Saturday, June 03, 2006

Tenants take allegations of Pinnacle abuses to Attorney General for full investigation

by TALISE D. MOORERAmsterdam News Staff
Originally posted 6/1/2006

Fueled by a desire for justice, tenants from vast properties owned by Joel Weiner, owner of the Pinnacle Group company, who possesses significant holdings throughout Manhattan and the outer boroughs, took their protest of alleged abuses by the real estate giant to the offices of the State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.Just one week since an unprecedented joint hearing hosted by Community Boards 9, 10 and 12 was held at Riverbank’s Civic Center to hear testimony, frontline protestors rallied outside the Attorney General’s office in lower Manhattan. During the afternoon thrust, tenants presented petitions with nearly 2,000 signatures to Henry Lemons, Spitzer’s deputy chief investigator, who vowed to review complaints and respond within two weeks.Luis Tejada of Mirabal Sisters, a principal voice for social justice and better opportunities for immigrants, low income residents and people of color, says that Pinnacle has unleashed an arsenal of abuses using legal proceedings to uproot longtime residents to make way for luxury housing.Pinnacle is accused of filing thousands of eviction proceedings on grounds of non-payment when tenants have actually proved payments; or brought holdover proceedings even after a tenant has gone through great length to prove their tenancy.“They [Pinnacle] have also managed to get HPD-sanctioned recovery of Major Capital Improvement (MCI) expenditures on their properties, and our research shows that in many instances MCI claims that some properties were padded, fraudulent or non-existent,” said Tejada.Citing examples of such irregularities, Tejada said a tenant’s rent at 610 Riverside Drive spiked to $1,300 from her regular $725 per month as a result of “exorbitant” repairs in her apartment. Other examples of “suspicious” accounting include claims to HPD that the company spent $40,000 on a new floor when they allegedly spent between $1,100 and $1,900; the purported use of 105 gallons of paint to paint one apartment; intimated spending $450 for three (3) fuses; and claimed they spent $21,000 for the front door at the Riverside property back in 1998.“We feel that HPD should bear some criminal accountability for allowing such claims by Pinnacle to persist,” said Tejada.In mutual dissent, elected officials including Congressman Charles Rangel, Assemblyman Keith L. T. Wright, Council Member Inez Dickens, Assemblyman Herman D. Farrell, Jr., and Council Member Jackson, confirm they also suspect that Pinnacle is using dubious tactics to jack up the rent or to evict people from their homes. “Although, their underlying intent seems disguised by legitimate court proceedings,” said Council member Robert Jackson, whose constituency is in the 7th Council District in upper Manhattan.“I represent many of the people who are here today, and if my people feel they have been discriminated against, and that Pinnacle is doing illegal things to displace them to get higher rent, clearly there needs to be an investigation,” said Jackson.Jackson said following last week’s joint CB hearing, he and several other officials have teamed up to identify the best protection for the people they represent. So far, several of them are pursuing a budget of nearly $250,000 to retain two attorneys, paralegals and support staff to take up and review legal remedies; and an autonomous network of resources is taking shape to counterbalance Pinnacle’s purported “takeover.”Calls to Pinnacle for comment were unanswered. Previously, Weiner claimed all his actions are above board.Pending the Attorney General’s response to tenant’s petitions, some elected officials and housing watchdogs believe that a surefire way to end this crisis and prevent others from springing up is to repeal the Urstadt Law, a 1971 law that essentially took away control of rent regulation from New York City’s local government, that was pushed through by then Governor Nelson Rockefeller, and strengthened by the incumbent Governor George Pataki in 2003.The Urstadt Law was named after Rockefeller’s then Housing Commissioner, Charles Urstadt.Skewed by a body of legislators from upstate districts, where few people rent but own private homes, these changes in the rent regulation laws, “have resulted in what some estimate to be more than 100,000 rent stabilized apartments in New York City becoming ‘decontrolled,’ with rents hiked to whatever the landlord wants to charge,” according to a Gotham Gazette report.Repealing Urstadt would help the city regain home rule over rents and evictions and make housing advocates work less onerous.

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