Saturday, January 22, 2011

Summary of the January 19, 2011 meeting

[This summary has been revised as of Jan. 30, 2011.  ]

The meeting began with a moment of silence for Mona Goodman, who died at the age of 71 on January 6, 2011.  

MAJOR CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT CASE -  DHCR (now called HCR) has granted Stellar an MCI increase of $7.67 per room for rent stabilized tenants - just a fraction of the $22+ that Stellar had requested.  Given our tenant association's strong response, Stellar got nothing for any of the work covered by our escrow account when we left Mitchell-Lama, nor for submetering.   This does not affect market-rate tenants.

This increase is just a tad over 6% of our rents and 6% is the maximum MCI increase that can be added to our rents in a given year.  

Our rents will go up the full 6% beginning March 1, 2011, (to cover the permanent increase and a small part of the retroactive payment) and the year after, will go up TEMPORARILY to cover the rest of the retroactive payments due from June 2010 through the month of February 2011  (The HCR orders say that the retroactive amount they give covers 8 months - but Stellar did not charge us for the MCI on the February rent bill.)  The temporary increase should be dropped once the retroactive payments are made.  (A bill pending in the NYS Assembly would roll back even "permanent" MCI payments once the improvement is fully paid for.)

The apartment increases will be:


APARTMENT LINE
PERMANENT MONTHLY
INCREASE
RETROACTIVE PAYMENT for 9 months
A Line = 4 rooms
$ 30.68
$ 276.12
B Line = 3 rooms
$ 23.01
$ 207.09
C Line = 5 rooms
$ 38.35
$ 345.15
D Line = 3 rooms
$ 23.01
$ 207.09
E Line = 4 rooms
$ 30.68
$ 276.12
F Line = 4 rooms
$ 30.68
$ 276.12
G Line = 4 rooms
$ 30.68
$ 276.12
H Line = 4 rooms
$ 30.68
$ 276.12
J Line = 4 rooms
$ 30.68
$ 276.12
K Line = 3 rooms
$ 23.01
$ 207.09
L Line = 3 rooms
$ 23.01
$ 207.09
M Line = 3 rooms
$ 23.01
$ 207.09
N Line = 4 rooms
$ 30.68
$ 276.12
P Line = 4 rooms
$ 30.68
$ 276.12
R Line = 4 rooms
$ 30.68
$ 276.12
S Line = 3 rooms
$ 23.01
$ 207.09
T Line = 5 rooms
$ 38.35
$ 345.15
U Line = 3 rooms
$ 23.01
$ 207.09
V Line = 4 rooms
$ 30.68
$ 276.12





This  increase likely does not apply to SCRIE or DRIE tenants - but check with the city agency at 311.  
 

"UNIQUE OR PECULIAR CIRCUMSTANCES" CASE  - In 2005, Stellar applied to increase our initial rent stabilized rents under a loophole in the law that put our building into rent stabilization.  (They sought increases of 3 to 5 times the rents.)  The Emergency Tenant Protection Act permits either the owner or the tenant to ask the state's housing agency (DHCR) to adjust the rent under "unique or peculiar circumstances"  ("U or P" - and sometimes called "U and P").  But in 2007, DHCR adopted a regulation stating that just losing money because the building is taken out of Mitchell-Lama is not a "U or P" circumstance.  If the owner fails to make a fair profit, he can always apply for an extra rent increase under the law's "hardship" provision - which would require that he open his books for examination.

Larry Gluck, his former partner Steve Witkoff (who owns Columbus 95, at 95 W. 95th St.), and other landlords sued DHCR, claiming the regulation was invalid, and even if it was valid, that their U or P applications should be dealt with based on policy before the regulation was passed.  The State Supreme Court (actually the lowest-level general court) upheld the regulation's validity - and noted that the regulation expressed prior DHCR policy.  Witkoff appealed, and on December 28, 2010, the Appellate Division unanimously affirmed, ruling the regulation valid.  Witkoff can seek permission from the Appellate Division or from the Court of Appeals (the state's highest court) to appeal.  


DHCR and the tenants are likely to prevail in this case, which is simply about the validity of a state agency's regulation. (That's different from the KSLM-Columbus case concerning Westgate down the block, where the court was asked to figure out DHCR policy in the absence of a regulation.)  While the court cases have gone on, the courts have "stayed" (halted) DHCR's determination of pending applications.
Stellar is evidently trying to distance itself from its earlier U or P court cases. (Click here for a chart of the various U or P cases to date.)  The Real Deal reported,
Stellar, led by developer Laurence Gluck, denied that the ruling would
impact any of his buildings.

"Stellar has never employed "unique and peculiar" circumstances in setting their rents," said a Stellar spokesperson, in an e-mailed statement. "Unfortunately despite abandoning these proceedings years ago, Stellar's name could not be removed from the caption for legal procedure reasons."
To underline that point, someone from Stellar even called the head of another tenant association in the neighborhood to tell him to remove from his blog some mention that "Stellar" had lost this appeal.  Talk about heavy handed!

Even if we win this case outright, however, that will only leave us with a valid regulation.  Since regulations can be changed more easily than the statutes they implement, we could use a statute!  See Part K of the Omnibus Rent Bill that the Assembly is now considering. 

So come to the Town Hall Meeting with all the NYS Assembly Members from Manhattan to get their support - and kick off the Real Rent Reform Campaign:
  • Thursday, FEBRUARY 3, 2011
  • 7:00 - 9 PM
  • Goddard-Riverside Community Center, 593 Columbus Ave. at 88th St.

The REAL RENT REFORM (R3) CAMPAIGN, of which our tenant association is a member, wants renewal of the rent, co-op and eviction laws that expire in June 2011 (under 5 months away) - without the weakening that the Real Estate lobby would prefer.  That includes:
  • repealing vacancy decontrol (which would re-stabilized  the apartments of market-rate tenants in our building and roll back their rents to what they were on December 31, 2006)
  • putting into rent stabilization all buildings leaving or that have left Mitchell-Lama or Section 8 projects, regardless of the year they were built and without "U or P" increases.
R3 is made of more than 30 groups (community , tenant, labor, religious, and other), and is working with elected officials at all levels, as well as with the media and groups that are not yet members. 

Four people from our building attended the R3 Candlelight Vigil at City Hall on Jan. 3rd, and two went to the NYS Assembly Hearing on Rent Regulation on Jan. 20th and submitted testimony.  

ANNUAL APARTMENT REGISTRATION FORMS - The forms that Stellar filed with DHCR (and sent copies of to each tenant) are incorrect for those whose rents have been reduced because of submetering overchargesFrancine Schiff said Stellar would file corrected forms - but so far we have not yet seen them.  The Tenants' Association will be taking legal action if the forms are not corrected.  However,  DHCR recognizes that the forms are what the landlord says, and not necessarily accurate.    If your form is inaccurate in any other way (not just the rent amount), please contact Stellar directly. 

SUBMETERING OVERCHARGE COMPLAINTS  - If you have not yet submitted one, and you
had an appliance surcharge under Mitchell-Lama that became rolled into your rent stabilized rent, please 
  • contact Stellar to get a resident ledger for your apartment, and when you have it
  • contact Sue for an appointment to prepare the complaint.
If your rent bill continues to show a minus sign ("  - ") before the words "Amount due,"  you do not owe anything. 



FINANCIAL REPORT - It's a new year, so it's time for dues ($25 per apartment if you are just joining and $10 per apartment thereafter) and legal fund contributions. 

We ask for $100 per apartment (or more!) for the legal fund and appreciate whatever you can give. 
 
We will be having a Valentine's Day fundraiser in the lobby - so please volunteer (contact Rosa), for what will be a very sweet day!.

BUILDING SECURITY - The doormen / guards seem to be providing more security by asking people to use the intercom.  If your intercom is not working, please fill out a requisition slip at the guard's desk.    Building manager Lu Pedraza had said that he would have metal strips put over the openings on the outside doors leading to the stairwells, but so far that has not happened. 

NEIGHBORHOOD - Community Board 7, which provides advice to the Borough President, has taken a position supporting the renewal of rent regulation.  Apparently because of confusion between vacancy decontrol and high income (luxury) decontrol, it has not yet taken a position on that issue.  To clarify the issue:

VACANCY DECONTROL: When an apartment is vacant, regardless of the rent of the previous tenant, the owner gets an automatic increase (usually 20%), and then must put in improvements worth at least 40 times the difference between the rent and the $2000 level required to get the apartment out of rent regulation.  However, since this is 
  • on the honor system, and
  • it is up to the new tenant to challenge the amount of money put in, and 
  • DHCR does not have the staffing to investigate every claim,  
as a practical matter owners have been known to put in much less and permanently take apartments out of rent regulation.   (Owners have also been known to harass tenants out, motivated by the difference between the rental income from a tenant paying $600 a month and one paying $3800 a month.)  This has nothing to do with the income of the tenants. Our building has lost about 30 apartments from rent regulation this way since January 2005.  This is the single most important way that rent regulated housing becomes unaffordable. 
 

HIGH INCOME DECONTROL : This would rarely apply in our building, since it requires BOTH that the stabilized rents be at least $2000 and the household income at least $175,000 for two consecutive years.   There is a myth that most rent stabilized apartments are occupied by wealthy people.  In fact, only a tiny percentage of apartments are subject to "luxury" decontrol. The vast majority of tenants occupying rent regulated housing are low and middle-income.  About 40% of rent stabilized tenants are in fact below the poverty line, according to the Legal Aid Society's Steve Banks. 

Tenant Paul Fisher is on Community Board 7 and has stood up for the repeal of vacancy
decontrol.  He urges tenants to come to the Housing Committee hearing in February (date to be determined) and then to the full CB7 meeting the following month on this issue.  

- The Executive Committee