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Upper West Side Landlords Rev Up Harassment And Convictions

As the waters of gentrification continue to flood the Upper West Side, forcing out many long time residents and immigrant tenants who are unaware of their legal rights, activists and electeds are looking to fight for the ever decreasing number of rent regulated renters still left in the area. Such is the case in a recent story in the Daily News focused a group of organized residents fighting to stay in their homes while their landlord continues to do what he can do to clear out two of his buildings, both located on 93rd Street. . According to the author of the piece, Jan Ransom, as many as twenty residents are being targeted by the buildings’ owner who claims that these tenants maintain residences elsewhere, which does violate the rules and regulations which govern rent regulated units. If the allegations are true, then the eviction procedures would be allowed to move forward. All of the accused deny the accusations and have stated that this is just another round of harassment by management.

One of those involved in the case, Preston Gordon, who has been living in his residence since 1978 and pays $869 in rent claims that the management company Stellar LLC is looking to clear out the building in order to deregulate it and inflate the rent to market rates. Gordon was being accused of renting an apartment in the Inwood area but with the help of local officials, his case has been thrown out. Years before Gordon’s sister had taken over the lease on the uptown apartment in question. While his specific case has been thrown out, other tenants continue to face further harassment which includes attempted buyouts, a common business model by many management companies who look to fast track the clearing out of their buildings. Several of those involved in this fight claim that they received buyout offers reaching into the tens of thousands of dollars as an inducement to leave.
Their local representative Council Member, Helen Rosenthal was contacted by some of the residents and has since joined the fight to keep the accused in their homes. Her office is demanding that the appropriate agencies conduct an investigation into the harassment.

The problems with Stellar Management began in 2006 when the company bought the building. It’s head, Laurence Gluck became the subject of scrutiny earlier this year for banning rent regulated tenants of a 92nd street building from using the resident gym and other facilities.
This story should come as no surprise to anyone who lives on the Upper West Side where the rate of evictions is now going through the roof. Housing law and its courts have made the eviction process easier for landlords over the years in large part due to the fact that bringing an eviction case to housing court could come as cheaply as $1000 which the average building owner makes up in no time, as noted by Catherine Yang of the Epoch Times in a piece entitled, “Eviction Attempts Rampant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side”. Yang reports that accusations against tenants usually centers on the idea of a second residency. A simple Google search which may bring up a name identical or extremely close to a targeted tenant seems to be considered acceptable in housing court as evidence. The article notes one case where a tenant was confronted by the building management who stated that no one had seen the resident for a few months. It turned out that this person was home most of the time recovering from a medical issue. In fact this form of harassment has become so common place that it is now sown into the fabric of today’s real estate business model.
One reason is that most residents in rent regulated apartments are not able to afford, monetarily or in terms of time (due to employment), to maintain a prolonged case. The psychological impact also takes its toll over time which may force a tenant out, while others feel as if they have to live with the situation or organize other tenants against the building management’s abuse. One method which seems to work against the onslaught of these false claims is the formation of a tenants association along with the creation of a relationship between the association and the office of local officials which is becoming a heavily relied on tool for many residents.

According to Anna Gago of Council Member Rosenthal’s office they are inundated by tenants seeking help. As she notes most of the harassment stems from landlords looking to deregulate their buildings. The Upper West Side is now considered millionaire’s row with the Hudson River Park on one side and Central Park on the other. The desirability of the area has exploded so much that reports of abuse of rent regulated tenants, those in Mitchell Lama housing and senior citizens who collect DRIE and SCRIE by landlords/ building management, now fills the binders in Rosenthal’s office. The harassment listed in the files range everywhere from neglect of buildings to illegal hotels which often lead to bedbug outbreaks throughout entire buildings. Unfortunately the Council Member’s office cannot give legal advice, only educate residents about what their rights are as tenants. For those who reside in Single Room Occupancies, the SRO Law Project at Goddard at Riverside is an option for seeking actual legal advice and some legal counsel. Rosenthal does, however, sponsor a monthly legal clinic at Goddard Riverside which will start sessions again in October.

For those who are not familiar with the New York real estate environment, industry insiders have been able to gain the kind of traction within the state similar to that of what the oil industry enjoys in Texas or the coal industry has long held in West Virginia. The real estate boom which accelerated over the past 30 years has led to a race of sorts on who can deregulate their buildings the most quickly. Tactics have ranged from cutting off of heat in the middle of winter to the hiring of staff who are essentially thugs for hire. It is now an accepted business model within the real estate world to bring in pimps, drug dealers and strong men for the purpose of scaring rent regulated tenants out of their homes which, coupled with the boom of frivolous lawsuits against tenants, the result has been the worst affordable housing crisis in the city’s history. It should be noted that many of the vacated apartments due become investment properties for overseas firms and individual investors. With the flood of money from this sector being poured into the coffers of political campaigns on both sides of the aisle, this crisis does not seem to be going anywhere soon if at all. It seems as though the balance of power seems firmly stamped into place. Furthermore, the preservation of still existing rent regulated housing is giving way to talk of building new affordable non-permanently regulated housing. So housing groups and electeds will continue to have their hands full dealing the ever decreasing housing supply until the last rent regulated unit or a major change is made up in Albany.
Until next time…

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