Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Summary of General Tenant Meeting on March 18, 2015

ANNOUNCEMENTS:
  • Our annual Pot Luck Supper will honor Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer this year.  It will be on Saturday, May 16, 2015, from 6-9 p.m. and all tenants (and friends) are welcome. Those who bring food or (non-alcoholic) beverage for 8-10 people, or who work to set up, receive food, greet those coming in and collect money, or clean up, will come in for free.  For all others, it's $10/person or $15/household in the building.  
  • Thanks to two new floor captains for volunteering: Marlene Williamson and Brenda Marshall.   For all floor captains: If there are any new tenants on your floor, make sure to tell the CPG Tenant Association's executive committee about them - to ensure they can take advantage of the 60-day limit to get documentation on apartment improvements affecting their rental status. 
  • Manny Vega, in NY Daily News photo
  • Two tenants are being honored:  Manny Vega, whose work has just been bought by the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and Lenore Richter, who has rallied other tenants to keep more than one elderly tenant at home (rather than in a nursing home), even if it means cleaning the home with her own hands, arranging for aides, and more. With her husband Glenn, Lenore has been the motive force behind charitable food distribution.   

OUR SPEAKER: 

Legal Aid Attorney Kenny Schaeffer, vice chair of Met Council on Housing, a lifelong Upper West Sider, and former attorney with then-Assembly Member Ed Sullivan, and with One Stop, spoke about tenant issues and Albany.

Speaker Carl Heastie
The background:  The Democrats (generally pro-tenant) control the NYS Assembly.  There is a new Assembly Speaker (replacing the indicted Sheldon Silver), Carl Heastie, who seems very supportive of tenant issues. The Republicans (generally pro-big real estate) control the NYS Senate. Its speaker, Dean Skelos, may be facing federal investigation.   

That leaves Governor Cuomo as the great unknown. Despite his having worked for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), he is the biggest recipient of real estate contributions, and has been known to play one side against the other.  (Rather than working to elect Democrats to the State Senate, he supported many Republicans.)  

If the rent laws, which expire on June 15, 2015, are not renewed, some 3 million tenants (1 million apartments) will lose their regulation when their leases expire.  While that is unlikely (big real estate doesn't mind the situation as it is now), the City will continue to lose tens of thousands of rent stabilized and rent controlled (built before 1947) apartments each year. 

So we need the rent laws strengthened - and that means making sure Governor Cuomo knows this is important!  

There are 2 crises right now:
  • Homelessness: 60,000 homeless people, include children - who the UN describes as suffering as much as if they had lived through a war, and
  • Affordability:  Half of New York City residents pay over 30% of their income in rent.  Many pay as much as 50% - and some of the poorest pay 70% or 80%!
So we need to at least keep the affordable apartments we have!

Tenants don't all agree on everything, but the two major coalitions of community groups, unions, and others, all agree on the platform of 9 items that in general remove landlords' incentive to get tenants out of their homes:

1. Repeal vacancy decontrol (also called vacancy destabilization, or vacancy deregulation). That law permits owners to permanently remove VACANT apartments from rent regulation once they claim the rent is $2500 or more.

2. Repeal the 20% automatic rent increase that owners get just because an apartment is vacant (before they put a penny into improving it.)

3. Reform Preferential Rents.  Where a landlord cannot actually find tenants at the legal regulated rent, a deal is often made to charge the tenant a lower, or "preferential," rent for the first year or first lease.  But when that period ends, the tenant can end up being charged not just an increase on the current rent, but an increase based on the much higher legal regulated rent.  

4. Limit Major Capital Improvement increases so they're not permanent - as they are now.

5. Reform "Individual Apartment Improvement" (IAI) increases. IAIs are what allow landlords who renovate (or claim to renovate) apartments to raise the rents enough to remove them from rent regulation. 

6. End fraudulent fees - like surcharges for air conditioners where the tenant is already paying for electricity separately.

7. Limit increases for rent controlled apartments (built before 1947). Right now they pay at least 7.5% increase every year!

8. End "source of income" discrimination state-wide. In NY City it is already illegal for a landlord to refuse to rent to someone whose income comes from a Section 8 or other government grant.  That should be the law state-wide.

9. Put former Mitchell-Lamas all into  rent-stabilization, regardless of the year they were built. 

Sign an on-line petition to Governor Cuomo, or print out a petition and get ten of your friends to sign!  


Another issue is whether the State will renew 421A tax breaks – a law that also ends on June 15, 2015.  Right now, under 421-A, the City loses $1.1 billion in tax breaks for millionaires – like the one who bought a $100 million apartment at One57 and has a 95% property tax break.  

BUILDING ISSUES
  • Construction Dust:  Stellar has agreed to ensure that plastic sheeting is hung over the door of any apartment under renovation, to cut the dust. 
  • Recycling: We are waiting to hear whether Stellar will provide larger plastic recycling bins for the compactor rooms.  In the meantime, tenant Bonnie VonDohren got notices from NYC to put under tenant doors to remind us all what should be recycled and how.   (Bonnie also baked the most wonderful cookies for the tenant meeting!)  Floor captains, look for your flyers if you didn't pick them up at the meeting. 
  • Taxes:  Renters are entitled a tax credit.  Fill out Form NYC-208 (if your share of the rent is over $400/month), and fill out Form IT-214 (if your share of the rent is $400 or less per month and your income is $18,000 or less).  Thanks to Ray VonDohren for this information.
  • Elevator:  Stellar is repairing the lintels that you step onto when exiting the elevators on each floor - after one tenant tripped on the broken tile.  So each line will be shut off for 24 hours for repairs.
  • East side door unlocked!  For all our security, we need the side doors locked.
  • Garage door to building unlocked.  Some people who don't have keys to enter the building from the garage have been pressing the button on the lock to keep the door unlocked.  All tenants with garage spaces are entitled to a key to that door.
MONEY
Annual dues for 2015:  $10 per apartment
Legal Fund contribution requested:  $100 per apartment (payable in $25 increments, or as you can afford it).
ALL contributions gratefully acknowledged!

Our next General Tenant Meeting will be Wednesday, May 13, 2015. 
Got questions or suggestions?  Contact us!

-The Executive Committee
Sue Susman, sue@  janak [dot] org
Na'ava Ades, naavaa   [at] gmail  (dot) com
Joan Browne, jbbrownefaison  [@ sign] att.net
Denis Hayward, hayden [a t ] nyc (dot) rr [dot ] com
Rich Jordan, richj214  (at  ) aol [.] com
Steve Koulish, eskoolman  (@ ) yahoo dot com
Ray VonDohren, vondohren  [at  ] comcast (dot) net