Saturday, January 23, 2010


--> I. Sorrow, then celebration.
We began with a statement of support for our neighbor Egyptienne Alexandre, whose friends and family in her native Haiti have not been heard from since the devastating earthquake there.  (Announced: Sen. Bill Perkins held a Town Hall meeting on January 21st on the situation and how to help.)

From sorrow, we moved on to celebrate the ongoing life of tenant Sol Frieder, the oldest working actor in the United States.   He recently co-starred with Sam Waterston in Athol Fugard’s play, “Have you seen us” at the Longwharf Theater in New Haven, and has worked with Woody Allen as well.  He was particularly praised by former tenant association president Ruth Ellin, a stalwartof the  Yiddish theatre - the  “Folksbiene” - and the Hebrew Actors Union.

II.  Election: Alitha Mobley conducted the election for two positions on the Executive Committee since Prudence Opperman has resigned for health reasons after many years of wonderful service, as did Zena Gonzalez a few years back.  Congratulations to Richard Jordan and Greg Murray (the only two candidates) who were elected unanimously.

III.  Overcharge complaint for appliance surcharges.

Steve Koulish explained why we have filed "Petitions for Administrative Review" (PARs) with DHCR in the appliance surcharge case to ask for triple damages:  
  • The law says that wherever DHCR finds an overcharge, "triple damages" are automatic.  DHCR is only supposed to reduce those damages if the owner proves the overcharge was unintentional.  But Stellar did not even address that issue, and DHCR provided no reason for the reduction.   
  • Stellar has a pattern of filing appeals, and we had to make a decision within 20 days of when the first tenant in the building received her letter - so we assumed Stellar would follow its pattern.  (Only about 15-20 tenants have so far received their letters from DHCR saying how much money that tenant is due to receive.  Other tenants who filed their complaints should expect to get their letters over the next four or five weeks.)
  • Each time we have complained about something, Stellar's attitude seems to be "make me."  For example,  we had to fight the garage case - and won twice at DHCR and twice in court, until Stellar gave up.  Then we filed a reduction in services complaint.  DHCR dismissed that after Stellar had provided virtually all of the services we requested.  And when Stellar refused to roll back our appliance surcharges, we spent hundreds of hours - and our lawyer spent quite a few - to challenge that.  DHCR does not award "legal fees" - let alone compensation for the many hours that we spend collecting information to maintain reasonable rents.  So this is one means of compensation.  
  • When Stellar keeps saying "make me," we have to stand together and strong.

 What are "triple damages"?  The amount of money the tenant has already overpaid, times three.   

The decisions we are getting from DHCR generally say something like this:

The tenant overpaid $1000, and the rent should be reduced $40 from here on.

If that same tenant gets triple damages, the tenant would get $3000, but the rent would still be reduced by $40 a month.  We hope that tenants who get triple damages will contribute to our legal fund!

If you had any appliance surcharges (for example for a frost-free refrigerator or an air conditioner) under Mitchell-Lama that became part of your rent stabilized rent, and you never filed a complaint about it, it is not too late.  Contact Sue for help.

IV.   Politics

Our tenant association is involved in several coalitions, including 
  • the Mitchell-Lama P.I.E. Campaign (P=Protection for tenants, I= Incentives to stay in the program, and E = enforcement of the law) -working for the Stewart-Cousins bill, the repeal of vacancy decontrol, and other bills on the Real Rent Reform (R3) platform. (PIE is itself a member of the R3 campaign.)
  • Stellar Tenants for Affordable Housing.

These groups are meeting in the next few weeks, and tenants are invited.  Contact Sue for time and place.

Please contact State Senator John Sampson, with the message, "Senator Sampson must NOT appoint Pedro Espada as chair of the Senate Housing Committee in 2010. Giving Espada this post again would be an outrage. We need a pro-tenant Senator in that post who will help us pass important rent reform bills THIS YEAR, including the repeal of vacancy decontrol."   
His phone in Albany is (518) 455-2788  and his NYC district office: 718-649-7653.

V.  Heating

Na'ava Ades  explained that unless and until the law is changed, our only recourse is to gather evidence of the temperatre and lack of hot water.  That requires
  • a reliable thermometer (to determine heat, not hot water)
  • a piece of paper and pencil to note it down, including the date and time
  • calls to 311, including noting down the reference number
  • notes on the requisition slips at the guard's desk.

If it's not in writing, it doesn't count, legally speaking.
Here is the law: 

Heat (During the heating season, October 1 through May 31)

*  Between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., heat must register at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit when the outside temperature falls below 55 degrees;

 *  Between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., heat must register at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit when the outside temperature falls below 40 degrees.

Hot Water (24 hours a day, 365 days a year)

*  Hot water must register at or above a constant temperature of 120 degrees at the tap.

Our building's boiler is controlled by a computer, rather than by the building staff.  There may be problems with the programming, so we want to determine whether any particular line has more problems than others.   Please volunteer to monitor heat (around 6 PM and after 11 PM) and hot water (around 5:45 AM) every day for a week or 10 days.  Keep a log, and give Sue the results.   
For heat:
  • Note the date
  • Note the time
  • Note the temperature in your apartment (and which line you are in)
  • Note the outside temperature (if you can get it conveniently)

For hot water:
  • Note the date
  • Note the time
  • Note the line of your apartment
  • Note whether there is hot water or not after you let it run for a minute.

Ruth Ellin suggested that we all contact Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer 
and our City Council Member, Melissa Mark Viverito
to urge that the law be changed:  55 degrees at night is too darn cold!

VI.  Financial Report - Joan Browne gave our financial report.  For 2010, we are asking contributions to our legal fund of $100 - and more if you can afford it.  Our legal fees continue and we do not have the very deep pockets that Stellar has!  Please contribute as generously as you can. You can give the money to your floor captain  or directly to Joan Browne in 12F.  Please get a receipt!   And if you've already contributed, Thank You!

VI. Other building issues: Please write them on the requisition slips at the guard's desk 
  • Dirty or obstructed stairs
  • Broken window blinds that should be repaired or replaced 

Please curb and clean up after your dog if it relieves itself in the elevator, corridor, stairwell, or on the front terrace. 

Be a good neighbor:  Since noise travels throughout the building, please keep music down, and use carpets or remove your shoes (or both) in the apartment. Tenants with wood floors, in particular, send the noise of every footfall to the apartment below. 

And honestly, folks, pizza boxes or anything else with food residue, belongs in a bag and down the chute.  If we leave it on the compactor room shelf, it's a magnet for cockroaches.


Please contact Sue if you're interested in attending Stellar Tenants for Affordable Housing or the PIE Campaign meetings, and contact Joan Browne (jbbrownefaison [ "at sign" ] att [dot] net or your floor captain about contributions.

Let's keep our community strong!

The Executive Committee
   Sue Susman, 212-866-1616,
   Na'ava Ades, naavaa [ at ] gmail [dot] com
   Joan Browne, jbbrownefaison [ at] att [dot] net
   Richard Jordan, Richj214 [at]  aol [dot ]  com 
   Steve Koulish, eskoolman [at  ] yahoo [dot   ]com 
   Greg Murray, geeemurr [  at]  aol   [dot]   com 

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