Saturday, June 03, 2006

Took Panes to Hike Bills

By Juan Gonzalez
NY Daily News
Wednesday, May 17th, 2006
Three months ago, the landlord at 610 Riverside Drive applied to the state for a special rent increase for the rent-regulated building.
Standard procedure - unless the landlord happens to be Pinnacle Group LLC.
Pinnacle, one of the city's biggest owners of rent-stabilized housing, claimed on its state application that it spent $21,770 two years ago for a major capital improvement (MCI): brand-new lobby entrance doors.
Under state rent law, a landlord can pass such MCI costs on to a building's tenants. State approval of such increases is usually a formality once the landlord submits a claim and backup documentation.
But not at 706 Riverside.
"What new doors?" said Adriana Peterson, a tenant association leader who says her neighbors in the west Harlem building were furious when they learned of Pinnacle's application.
"All they did was replace the old locks and the plexiglass on the sides and top of the doors with real glass," Peterson said.
Her account was backed up by a half-dozen residents who spoke to the Daily News. The tenant association immediately filed an objection with the state.
Peterson says she counted 51 new pieces of glass, which would mean each piece cost more than $400.
Pinnacle's application also claimed the "new" doors were replacements for ones that were 35 years old.
Not exactly.
Peterson has lived in the building for more than 40 years and she keeps meticulous records for her tenant group. She quickly produced copies of an MCI rent increase the state had granted to the previous owner for lobby doors back in 1998. The useful life of lobby doors, according to state regulations, is 15 years.
Peterson even confronted Joel Wiener, the chief executive of Pinnacle, at a tenants meeting March 28.
Wiener has been under fire for months from housing advocates, who claim Pinnacle is harassing longtime tenants by systematically filing questionable eviction cases in Housing Court and delaying repairs of major violations. Critics say the company tries to empty and renovate apartments, then sharply drive up rents for newcomers.
The News reported last week that Pinnacle filed more than 5,000 eviction actions in Housing Court against its nearly 20,000 tenants since January 2004.
Wiener, who denies any improper actions, has sought to improve the company's image of late by meeting with his tenants and local political leaders.
"I told Mr. Wiener, 'You're gonna lose this one because we're not paying you $22,000 for 51 pieces of glass.'" Peterson said.
Two weeks later, the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) denied Pinnacle's request for a rent hike at 610 Riverside. In its decision, the agency cited the previous MCI increase and concluded that the entrance doors' "useful life has not yet expired."
The agency did not look into the tenants' more serious claim that Pinnacle never installed new doors to begin with.
Two weeks ago, I asked Wiener about the MCI application for the building and his tenants' claims.
"I contract with an outside firm to file those MCIs and I'm looking into what happened," Wiener said.
But these are not the only allegations of false documents being filed by Pinnacle. As The News reported Monday, several tenants at 706 Riverside complained to DHCR that the company improperly raised rents by claiming thousands of dollars in renovations that were never made.

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