stabilized rent, pull together all your old leases and lease renewals (going back to December 2004) and get a tenant ledger from Stellar Management at 70 West 93rd Street.  Then call or e-mail Sue to make an appointment (about an hour) to fill out the paperwork. (Note: If you are on SCRIE or DRIE or are applying to those programs, contact Sue about whether you should file.)


        DON'T PAY STELLAR MORE THAN YOU HAVE TO  !
        and contribute to our legal fund, which made this possible!

        Sunday, October 24, 2010

        Appellate court hears "Unique or Peculiar" Case

        The Appellate Division First Department - the state's mid-level court for our area - heard oral argument in the "unique or peculiar circumstances" case on October 21, 2010. 
          
        The "unique or peculiar" phrase refers to a provision of the state's Emergency Tenant Protection Act that landlords are trying to use to increase the first stabilized rent when they take pre-1974 buildings out of Mitchell-Lama. A couple of years ago, the state's highest court (the Court of Appeals) ruled that the Emergency Tenant Protection Act's "U or P" provision applies to all apartments (leaving Mitchell-Lama) that were built or vacated any time after July 1969 and before 1974. Thus owners MAY APPLY to DHCR for a "U or P" increase for such apartments.

        The landlords challenged DHCR's 2007 regulation that says that just leaving Mitchell-Lama is not by itself sufficient to show "unique or peculiar circumstances" that would raise the rent stabilized rents to market rate.

        The lower court (called the State Supreme Court) had ruled that the regulation was a valid interpretation of the state law, the Emergency Tenant Protection Act of 1974. Among other factor the regulation met, it is consistent with long-held DHCR policy and other court decisions : that "U or P" is not applicable to entire buildings (except in very rare circumstances), let alone to entire programs.

        For a complete summary of the article, click here.

        Wednesday, October 13, 2010

        Free Mammograms in the neighborhood

        Date: Saturday, Oct. 16th

        Time: 9:30 a.m. to Noon

        Place: the Frederick Douglass Houses Children's Aid Society
        885 Columbus Avenue at 104th St.

        Call 800-654-6868 to schedule an appointment.

        This event is sponsored by 
        • Assembly Member Daniel O'Donnell,
        • Jane Wisdom, president of the Douglass Houses Tenant Association
        • Project Renewal.

        Advisory Board meeting - Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010

        ADVISORY BOARD MEETING - WEDNESDAY, OCT. 13, 2010 
        8 PM in the Community Room 

        For Board Members*


        Maria Acevedo Na’ava Ades Jacob Brockington
        Joan Browne Sharon Davis Rosa Delgado
        Barbara Geller Debbie Gonzalez Rich Jordan
        Steve KoulishMary MartinMary McLaughlin
        Helen MerberGreg MurrayPrue Opperman
        Letty OrellanoMaxine SoaresSue Susman




        AGENDA: 
        • Safety for tenants: emergency cards, keys, and more.  What's the best way to keep each other safe?
        • Updates on 3 pending cases (submetering, major capital improvement, "unique or peculiar circumstances")
        • Finances / fundraising

        *The next General Tenants Meeting will be Wednesday, November 17, 2010.

        Sunday, October 3, 2010

        Emergency Contacts and Keys for the Super!

        Recently the police broke down a door to get to a tenant who was ill in her apartment.  She lay there for more than a day because no one had a key to check - and we were not sure if she was away.  The tenant is now recovering in the hospital.  Unfortunately, she will have to pay for the broken door and the new lock the super installed to keep the apartment secure. 
        What she lacked:  an EMERGENCY CONTACT card or a current SET OF KEYS - both to be left with the super in the locked box in his office.

        Please make sure that Carlos has an up-to-date emergency contact card that states whom to contact and either

        (1) which two or three households in the building have your keys (in case one of them is away) or

        (2) that the super has your keys in the locked box in his office (and please give him a set).

        Thursday, September 16, 2010

        Summary of Sept. 15, 2010 General Tenants Meeting

        The meeting opened with a moment of silence for Barbara Post.  Her memorial is Saturday, Oct. 2nd at West End Presbyterian Church, 105th St. & Amsterdam at 4 PM.

        Then we moved on to . . . 
         
        I. Celebration
        Roundly defeated with lots of tenant help: Pedro Espada, State Senate Majority Leader and current head of the State Senate's housing committee
        "Espada became the living symbol of Albany's dysfunction in June 2009 when he switched to the Republican side, creating a 31-31 deadlock in the state Senate that paralyzed state government for two months, until he switched back. (There was no lieutenant governor available to break the tie, because David Paterson had moved up to governor after Eliot Spitzer's resignation.)

        "Espada did more to kill attempts to strengthen New York State's rent regulations than anyone in Albany. His move came the day before his committee was scheduled to vote on a bill to repeal the 1997 deregulation of vacant apartments that rented for more than $2,000 a month, the tenant movement's main demand of the Democrats. Naturally, he later received a few hundred thousand dollars in contributions from the real estate lobby. He may well be indicted for corruption now that he's out of office, as he is under investigation for allegedly filching funds from health clinics he owns for personal and political gain."
        (Source:  Progressive Politics Gets a Boost in New York, Steve Wishnia,  http://www.alternet.org/news/148198/progressive_politics_gets_a_boost_in_new_york/)

        One of the laws that Espada refused to let out of committee this past legislative session would have repealed vacancy decontrol. That would have put many market-rate apartments in this building back into rent stabilization. 

        Gustavo Rivera, the victor in the "Espada" race in the Bronx, said in his victory night speech, "We asked you to imagine a community where tenants won't have to fear homelessness because their rent laws are being written by wealthy landlords."

        Executive Committee member Steve Koulish volunteered as a poll watcher in the Espada/Rivera race in the Bronx, and reported on the importance of individual participation and on the general exhilaration when Espada lost by 2-to-1 .

        Other primary victors for our neighborhood included Eric Schneiderman, an Upper West Side progressive for Attorney General; State Senator Bill Perkins - who has tirelessly championed our tenant bills; and  Congressman Charles Rangel.

        II.  Submetering case

        DHCR ruled on both sides' Petitions for Administrative Review (PARs), and kept things as originally decided:  Tenants whose appliance surcharges under Mitchell-Lama became part of their rent stabilized rents would have those rolled back and get lump sum repayments going back to when submetering started in March 2008.  Stellar would not be charged triple damages.

        Stellar has until about Nov. 2, 2010 to appeal that decision to a state court - but bears a heavy legal burden of showing that DHCR's decisions in our favor were "arbitrary or capricious."  That kind of case (appealing from a state agency's decision) is called an "Article 78 proceeding."  Stellar would be opposing DHCR in that case.

        In the meantime, tenants who participated in the suit may keep paying the Legal Regulated Rent ordered by DHCR with a separate check for the electric bill.

        Tenants who have NOT yet participated in the suit but who did have appliance surcharges added to their rent stabilized rents should contact Sue, Steve, or Greg to file their own complaints now.  There's still time!

        If you get a lease renewal that ignores the Legal Regulated Rent, please send Stellar a letter with the signed lease renewal that states, "Kindly revise the lease renewal in keeping with the Legal Regulated Rent ordered by DHCR."  Make a copy of the lease renewal and your letter and send the originals to Stellar by certified mail, return receipt requested.

        Our attorney has advised Stellar that if it sends a letter to any tenant here for failing to pay the difference between the Legal Regulated Rent and the higher rent Stellar has been charging, we will take legal action.  If you get such a letter from Stellar, let Sue know IMMEDIATELY.  And send Stellar a letter (click here and fill in the blanks).

        III.  Owner's Major Capital Improvement (MCI) Application

        Stellar is asking that rent stabilized tenants pay $1.47 million for elevator modernization, submetering, boiler replacement and façade repairs.  Our attorney has responded to that application, asserting:
        1. The escrow account with DHCR's list of work to be done covers the boiler replacement and façade repairs.  DHCR's regulations say "None of the corrective work performed pursuant [to that list] shall qualify for an increase in rent" - so even if the cost exceeded what was in the DHCR list, it should not be the basis for an MCI.
        2. Submetering is NOT a major capital improvement since DHCR gives owners a financial incentive to submeter and tenants do not benefit.
        3. The application does not specify exactly what work was done.
        4. The application does not allocate costs to commercial and professional tenants.
        5. The application is internally inconsistent (for example, it says the cost will be $20.72 a room in one place, and $18.30 per room in another).
        We can expected a long legal battle - and we need funds to fight it, so please contribute to our legal fund if you have not already (or even if you have!).  This will affect rent stabilized tenants except those on SCRIE or DRIE.
        IF we do not prevail, there will be an MCI - but it will likely be substantially less than the $18.30 per room.  (If your apartment rent registration form says you have 3 rooms and the increase is, for example, $10 per room, you would owe $30 for your apartment each month.)
        How MCI's are paid:

        No more than 6% of your current rent could be added to your rent each year, no matter how high the MCI is. 
        EXAMPLE:
        1. Your current rent is $500/month.  1% of $500 is $5, so 6%  = $30.  So this year, no more than $30 per month could be added to your rent.
        2. Your next year's rent is now $530.  You get a lease renewal of, say, 3%.  That is 3% of $530.  That comes to $545.90.
        3. To determine how much of the MCI can be added to your rent, add 6% of $545.90, bringing your rent to $578.64.
        4. That would continue to increase, 6% each year, until the entire amount owed is paid. Then it would level off.  Unless the law changes, the MCI is never rolled back or taken off your rent once it is added.
        Now we wait for the owner's response and then DHCR's decision.

        III. Financial Report

        Our treasurer, Joan Browne, gave the financial report.  Money is coming in, but so are our legal bills for the MCI and for the submetering case.  Please contribute at least $100 per apartment - or more if you can spare it.  

        IV. Building Security 

        THE SIDE DOORS:  The Executive Committee met with building manager Lu Pedraza about security issues.  Stellar is proposing to install new locks on the side doors (same lock for both) with keys that cannot be reproduced. Tenants who qualify would deposit $25 (the cost of the key).  After extensive discussion and a vote about our recommendations to Stellar, the sense of the meeting was that keys should be available to seniors (65 and over) and those who are proven disabled. 

        Proof of disability would include government documents like a reduced fare bus pass for age or disability, an Access-a-Ride card, documentation of disability from Social Security or the Veterans Administration, or a letter from your doctor.  

        THE FRONT DOORS AND INTERCOM:   At the meeting with Lu Pedraza, we stressed that the front doors are often unlocked and the doormen seem to be letting in anyone, including delivery people, without using the intercom.  Sometimes the doormen are not at their station or are asleep.  To deal with this, tenants who are concerned must note the DATE and TIME of the problem and let the building manager know. Lu Pedraza, lpedraza@stellarmangement.com and his assistant Basil Chapman, bchapman@stellarmanagement.com,  are at 212-222-4430, and their office is at 70 W. 93rd Street on the ground floor.
        If you expect a DELIVERY or VISITOR, tell them the INTERCOM CODE in advance.  If you don't know yours, check on the board in the entry foyer.  They are listed by last name.  Your apartment number is NOT given.  (When a visitor dials the intercom code, your phone will ring.  Answer it normally and to let the person in, while you are still on the phone, press 9. Then hang up.)
        In addition, following tenant recommendations, the Executive Committee will suggest to Stellar that
        1. doormen assist the frail or disabled with the very heavy front doors, and
        2. when construction or moving is going on, either a building staff person should be at the side door that is held open, or all the moving or equipment should be put in position so the side door need only be open for a short while. 

        V. The Exterminator

        BEDBUGS - There have been three reported cases in this building.  Stellar wants to nip this in the bud (or the bug), so it will send an inspector if you have seen what you think is a bedbug in your apartment.  Let Lu Pedraza or Basil Chapman know.  If bedbugs are found, Stellar will send a special exterminator (not the regular one for mice) and will pay for the extermination, which takes at least two visits and over a week.  During that time you will have to bag all of your clothing and other fabrics, and clean them in a prescribed way. 

        To read more about what they are (they bite but do not spread disease) and how to get rid of them, click here for a NYC Health Department guide.
        Rich people, poor people, clean people, dirty people, five-star hotels, and Abercrombie & Fitch have had bedbugs.  There is no stigma, and you can get it by sitting in a seat at the opera.  But they spread fast - so tell Stellar early.

        Stellar will 
        1. exterminate the infested apartment
        2. exterminate in the hallway and the compactor room outside that apartment, and
        3. notify neighbors, including above and below, that an apartment near them (without giving specifics) has bedbugs, and ask them to let Stellar inspect.  Please make your apartment available so we don't have an epidemic.

        MICE - If you have seen a mouse (or any other critter) in your apartment, write it in the requisition slip at the doorman's desk.  Stellar will send Exterminator # 1 who will put down  peanut-butter-scented glue traps.  If they don't help and you see another mouse, write it in the requisition slip at the doorman's desk and Stellar will send Exterminator #2 who will move out all your appliances and seal the holes in the wall, including where your phone lines come in, the stove gas pipe, etc. 

        The exterminators come every other Wednesday at 8 AM and the alternate-week Saturdays at 10 AM.  To ensure that they actually get to your apartment, do notify the doorman in advance that you are expecting the exterminator.  If the exterminator fails to show up when scheduled, notify Lu Pedraza and Basil Chapman.

        VI. Other Building Issues
        COMMUNITY ROOM: There are rules that tenants worked out long ago for using the community room for parties and other personal gatherings.  (Please pick up a copy when you rent the room.) 
        The rules include that the tenant who has rented it should be present and responsible for what goes on, and that the noise level should be kept down.  Please be considerate of your neighbors who live above and indeed all the apartments facing the back of the building.  Sound carries!



        THE HEAT LAW:
        From October 1 through May 31 each year, the landlord must provide heat:
        • 6 AM to 10 PM: When the temperature outside is 55° or colder, the temperature inside must be at least 68°.
        • 10 PM to 6 AM: When the temperature outside is 40° or colder, the temperature inside must be at least 55°.
         
        Ruth Ellin has proposed changing the law to raise the minimum heat levels.  Tenants interested in working with her should contact the Executive Committee.

        Got questions or comments? Contact us!  And join the tenant association:
        $25 per apartment for the first year, and $10 per apartment thereafter.

        The Executive Committee:
        Sue Susman, president (sue [use the at sign and no spaces]  janak. org)
        Na'ava Ades, vice president (naavaa  [use the at sign] gmail. com)
        Joan Browne, treasurer, vice president (jbbrownefaison [use the at sign] att. net
        Richard Jordan, vice president (richj 214 [use the at sign and no spaces] aol. com)
        Steve Koulish, vice president (eskoolman [use the at sign and no spaces] yahoo. com)
        Greg Murray, vice president (geeemurray [use the at sign and no spaces] aol.  com)

        Thursday, September 9, 2010

        Primary Election Tuesday, Sept. 14

        Don't forget to vote at P.S. 163 (between Columbus and Amsterdam on the north side of 97th Street).

        For pro-tenant endorsements by TenantsPAC, click here.

        Monday, August 23, 2010

        Save the date: General Tenants Meeting - Sept. 15, 2010

         Come to our

        GENERAL TENANTS MEETING

        Wednesday, September 15, 2010

        8 PM

        in the Community Room

        Old and new tenants welcome!

        AGENDA
        • Submetering case development and what we can expect with lease renewals, etc.
        • MCI application: We've put in our opposition and now . . . 
        • Financial Report (have you contributed this year's $100 for legal fees yet?)
        • Building issues:  Security,Community Room Rules,Exterminator
        • YOUR issues.
        Bring a chair and a neighbor.



        Voting Machine Demonstration: Thurs. Aug. 26

        Come to a Board of Elections Demonstration of the

        NEW VOTING MACHINES 

        WHEN: Thursday, August 26th

        First Session: 2 PM

        Second Session: 7:30 PM

        WHERE: at Goddard Riverside Community Center, 593 Columbus Ave. at 88th Street.

        The primary election is September 14th!

        Thursday, July 29, 2010

        Two tenants, two plays

        (1) One of our very own tenants, Marina Squerciati (fresh off two TV series) is in a play this August :

        Just in Time: The Judy Holliday Story
        has been reprised.  You can see the additional performances on Sept. 13 and 14 at 7 PM and Sept. 15 at 3 PM at the Lucille Lortel Theater, 121 Christopher Street (between Bleecker & Hudson).


        This is a fast-paced romp through the life of the Original Dumb Blond and of one of the funniest actresses of all time.

        Written and directed by Bob Sloan

        Featuring Marina Squerciati, Mary Gutzi, Catherine LeFrere and Adam Harrington.


        When
        Sept 10 at 9:30
        Sept. 13 at 7PM
        Sept 14 at 7PM
        Sept 15 at 3PM


        Where
        Lucille Lortel Theater
        121 Christopher Street (between Bleecker and Hudson)


        For tickets go to http://www.fringenyc.org/basic_page.php?ltr=J 






        (2)  Tenant Glenda Frank has written a new play,
        The Fourth Estate

        which will play as part of the 2010 NY International Fringe Festival.


        Inspired by current events, "The Fourth Estate" takes you into the lives of four journalists confronting danger. In Afghanistan, a rookie reporter, teamed with a veteran photographer, struggles with romantic attraction and a need to make a difference. Two Asian American women face a death sentence for spying in North Korea. A corporate VP tries to bully an editor into whitewashing environmental pollution. An Irish journalist recognizes the imminent possibility of her murder. It has a very talented cast and an impressive young director.

        When


        TUES 8/17 @ 4:15-5:35 pm


        WED 8/18 @ 7-8:20 pm


        SAT  8/21 @ 3:15-4:35 pm


        MON 8/23  @ 5:45- 7:05 pm


        WED 8/25 @ 8:15- 9:35 pm


        Where :



        THE CHERRY PIT THEATRE,  155 Bank St.

        Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door, with discount available.

        Contact www.FringeNYC.org, 1-866-468-7619 or in person at FringeCENTRAL.

        Friday, July 23, 2010

        Tenant Blacklist - Check out the video

        WHAT IS TENANT BLACKLISTING?

        According to a very useful video put out by the New York State Bar Association for non-lawyers: When a landlord sues a tenant in housing court, regardless of who wins,  the tenant's name can appear in data that the Housing Court sells each day to private companies for "Tenant Screening Reports."  It is not illegal for the courts to sell this information to private companies: court records are public documents.  [See below for more specifics on how names end up in the data sold.] Those companies then sell the data to other landlords when the same tenant is trying to move into a new apartment. The data is supposed to be accurate, but often is not, and it does not state who won or lost the case. There are some 350,000 cases brought by landlords in housing court in New York City each year. About 5% of those are tenants suing their landlords for repairs (called "HP" actions - referring to "Housing Part"), and their names might NOT appear on these lists.

        Tenant screening reports contain the names of tenants whose cases were placed on the court calendar - where the landlord brings the case and the tenant is the "respondent." There are 3 kinds of typical housing court  actions:

        • Nonpayment of rent
          • Where the tenant is short of money or  has forgotten to pay the rent
          • Where the tenant is withholding rent (as permitted under New York State law) because the landlord has failed to make needed repairs in violation of the Warranty of Habitability.
          •  
        In Nonpayment cases, the tenant's name is not put on the calendar until the tenant files a formal Answer and the tenant gets a date for a hearing. So negotiation with the owner before those events is helpful.
        • "Holdovers"  - the owner wants the tenant out. 
          • The owner claims the tenant does not actually live in his/her rent stabilized apartment.
          • The owner claims the person has no right to "succeed to" (take over the lease of) the apartment when the former primary tenant has left the apartment or died.
        In Holdover cases, the tenant's name goes on the calendar as soon as the landlord files the case.


        • "Housing Part" or "HP" actions - the tenant sues the landlord for repairs. In this situation, the tenant is the person bringing the action, or the "petitioner," and the owner is the "respondent."
        So in HP cases, the tenant's name may not end up on a tenant screening report.

        Tenants who find themselves facing a landlord court action should try to include specific language in agreements between the parties that are filed with the court "to minimize or undo some harm, but this can be a difficult process, and is close to impossible for tenants without attorneys," writes Brendan Enright, Information and Advocacy Coordinator of Housing Court Answers, a service of the the City Wide Task Force on Housing Court. They have a website section on this issue at http://www.housingcourtanswers.org/for-tenants/tenant-blacklist.

        Try to avoid the 2 long-term effects of a judgment against a tenant in housing court - or even of being sued in housing court at all:

        (1) Damage to Credit reports. The three major companies (Experion, Equifax and TransUnion) that issue credit reports will show judgments against tenants, and the resulting damage to the tenant's credit rating can lead to higher rates on insurance and car payments, for example. To minimize this damage, tenants should try to get language that says the the judgment will be vacated upon proof of payment. That language will not help with tenant screening reports, however. So read on.

        (2) Tenant screening reports (about 600 or more companies are involved nationally) will show that the tenant's name appeared in the court calendar as a "respondent." To get this removed, Brendan Enright suggests, "they can try to include language such as Petition consents to the expungement of any record of this proceeding from the database of any Tenant screening bureau or credit reporting agency. If the landlord consent, the tenant can send a letter requesting expungement (erasure) to the company along with a copy of the stipulation [agreement between the parties that is filed with the court]." He warns that "without that specific language, a tenant may not have grounds to base an appeal to the company."

        As the video notes, the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires companies to remove inaccurate information when they are notified by the consumer. Mr. Enright notes, "Unfortunately, since the tenant screening report is solely a record that they have been taken ot court and they did appear and have a court date, the information listed on the tenant screening portion is not 'erroneous or incorrect,' and therefore outside the (small) enforcement realm of the FCRA. . . . With the Tenant Fair Chance Act, landlords must let prospective tenants know the names and addresses of any screening companies they use. That way, prospective tenants can possibly correct the record.

        The video is well worth the half hour or so that it takes, and the speaking pace is slow enough that you can probably take most of it down as you listen and watch.

        Consult a lawyer if you have questions!