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