Saturday, June 03, 2006

Tenants to Spitzer: Investigate This!

By Kristen Lombardi
Village Voice
Posted In The Streets
May 25, 2006

Tenants gained some ground in their ever escalating battle against the mega-landlord known as the Pinnacle Group, the most hated landlord in upper Manhattan these days.
This week, the Voice wrote about the litany of complaints that tenants have lodged against Pinnacle and its owner, Joel Wiener, which include everything from aggressive evictions to intentional harassment to possible fraud. Today, tenants took their complaints straight to Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, calling on the state's top cop to open a criminal investigation into the real-estate firm's tactics.

Dozens of tenants, members of the Mirabal Sisters Cultural and Community Center, in Washington Heights, gathered outside Spitzer's downtown offices on Broadway Street, carrying signs that read SPITZER INVESTIGUE A PINNACLE and DEMANDAMOS INVESTIGAR A PINNACLE, and chanting,"What do we want? Justice! Now!" City Councilman Robert Jackson, a Harlem Democrat and prime Pinnacle foe, made an appearance, complete with rousing remarks. And then Luis Tejada, who heads the Mirabal Sisters, delivered this message to Spitzer, a.k.a., Champion of the Little Guy: "We are here to tell you to investigate this company because Pinnacle is one of the big landlords in New York and is abusing the poor people of this city."
Thirty minutes into the demonstration, Henry Lemons, Spitzer's deputy chief investigator, descended from his office to the lobby to meet with Tejada and tenants. Tejada handed Lemons a 2,000-strong petition requesting a formal inquiry into Pinnacle for, as the petition states, "illegal rent increases and overcharges, deceiving management practices, illegal eviction, discrimination, and harassment." In an accompanying letter, the group also demands the attorney general review all Pinnacle eviction cases, repair complaints and harassment complaints, and rent increase applications in order to stop what is called "the frauds and abuses of Pinnacle."

Lemons promised to deliver the materials to the criminal investigations unit, which would assign an attorney to review the matter.
Wiener declined to comment on this latest development. But sources close to the firm say the petition is laced with errors and misinformation.
Whether Spitzer believes the same or not? Well, stay tuned.
As Lemons told Tejada today, "I assure you that we will respond."

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.

Sheriff Notices Outlaws

By Juan Gonzalez
NY Daily News
Friday, May 26th, 2006

With evidence mounting that Pinnacle Group LLC has become a landlord run amok, state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has finally taken notice.
Spitzer, who made a name for himself ferreting out crooks on Wall Street, has been virtually AWOL when it comes to policing state rent laws.
But his office has been peppered over the past few weeks with complaints against Pinnacle - one of the city's biggest owners of rent-regulated apartments - from elected officials, community leaders and hundreds of irate tenants, some of whose woes have been detailed in the Daily News.
"Our office is looking into this matter," Spitzer spokesman Brad Maione said this week.
Yesterday morning, the Mirabal Sisters Center, a West Harlem community group, gave Spitzer more reasons to get involved: a petition signed by more than 2,000 upper Manhattan residents claiming that Pinnacle is systematically forcing out longtime tenants and then illegally driving up rents to newcomers.
Company chief Joel Wiener says all of Pinnacle's actions are above board, and an independent survey he commissioned shows most tenants are satisfied.
"[Rent laws] are a convoluted and complicated system that at times are unfair to tenants and at times unfair to landlords," offered Ken Fisher, a lawyer and former city councilman who now represents Pinnacle.
For the past three weeks, this column has detailed how scores of tenants in up-and-coming neighborhoods - many of them elderly - have been victimized by Pinnacle.
Some are too poor or too overwhelmed to challenge Pinnacle's eviction mill, and have simply moved away.
Others have fought back.
This column reported last week that four tenants at 706 Riverside Drive in West Harlem won major reductions the past few years in their rents and thousands of dollars in refunds from Pinnacle after they filed successful overcharge complaints with state monitors or in the courts.
Lizette Gonzalez is another tenant who prevailed.
In November, the state's Department of Housing and Community Renewal directed Pinnacle to give her an $8,000 rent refund and reduce her $1,437 rent by nearly $400.
Back in March 2004, Gonzalez, who works for a big Manhattan law firm, moved with her husband and child into a Pinnacle building on Olinville Ave. in Allerton, the Bronx.
At the lease signing, a Pinnacle representative told her the rent was $1,350 for the two-bedroom unit, which had just been outfitted with a new kitchen and bathroom. That went up to $1,437 the following year.
One day, Gonzalez happened to meet a daughter of the previous tenant of the apartment.
"You're paying too much for rent," the woman warned her.
Gonzalez rushed to the local office of the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal and asked to see a rent history for her apartment.
She was stunned to discover that the previous occupant was paying just $594 a month. Pinnacle had more than doubled the rent - simply by claiming a major renovation for the vacant apartment.
Under state law, a landlord is permitted an automatic 20% vacancy increase for rent-stabilized units. If major renovations are done, the landlord can hike the rent by an additional 2.5% of the cost of the work.
Rent laws under Gov. Pataki have become so protective of landlords that owners don't even have to produce proof of those improvements until a new tenant files a formal challenge with DHCR.
If no challenge occurs within four years, the price set by landlord automatically becomes the legal rent.
Most tenants, of course, don't even know they can challenge a rent hike. Gonzalez did - forcing Pinnacle to produce invoices for $9,189 for the new kitchen and bathroom.
Even though the repair costs had not been inflated, Gonzalez's new rent still far exceeded what state law allowed.
DHCR monitors who reviewed Gonzalez's challenge quickly concluded that Pinnacle was overcharging her. In a Nov. 25 opinion, the agency reduced her rent to $1,088, and it directed Pinnacle to refund $8,070 to her.
Then there's the example of Department of Education employee Anthony Casasnovas.
Last June, he and two roommates signed a lease for an apartment at another Pinnacle building, 3657 Broadway in West Harlem. When they moved in, the apartment had not even been painted or cleaned, and mildew was sprouting all over the bathroom ceiling.
Pinnacle told them the apartment's legal rent was $2,200, which would have removed it from rent-stabilization rules.
But the company didn't charge them $2,200 - it offered what it called a "preferential" or discounted rent of $1,800 for the first year.
A few weeks ago, Pinnacle sent Casasnovas a lease renewal form for June 1 that would have increased the "preferential" rent to $1,900, but still claimed a legal rent of $2,200.
Sensing something wasn't right, Casasnovas went to DHCR to get a rent history. He learned the apartment's registered rent had been only $683 in 2002. That year, when a new tenant moved in, Pinnacle nearly tripled it, to $1,700.
Housing experts whom Casasnovas consulted told him the landlord would have to show more than $44,000 in renovations to justify that rent.
"There's no way they put that much money in this place," he said.
Pinnacle hasn't notified the state that it raised Casasnovas' "legal rent" to $2,200. As far as the state knows, the last registered rent for that apartment is $1,700 - still a stabilized unit.
But in Pinnacle's convoluted world, that apartment is already free of rent controls. This week, with the help of his tenant association, Casasnovas filed a rent overcharge claim with DHCR.

Granny vs. Landlord

May 24, 2006
By Juan Gonzalez
NY Daily News
What kind of landlord tries to evict a 75-year-old woman from her rent-controlled apartment while quietly pocketing welfare rent checks in her disabled husband's name?
Welcome back to the world of the Pinnacle Group - the landlord that's filed an astonishing 5,000 eviction cases since January 2004 against its nearly 20,000 rent-regulated tenants. Many of them are seniors, disabled people or immigrants unaware of their legal rights.
Josephine Colon and her husband, Abdias Venegas, have been ensnared in the Pinnacle eviction mill for nearly two years.
In August 2004, a month after the firm bought a group of buildings on Morrison Ave. in the South Bronx, it sued to evict Colon. Since then, the firm has tried to oust nearly two-thirds of the 300 tenants in the complex.
At first, Pinnacle claimed Colon owed $1,290 in back rent on the two-bedroom apartment, where she has lived since 1983.
"I didn't owe them anything, and I have all my receipts to prove it," Colon said last week.
Her portion of the rent on the $439-a-month apartment is permanently frozen at $267.20. That's because the city's rental assistance program for impoverished senior citizens directly pays her landlord any increases above that amount.
Colon brought to Bronx Housing Court the postal money order receipts for her share of the rent. Yet Pinnacle's lawyers insisted they had no records of receiving four of those payments.
They demanded iron-clad proof: tracking reports from the post office for each money order in dispute - some dating back to August 2003.
In January 2005, after Colon found those tracking reports and brought them to court, Pinnacle credited her for all but $446 - meaning the eviction efforts would continue.
On March 29, 2005, a Pinnacle representative, as part of a motion for a final judgment to evict Colon, signed a sworn affidavit in court that she was still in arrears - now for $229.
It took until June 2005 before Pinnacle finally dropped its nonpayment case, even though they still claimed she owed $90.
But Colon's fight isn't over.
Even before the nonpayment case was settled, Pinnacle started a new Housing Court eviction action against her, this time claiming a horde of cats in her apartment had created such a foul odor that she was a nuisance to the entire building.
Colon and her family acknowledge she kept as many as 13 cats at one point. Such a brood, as you might imagine, left a strong odor. But the family says she has since given away all but three cats and cleaned up the apartment.
An assistant to Civil Court Judge Lydia Lai inspected Colon's apartment on Feb. 23, 2005, reporting there was "smell of urine in the apartment" but "no smell in hall outside."
The judge herself conducted two inspections, including one last December. She agreed with Pinnacle's attorney that the smell "seems to have seeped into the walls" and required professional fumigation.
Obviously reluctant to throw an old lady and her husband out, the judge urged Colon to do a thorough cleaning job.
Colon complied. On Dec. 29, a city health inspector who visited the apartment reported it was clean. There were "some odors," the inspector noted, but "no odor nuisance in hallway."
Pinnacle's lawyers won't give up. Yet another inspection by the judge and a final hearing is set for early June.
But the most amazing and bizarre part of this story is how Pinnacle, while fighting to evict Colon, had quietly cashed 27 rent checks for more than $2,000 from the city's Human Resources Administration for her pad.
The first check was mailed in March 2005, according to HRA records. It was earmarked as rental assistance for her husband, a Guatemalan immigrant partially paralyzed in an accident a few years ago.
The checks have been mailed by the city every two weeks since then, in varying amounts.
"They've never told me anything about that money and haven't given me any rent statements since they took me to court," Colon said yesterday.
Pinnacle also didn't tell the Housing Court about the HRA money. When I asked Pinnacle about those checks, a spokesman asserted last night that payments began in June 2005 and were being applied to Colon's rent. They actually said Colon now has a credit of $1,444.
Even here they were wrong. According to HRA records, Pinnacle started getting the checks in March 2005. By the end of April, the company had received more than $2,256 from the city.
Why would Pinnacle seek to evict Colon when she had a rent credit? And why would they keep Colon's rent surplus a secret from her? As it stands today, Pinnacle owes Colon more money than it demanded from her when they first put her on this eviction mill.

Pushed Off the Pinnacle

Tenants accuse mega-landlord of forcing them out
by Kristen Lombardi
Village Voice
May 23rd, 2006 11:47 AM
BRUSH tenants meet in Harlem: (from left) Marge Charron, Debbie Brown, Brenda Tyus Faust, and Kim Powellphoto: Stacy Kranitz
Pedro Garcia got a registered letter from his landlord last August, a few months after his parents moved from the apartment where he grew up in Washington Heights. Garcia, 28, who runs a family-owned grocery store, had lived with them in their rent-stabilized place on Riverside Drive for 15 years. In 2003, the Pinnacle Group bought the building, at 610 Riverside. By the time the letter arrived, Garcia had gotten used to hearing horror stories from his neighbors who'd found similar surprises in their mail.
His showed up after his parents bought a house and moved into it, leaving Garcia and his two kids in the apartment. Under city rental law, he should be able to continue living in the apartment. But Pinnacle moved to evict him, claiming he wasn't the legal tenant. His mother had signed the original lease, and she had tried to renew it in her son's name last year. "He wouldn't accept the lease with my name on it," Garcia says, referring to the company's owner, Joel Wiener. Nor would the firm cash his $620 monthly rent checks, letting him accrue $4,000 in arrears instead.
So Garcia has had to appear at Manhattan Housing Court. Twice, he has produced his birth certificate, utility bills, and rent receipts. Twice, Pinnacle has refused to settle.
"What he's doing to me he's doing to other people," says Garcia, his case still pending. "He wants to kick people out."
Over on West 150th Street, in Harlem, Ray Jones has also gotten a registered letter. His eviction notice from Pinnacle came last fall, after the company bought the 540-unit Dunbar Apartments, where he has lived with his family since 1967. Jones, 45, a retired corrections officer, has turned out to be one of hundreds of Dunbar tenants in jeopardy.
At first, Pinnacle took Jones to housing court for not paying rent. He was deliberately withholding his money to force the company to perform repairs on his rent- controlled apartment. In January, a judge ordered the landlord to fix eight code violations and compensated Jones, wiping away 30 percent of his $1,700 rent debt.
Next, the company challenged his legal tenancy. Over the past six months, he has appeared in housing court five times, armed with phone bills, old driver's licenses, and records dating back two decades to prove he has succession rights to his home. A judge ruled in his favor, yet Pinnacle still refused to give Jones new keys. To get a pair, he had to return to court—twice.
"I feel these are tactics," Jones says. "It's intentional harassment to try to get you out."
That sentiment came across only too clearly at a special May 15 hearing about Pinnacle, one of the city's largest owners of rent-regulated apartments. More than 200 residents from Upper Manhattan turned up for the forum convened by three community boards. There, for over two hours, politicians like Democratic U.S. representative Charles Rangel, of Harlem, and City Councilmember Robert Jackson listened to emotional testimonies from tenants. One of the renters called Pinnacle a "high-tech slumlord."
One by one, residents accused Pinnacle of aggressive court tactics—attempts to violate tenants' succession rights, for example, and to evict for bogus reasons. They complained that the company fails to make repairs, or delays repairs, or does shoddy improvements to raise rents beyond regulated limits. Mostly, they blasted the real estate giant for moving into their neighborhoods and moving them out.
Today, Pinnacle has come to epitomize the gentrification of northern Manhattan, where rents remain relatively low and apartments are large. The company has purchased dozens of buildings throughout Harlem, Washington Heights, and Inwood, quickly installing floodlights around the perimeters and posting trademark American flags out front. The effect is particularly pronounced at the now ultra- illuminated Dunbar complex, with its 40-odd buildings. "You probably can see the Dunbar from space now," says Michael Drake, who has lived there since 1967.
Nowhere is Pinnacle's stake in the area more apparent than along Riverside Drive, from West 135th north, where 12 or so properties shine brighter than the rest, their flags rustling in the wind. Wiener has owned some of these Riverside Drive properties since the 1990s. But he has quietly bought most of his 200-strong real estate portfolio in Manhattan more recently. A review of city records shows that he and his partnerships owned 19 buildings in 2003, and 37 a year later. Then, in August 2005, he purchased some 70 buildings in and around Harlem for more than $300 million in funding from the Praedium Group, a national private-equity firm. That doesn't take into account properties in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens. Currently, city officials believe Pinnacle owns 420 buildings in all five boroughs, or 19,085 apartments.
Wiener declined an interview request from the Voice for this article. Instead, he issued a five-paragraph statement in which he insists his company's tactics are aboveboard. To hear him, the firm has never wrongly evicted a tenant. Nor has it done slipshod repairs or cosmetic improvements simply to hike up rent. Pinnacle, Wiener points out, has just done an independent survey of tenants and found that most are "satisfied."
"We work very hard to restore [buildings] into affordable, safe, attractive homes for our tenants," the statement reads. "We want them to be places we are proud of and places in which tenants are proud to live."
Try telling that to Kim Powell, of the newly formed anti-Pinnacle group Buyers and Renters United to Save Harlem, or BRUSH. A Pinnacle tenant for nine years, Powell, 45, who lives at 706 Riverside Drive, says she has been battling the landlord's methods. Case in point: In 1999, she noticed her bedroom wall bulging from water damage. Rather than fix the leak, she says, Pinnacle workers installed a layer of Sheetrock to disguise it. Last year, the Sheetrock crumbled and workers returned. Now, Powell says, the wall is buckling again.

"That's the kind of repairs Pinnacle does," she says. "It's one tactic."
BRUSH's Heidi Clyde counts herself a veteran of Pinnacle tactics too. Clyde, 28, has lived in her rent-stabilized apartment at 668 Riverside Drive since age two. Clyde's mother died in 1994, and Clyde remained in the apartment. Then in May 1999, Pinnacle bought the building. Within months, she says, "I started getting court papers from Pinnacle." In the next year, the company moved to evict Clyde repeatedly, claiming everything from nonpayment to illegal tenancy. Finally, in 2000, the company backed off and gave Clyde a lease.
"I've been fine since," she says. But hearing new tenants relay their court experiences has struck a chord for her. "It's obviously systematic."
Tenants and politicians alike fear that a pattern of gentrification is at work: A landlord gets existing tenants out, raises the rents, and in the long run, goes condo.
Says Councilmember Jackson, who has gotten involved with BRUSH, "By operation, Pinnacle is driving people out."
Not everyone believes that Pinnacle has a grand plan. Frank Ricci, of the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents 25,000 property owners in the city, including Pinnacle, doesn't buy the argument that Wiener is just looking to make a buck. Sure, some landlords pay too much for rent-regulated buildings, and they try to squeeze out existing tenants. But not Wiener.
"I don't believe that's his motivation," Ricci says. Two months ago, he says, Wiener came to visit him at the association, giving him a presentation on his real estate purchases. He showed him before-and-after pictures of buildings Pinnacle bought last August—including neglected structures owned by Baruch Singer, who ranks ninth on and made the NYC Housing Preservation and Development Department's list of "major problem owners" in 2003. During Wiener's spiel, Ricci relays, "he said to me, 'Look, I don't do this for the money anymore. I do this because I believe in preserving old buildings.' I have no reason not to believe him."
Besides, he says, Pinnacle has actually improved buildings. Over at the Dunbar, which had fallen into disrepair under Singer, city inspectors recorded some 2,000 violations before August 2005. Now, the number has dropped to around 400. City records show that the company has 19,470 violations to date, or an average of one violation per unit. As far as slumlords go, that's benign—indeed, city officials say the worst landlord has buildings with 20.9 violations per unit.
Even Pinnacle tenants say things have gotten better. Barbara Nienaltowski, of the Dunbar Tenants Association, says residents "were fighting a different kind of battle before." Under Singer, they couldn't get basic services. Security was weak. Trash littered the halls. Tenants had to fight for repairs.
Now, as it typically does, Pinnacle has installed 84 security cameras in the complex, as well as new doors and intercoms. It has improved the common areas, trimming gardens, collecting garbage, and cleaning out the flea-infested basements. Nienaltowski explains, "A lot of people here look out the window and think Pinnacle has done a good job, and they have. But the question is for who. Is it for the people who live here now or the people who will come and take our places?"
The threat of being pushed out has galvanized tenants to fight back. Back in November, for instance, Powell and eight other tenants got the idea to form BRUSH after receiving news that Pinnacle plans to convert their Riverside Drive buildings into condos. The company's asking price for their longtime homes? $800,000 to $1 million.
"There is clear displacement afoot," Powell says, "so we decided to put on the pressure."
And they have. In the past six months, BRUSH has spearheaded several community meetings drawing hundreds of angry Pinnacle tenants. In March, it pushed for the West Harlem community board to hold a hearing on the company, where board members say they heard more complaints about a single landlord than in recent memory. That month, after getting deluged by tenant phone calls, Democratic state assemblyman Keith Wright, of Harlem, joined BRUSH in what he calls "a good old-fashioned picket line" outside the company's midtown headquarters.
"You don't want this many forces to go up against you," Wright observes. Pinnacle critics may not have the deep pockets, he says, "But I go back to the old philosophy, 'The people united will never be defeated.' That's what has begun."
After last week's hearing, at least, elected officials are pledging to stop the so-called Pinnacle takeover. Congressman Rangel tells the Voice he's reaching out to local bar associations to round up lawyers to help tenants pro bono. And he plans to appeal to Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Perhaps the city could investigate Pinnacle, he says, or provide funding to save affordable apartments.
Other politicians have bigger ideas. Jackson talks about raising money for a nonprofit solely devoted to keeping Pinnacle in check.
For tenants, it's personal. "My roots are here," says Jones, who recently became vice president of the Dunbar Tenants' Association. "So I am not afraid to fight. I will organize, agitate, and do everything I can to ensure tenants don't lose their homes."

Tenants Say Landlord is Pinnacle Point of Poor Housing Conditions in Harlem

by TALISE D. MOORER Special to the Amsterdam News
Originally posted 5/18/2006
For the first time in the history of Central Harlem, Community Boards 9, 10 and 12 came together to host a joint hearing (chaired by Jordi Reyes-Mont Blanc) aimed at ending dubious practices by greedy landlords that displace longtime villagers, and ending the reign of the Pinnacle Group LLC in particular, whose tenants describe as a slumlord who fattens its burse by operating sub-par to poor housing accommodations.Stepping to the microphone one after another, angry tenants detailed their disgust and frustrations over documented complaints they’ve made concerning poor living conditions within their apartments, owned and operated by Joel Weiner, principal of the Pinnacle Group LLC, the real estate company that has filed an astonishing number of eviction proceedings since 2004 against tenants who live in its nearly 20,000 Apartments.Purportedly, those cases were suddenly dropped within hours after at Pinnacle got wind of media inquiries.Weiner has been under fire lately from housing advocates who say his company harasses rent-stabilized tenants, in order to vacate apartments and sharply increase rents.Weiner claims all his actions are above board.One tenant from Amsterdam Avenue testified that one-week after Weiner took over property from previous the owner, called “Singer,” a notorious slumlord among the city’s Top Ten, the property went up in flames in what investigators allegedly label a “suspicious fire.” Another said she was offered to buy her apartment - which currently has 20 active violations - for $500,000, astronomical she says, considering her struggle to pay the current $600 per month. And Michael Drake of the Lombard Tenants Association said that more times than not, Pinnacle uses unskilled and unlicensed laborers to “fix” things, further compounded by use of inferior materials.Congressman Charles B. Rangel roused the capacity crowd who parked on the edge of their seats at Riverbanks’ Civic Center with an announcement that the Community Service Society has agreed to scrutinize every proceeding or summons brought to housing court by the Pinnacle Group. “You are the wind beneath our political wings,” said Rangel while expressing how moved and proud he is that the community has taken an organized stand. He added, “What we’re doing here is stopping a broader conspiracy to take our community away from us - by stealing away affordable housing,” stated Rangel.Rangel told the audience that they have also earned the appreciation of lawyers working on their behalf - knowing that there is unity in the community. Rangel noted the burden of proof in court in this instance, “should not be on the back of the single mother struggling to care for her family; not the senior citizen; nor any of us.”Activists including candidate for state senator, Bill Perkins, claim that the Pinnacle Group is a front and vanguard of devious efforts that allows landlords to hide their interests while the larger company gobbles up the housing stock for luxury condos, driving up prices beyond the reach of current tenants.Popular opinion among elected officials is that this type of practice in Harlem can conceivably be the dangerous prototype for break out groups elsewhere who will work to displace tenants, particularly in the remaining boroughs.Over the last decade The Pinnacle Group has purchased many buildings and hundreds of units within Manhattan, “many of which have already been converted to luxury housing and others remaining empty, possible evidence of warehousing for profit.”In response to an outcry from constituents, community organizations and leaders in greater Harlem and Northern Manhattan, namely Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright (D-Harlem), mobilized a rally outside Pinnacle headquarters to send a message that unfair tactics and the harassment and unnecessary evictions of tenants located uptown would not be tolerated.“We have been in a long-term battle against gentrification practices and slumlords in Harlem; and, we are well acquainted with Baruch Singer-the notorious slumlord of the Dunbar Houses and five other buildings who reportedly sold his properties to The Pinnacle Group,” said Wright. He added, “In the last few years we have seen a population and development growth never before seen in Harlem. Unfortunately, some of the growth has been at the expense of our current residents, who at the hands of a select number of questionable developers are being pushed out of the neighborhoods they helped form. That is unacceptable and intolerable and must cease and desist.”Representatives of the Pinnacle Group declined an interview with the AmNews, but released a written statement defending their business dealings stating, “It is unfortunate that there are a number of baseless and simply erroneous charges circulating among tenants, public officials and within the community,” writes Robert Barletta, spokesperson for the Pinnacle Group.Pinnacle previously told the AmNews that their employees, “comprise a diverse and dedicated group that work together to provide residents of Pinnacle buildings with the services that all residents deserve.” And, to facilitate home ownership, Pinnacle admits having filed plans to convert certain of its rental properties to condominiums.

Battle Against Pinnacle Group Resembles '78 Riverdale Row

Norwood News
Vol. 19, No. 10
May 18 - 31, 2006

Deirdre Burke and Laura Spalter thought something was fishy when their rent checks went uncashed and new leases weren’t issued after their Riverdale complex was sold. Those warning signs led to a protracted legal battle waged by tenants of the Vinmont Houses against their new landlord, Joel Wiener. That was 28 years ago. But today, Wiener and his current company, the Pinnacle Group, has been using many of the same tactics to push out long-term tenants, as the Norwood News has reported in a series of articles. In 1978, Wiener bought Vinmont, a small complex of 1- and 2-family homes along Mosholu Avenue and West 255th Street. The 30 units were the brainchild of Robert Weinberg, a prominent city preservationist and architect. He nestled Vinmont into a wooded area, constructing a series of affordable rental homes where residents did much of the maintenance work themselves. The charming houses, with front and back yards, are attached with shared utilities. They were a renter’s dream.“People loved them,” said Burke, the principal of PS 340 in North Fordham, who moved into the complex in 1975. “I paid $194 a month for … an apartment with a fireplace, with trees around it.”Wiener purchased Vinmont, and two neighboring complexes, after Weinberg’s death. The two did not share the same vision. Wiener’s goal was to sell off the homes for about $100,000 each within roughly six months, according to tenants. The ensuing battle lasted for over three years.(Wiener did not respond to questions for this story, but a spokesman for his company issued a statement. “It is absolutely ridiculous and unfair to ask Pinnacle about something from more than a quarter-century ago,” said the statement, released by the Marino Organization, a public relations firm retained by Pinnacle.) After the deal, tenants noticed that they stopped receiving rent increases, and rent checks weren’t even cashed. “At the time, we thought it was cool,” said Spalter, a longtime MS 80 teacher, who was then in her late 20s. Tenants eventually grew suspect, and started talking and meeting together. They were alarmed when Wiener fired the property’s longtime caretaker. And they were further angered when they realized Wiener intended to separate the houses into individual properties, sell them and evict those who couldn’t pay. His attitude was, “I’m an owner. I can do it and I will do it,” as Spalter put it. That didn’t sit well with tenants, even among wealthy residents who could have bought the complex outright. They stuck together and formed an association, first successfully moving to get Vinmont recognized as a rent stabilized property. Wiener brought in bulldozers to begin separating the connected sewer and water lines. Tenants went to court and got a restraining order to stop the work.The cat and mouse game cycled on. Wiener filed paperwork to carve out the different parcels later in 1978. Residents would sneak out in the middle of the night and dig up the pipes being installed. And in one of the most important victories, not one resident would let Wiener into their homes to shut off their water connection.“He intimidated the 80-year-old senior citizens, but they still said no,” Spalter said.The war escalated. Residents hired Sheldon Lobel, a lawyer specializing in zoning issues, and Spalter began a letter writing campaign. Burke mastered the pipe blueprints, and searched for permit irregularities at the Buildings Department. Wiener sent eviction notices, but never acted on them.Residents were relentless. “He was so afraid of us,” said Spalter, a lifelong Bronxite who has fought many civic battles. “One day he came to my door and [my husband] yelled out, ‘If he’s bothering you, I’ll go get the gun.’” The firearm was fictitious, but the tenants’ unified resistance was a real source of consternation for Wiener. Franklin Illfelder, a resident who was a teenager at the time, refused to let Wiener inspect his family’s garage. Illfelder, 50, who still lives at Vinmont, says Wiener shoved him in response.Finally, Wiener offered the 1- and 2-family homes to tenants for $50,000 and $60,000, respectively. With $20,000 in fees and a difficult legal road ahead, residents went for the offer, but not before making sure all tenants had a route to ownership. In 1981, Wiener sold them the properties. It was a huge, hard-fought and immensely satisfying victory. “This was the whole basis of our being,” Burke said. The fight was chronicled in a New York legal journal, according to Spalter, but tenants shied away from local reporters’ inquiries for fear it would distract them from their objective. As some of the original residents died or moved away, the story went untold. While the Vinmont battle is long over, thousands of other tenants in buildings bought by Wiener’s current company, the Pinnacle Group, are now facing an uphill contest against him. A growing number of tenants citywide are complaining about the same issues — harassment, eviction notices, the removal of existing building staff — since Pinnacle purchased over 400 rent stabilized buildings beginning in 2002. They fear that Wiener plans to convert their homes into condos. Burke’s and Spalter’s advice to these tenants is to stick together and fight hard. “If you are unlucky enough to live in a Wiener building, form a tenants association and get a lawyer right away,” Spalter said.

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.

Dwellers & Pols Rip Apartment Firm

NY Daily News
Tuesday, May 16th, 2006

A parade of angry and frustrated apartment dwellers complained last night of being pushed around by the Pinnacle Group LLC, a real estate company with holdings around the city.
They accused Pinnacle of overcharging them, dragging them into court for no reason, failing to make repairs, violating their succession rights and warehousing empty apartments to get higher rents.
Nearly 300 people from Community Boards 9, 10 and 12 turned up at the Cultural Center in Riverbank State Park for the joint public hearing. On hand were Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, but the words of Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Harlem) most roused the gathering.
"What you're doing here is stopping a broader conspiracy to take our community away from us," Rangel declared.
"This isn't just Pinnacle. Developers and speculators have been removing tenants illegally from apartments which they return to the market at ridiculous rents," he said.
The chief purpose of the meeting was to collect testimony and documentation relating to investigations into alleged Pinnacle wrongdoing, which the Daily News has detailed in a series of reports.
The company had filed an astonishing 5,000 eviction proceedings since 2004 against tenants in nearly 20,000 apartments. But all suddenly - were dropped recently, within hours of an inquiry by The News about the particulars.
Thomas Delaney, who is in his 70s, disabled and barely able to walk, says fire drove him from his building in September. He said he lives in a shelter now because although repairs were promised, "little has been done."
Another renter, Bobby Jones, said Pinnacle has dragged him into court six times in six months over phony allegations.
"But I will not leave," he declared. "They can't make me. I'm not going anywhere." A Pinnacle official at the hearing declined comment.

Tenants Rally Against Pinnacle Group

Joint Public Hearing Held by Three Community Boards Draws Hundreds, Elected Officials
By Tanveer Ali, Staff Writer
Columbia Spectator
May 16, 2006
Residents of buildings owned by Pinnacle Group LLC had a message Monday night for their landlord—they are ready for a fight.
Hundreds were present at a public hearing held in Riverbank State Park concerning Pinnacle, headed by large-scale developer Joel Weiner, over allegations that it has been abusing its tenants in rent-controlled and rent-stabilized housing.
The event, held in conjunction with Community Boards 9, 10, and 12 of Manhattan, drew several elected officials to voice support for the tenants including City Councilwoman Inez Dickens (D-Harlem), Councilman Robert Jackson (D-Washington Heights), Borough President Scott Stringer (D-Manhattan), Representative Charles Rangel (D-Harlem), and the city’s Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum.
“The purpose of this effort is to gather factual information and whatever documentation we can for those facts,” said Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, chair of CB9. He said that information would then be conveyed through the appropriate legal and governmental avenues.
Twenty-five tenants approached the podium presenting their cases against Pinnacle, which has reportedly filed over 5,000 eviction notices against its tenants over the past three years. Some said that Pinnacle has been trying to force out lower income residents to make way for more lucrative real estate.
Residents of 706 Riverside Drive have been in an ongoing legal battle concerning rent overcharges with Pinnacle since it bought the building. According to Ernestine Temple, member of the 706 Riverside Tenants’ Association, Pinnacle had appraised the building far above its actual value.
Holding up a part of her apartment’s roof that had broken off three months ago to cameras from the local news media, Temple said that Pinnacle had failed to provide necessary services and repairs for families that had been living in the building for years.
“I truly believe a picture is worth a thousand words,” Temple said.
Bobby Jones, a Pinnacle tenant who has been brought to court by his landlord six times in the past eight months, echoed the words of several others present at the hearing.
“I have a message for Pinnacle … I am not afraid. You cannot make me leave,” Jones said.
Many tenants voiced concern that city and state officials have ignored the tenants, with a few saying that state and city agencies have even been complicit with Pinnacle and similar landlords. But, all the elected officials present at the meeting said that they would ally themselves with the tenants’ cause.
“We have the law on our side. We have morality on our side. We will have the appreciation of the lawyers that know that you [the tenants] are organized,” Rangel said to the receptive crowd.

Housing Wars: Pinnacle of Greed

By Heather Haddon
The Indypendent
From the May 10, 2006 issue Posted in Local

“I am full of stress,” said Hernandez, who is facing the twin burdens of a lawsuit and difficulty walking. “When will Pinnacle’s abuses stop?”
Thousands of residents citywide are asking that same question. The Pinnacle Group andits owner, Joel Saul Wiener, have unleashed an arsenal of threatening letters, eviction notices, and lawsuits against tenants. Wiener’s goal, according to tenants and advocates, is to push out long-term residents,use renovations and suspicious accounting toraise rents beyond stabilization limits, and then turn them into condos.“Pinnacle is a monster,” said Luis Tejada of the Mirabal Sisters, a Harlem organization supporting the growing ranks of angry tenants.
BANKING ON VACANCY DECONTROLUnscrupulous landlords have always thrived in New York. But Pinnacle is unique in itsscale and financing through the Praedium Group, a real estate investment trust (REIT)on steroids. REITs have been around for decades, but only in the late 1990s did big banks get in the action – just as New York State began allowing apartments with rents exceeding $2,000 to exit stabilization programs.
A handful of banks suddenly saw Harlem and the Bronx in a whole new light. “It’s viewed as a decent investment,” said Jerry Salama, a NYU professor and real estate expert. “The large investment banks are…going to Harlem and buying rundown multifamily homes and fixing them up.”
Credit Suisse First Boston, one of the country’s biggest investment banks, establishedPraedium in the nineties. One Praedium REIT, Praedium Fund V, pooled $465 millionfrom pensions, endowments and foundations to leverage $1.7 billion in acquisitions, according to financial industry reports. The bulk of that went to buy New York apartment buildings. A Praedium spokesperson said they do not comment on their individual holdings. But Kim Powell, a Pinnacle resident from Harlem, spoke candidly about Praedium, “They are not seeing that within their real estate work, there are habitants and human lives.”
Some housing experts are also wary about Praedium and its ilk. “Enron predicted growth in a certain way, and a lot of people lost money,” said Abbott Gorin, an attorney with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development who has sued Pinnacle for code violations. “Renegade actors ruin the investment for everyone. They accelerate a crash.” Praedium is especially brash. As its website states, the company seeks “properties that are ‘broken’ and can in turn be fixed and then sold upon stabilization.” What constitutes a broken property? Not one with faulty boilers, but those that fail to “aggressively manage the current tenant/leasing base.” To fix that, it recommends “strategic capital improvements and proactive leasing.”
MEET JOEL WIENERWho better to carry out that prescription than Joel Wiener? He comes from an oldschool Brooklyn real estate family. Two children from the third generation, Arthur and Joel, carry the torch. Their father, Paul Wiener, gave ownership of a Riverdale co-op to his children. One of the tenants, a woman who asked for anonymity because she is suing the Wieners, sought help when her roof collapsed in 1984. The damage was extensive, but the Wieners didn’t seem to care. “I could squeeze water out of my insulation. Paul said ‘I don’t see any water,’” the tenant said.
Joel has a reputation for being ruthless among many tenants. “He’s so evil. It’s just amazing,” said Laura Spalter, a Riverdale resident who fought the Wieners in the late seventies. Spalter and other residents managed to wrest control of their property, but only after extensive court proceedings. Wiener has done well for himself. He has a fancy car and high-end office, along with a luxury home. He is flattering and laudatory to some, a snide hothead to others, according to those who have tangled with him. Spalter found that Wiener’s own lawyers often couldn’t stop his rants.
Praedium, however, has rewarded Wiener for his behavior. Beginning in 2002, they financed Pinnacle’s acquisition of entire real estate portfolios, including those owned by veteran slumlord Baruch Singer. That deal – an off-market transaction of almost 3,000 northern Manhattan apartments for $500 million – is rumored to be one of the largest multi-family building deals in city history. Even in the hyperactive world of city real estate, Pinnacle’s sprawling web has grown enormously. Wiener owns thousands of apartments in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan.
His company controls entire swaths of Harlem, Sugar Hill and Washington Heights, along with significant chunks of the Bronx, Upper West Side, Flatbush and Crown Heights. In these areas, Pinnacle targets rent-stabilized properties that are a haven for lowincome residents – from Hispanic families to starving artists.
WIENER’S ARMYWiener runs his operation with military resolve. He maintains a cadre of loyalists, and fires outsiders. Among Pinnacle’s first purchases were former Mitchell-Lama buildings in the Bronx in 2002. Pinnacle proceeded to fire much of the staff within days, according to the Daily News. That year, the city passed a law barring new owners from firing existing staff within 90 days. Wiener has broken the rule since.
Pinnacle has fired more than 200 building supers, as stated in a class action lawsuit filed in federal court last fall. Some were forcibly removed. “[A property manger] threw a Brooklyn super down the stairs,” said Luis Tejada, who spearheaded the suit with a labor law firm. “He walked away and told someone else to call an ambulance.” Most of the supers had decades of management experience. Many were replaced with inexperienced workers from Yugoslavia, according to the suit.
Frank Marino of the Marino Organization, a PR firm hired by Pinnacle, said that while staffing is done on a “building by building basis,” the net result is positive. “If you look at the number of staff working in the properties, you would find an increase,” he said. Perhaps, but the property managers don’t seem very attentive. “They don’t even get out of their cars,” said Fred Criswell, whose mother was fired by Pinnacle after it acquired a building in Inwood where she was the super. Harry Hirsch, Wiener’s right-hand man, revealed in court testimony that he had never visited a building he’d managed for years, nor could he name its super. Neither Hirsch nor Wiener keep complaint records for their buildings, nor do they have a tangible system for managing them, according to the suit. “It’s kooky,” stated Hirsch in his testimony. “I don’t know how we do it.”
FIX IT UP, PUSH ‘EM OUTWhen it comes to renovations, tenants say it’s the supers who are on the job, not licensed contractors. A laundry room erected at 706 Riverside Dr. was condemned because of serious code violations, according to Powell. Rebecca Gilmore, Powell’s neighbor, hired her own carpenter after supers doing a lead abatement left her unit mired in toxic dust. “They also lost my doors,” she said. “It was really shoddy work.”
All of the properties go through the same transformation: an army of security cameras are installed, mailboxes are replaced, then new front doors, lighting and other structural improvements are performed. Compared to some city slumlords, Pinnacle seems saintly. “We’re trying to bring these places back. Why see this as deceiving?” Wiener asked during an interview in which he denounced his critics. “Rather than criticize a landlord who puts in new front doors, you should provide good coverage of them.” But residents worry that the underlying goal is to push enough of them out for a condo conversion.
Pinnacle tenants all over Manhattan have seen vacancies increase, and two Riverside Drive buildings are in the process of becoming condos. Pinnacle says they are generously allowing current tenants to buy their homes. Few can afford the prices, however. “They are trying to sell apartments for over $1 million in buildings with bad pipes and elevators that are always down,” said Paula Odellas, a resident.
Pinnacle does make plenty of major capital improvements, like new windows and boilers.Some of these repairs, which create permanent rent increases, are necessary. Others appear fabricated say tenants. A former Bronx super was told to futz with the electrical plates in his building, and bill for an entire rewiring, according to a source close to the situation. The company intended to replace the entryways at 2300 Olinville Ave. in the Bronx without any obvious need. “I don’t want a new door,” said Joseph Brown, standing next to his solid entryway.
The needs of current residents are at the mercy of Praedium’s drive to “aggressively manage the current tenant base.” In that spirit, Pinnacle frequently takes residents to housing court. The suits are for back rent, but also use creative charges like rent checks using a married name instead of the maiden one, according to tenants. Kim Smith, who worked as staffer for former Councilman Bill Perkins, was shocked to find that a large percentage of residents in a 149th Street building were served court papers. According to city Housing Court records, Pinnacle has initiated over 1,500 cases in the Bronx alone since 2002.
Pinnacle disputes that number, but has yet to provide a different total. People on rent subsidies, including the elderly, have been a frequent target. Bronx Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz helped a 90-year-old Riverdale resident after Wiener sued him for back rent. Dinowitz’s staff found that the man had actually overpaid through credits from a state program assisting low-income seniors living in regulated apartments. “He was double dipping,” Dinowitz said.
Wiener has since said the property is owned by his brother, but Dinowitz’s staff says the management is one and the same.
“THE LANDLORDS HAVE THE EDGE”New tenants have also encountered problems. Those who request documentation of renovations – typically assessed at $25,000 per unit – sometimes learn that their apartments supposedly contain half-a-dozen toilets or hundreds of sheets of drywall.
Erica Martinez, a resident of 801 Riverside Dr., received a court-ordered rent rebate of $300 a month after bogus bills were nullified. “He tried to put all the construction supplies for the whole building onto my apartment,” she said. Frank Marino said the state Department of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR), which oversees rent-stabilized apartments, would never approve inflated bills. “DHCR has been through this thousands of times,” he said. “They know what a realistic ballparkfigure is.”
They might, but DHCR is notoriously lax. “When a landlord goes to DHCR, they get quick results,” Dinowitz said. “When a tenant goes to them, it can take years. In every way, the landlords have the edge.” DHCR punished Pinnacle for overcharging two Bronx tenants, but the agency dismissed future suits when the company issued a building- wide credit due to a “clerical error,” as letters to tenants stated. When Denise Prescod, a Riverside Drive tenant, went to DHCR to check if she was being overcharged, her unit had no listed rent history. DHCR also can’t determine the number of times a landlord has been sued for overcharges, as the agency “does not compile or maintain such information,” as stated in a letter.
“DHCR is of no help,” Prescod said dryly. Peter Moses, a DHCR spokesperson, said he had “little luck” in getting the department’s history of oversight for several Pinnacle buildings. Then he asked, nervously: “Are you really going to write about them?”
CULTIVATING POLITICAL ALLIESThere are no records of campaign contributions from Pinnacle, but Wiener likes to cultivate influential political allies. “Their strategy is to say they have friends in high places,” said former Councilman Perkins, who was approached for support by Wiener while he was in office.
Perkins says he received a call from Ken Fisher, a lobbyist from a politically connected Brooklyn family, to tout Pinnacle’s merits. Earlier this year, Pinnacle also made a $500,000 contribution to Youth Turn, a group run by Rev. C. Vernon Mason, a disbarred lawyer and ally of Rev. Al Sharpton. But most of Wiener’s sense of entitlement comes from within. “He’s extremely aggressive,” said Spalter, the Riverdale resident who fought Wiener successfully. “Any group that wants to fight Joel has to have several fronts going on at once.”
Many Pinnacle tenants are pragmatic. They know that prices will go up and neighborhoods will change. But they are indignant at being driven out of areas that have only now healed from years of crime and neglect. “You can’t expect to continue paying $200 [in rent],” said Marjorie Moore, a tenant at 725 Riverside Dr. “But we are looking at regional planning that is seeking to relocate us. Wiener wouldn’thave these buildings if we hadn’t stayed here to preserve them.”

Tenant Davids Take On Goliath

By Heather Haddon
The Indypendent
From the May 10, 2006 issue Posted in Local
The movement against the Pinnacle Group started with a few dozen neighbors meeting over homemade lemon bars in February. It has grown quickly since. A few years ago, tenants on Riverside Drive in Manhattan began to see disturbing patterns – the removal of their supers, apartment warehousing,lots of superficial improvements – after their buildings changed hands. When Pinnacle moved to covert two properties into co-ops, residents started sleuthing. They discovered Pinnacle had snapped up hundreds of properties citywide, and was using the same tactics elsewhere. “We’re checking how [he’s] been flouting the law,” said Kim Powell, a Riverside Drive resident and lawyer who has done much of the organizing.Powell and other local residents formed Buyers and Renters United to Save Harlem (BRUSH), and began knocking on doors all over northern Manhattan. Each month, their meetings draw more residents expressing remarkably similar stories. A few local elected officials have started attending. The group is now fielding calls from Pinnacle residents all over the city, some of who have started organizing their own buildings.
Throughout the last few years, growing numbers of Hispanic supers sought help from the Mirabal Sisters,a Harlem civic organization, after they were abruptly fired by Pinnacle. Mirabal organized a class action lawsuit against Pinnacle last year, and has joined BRUSH’s efforts. The groups held a joint protest outside Pinnacle’s plush office at 1 Penn Plaza in March.
Housing groups have started to take notice. The Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, a veteran organizing group, is assessing the situation with Bronx tenants. Housing Here and Now, a city organization affiliated with ACORN, is looking into Praedium’s financing of the deals. While energy is high, the battle ahead is formidable. Unlike some landlords, Wiener hasn’t hidden from his critics, outspokenly defending his case at local forums. He’s also hammering against opposition. Powell says Wienerbarred an independent inspector hired by tenants from doing an assessment of their building.
Local officials have pledged their support, and helped tenants on an individual basis. The city housing department says it’s looking into Pinnacle. But it will take a Herculean effort to derail Wiener’s operation. “[They] have a tremendous amount of power,” said Paula Odellas, a resident.
The end of Governor George Pataki’s reign may offer a chance to strengthen state housing regulations, which he helped to weaken. “We need to have much tougher laws against landlords who abuse the system,” said Jeffrey Dinowitz, a Bronx Assemblyman. “It’s a real problem.”

Phony Repairs Add to Abuse

By Juan Gonzalez
NY Daily News
Monday, May 15th, 2006

A hundred gallons of paint for a two-bedroom apartment. Five new flushometers for two toilets.
New doors, range hoods and pedestal sinks that were never installed.
These are just some of the renovations that Pinnacle Group LLC claimed to state officials when it sought to justify huge rent increases for several vacant apartments at 706 Riverside Drive, a rent-stabilized building the company owns in west Harlem.
A group of tenants who moved into the renovated units in 2001 later complained to state housing officials and the courts that Pinnacle was illegally overcharging tenants.
The dogged tenants eventually won major rollbacks in their monthly rent from Pinnacle - a big city landlord that has filed 5,000 eviction proceedings since 2004 against tenants who live in its nearly 20,000 apartments.
In the long 706 Riverside Drive legal battle, Pinnacle submitted hundreds of documents to the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal to try to justify charging as much as $2,000 in monthly rent to new tenants in a building where most current residents were paying about $600.
When they saw copies of Pinnacle's invoices, the new tenants said they were astonished to find their landlord had reported tens of thousands of dollars for work that either was never done, was double- or triple-billed or couldn't legally be claimed as rehab work.
"There was blatant fraud and padding of bills," said Mark Gordon, a Web designer who moved into a seventh-floor apartment with his wife, Anne Beaumont.
Pinnacle eventually agreed in Housing Court to reduce Gordon's rent from $1,900 to $1,100 and paid him $10,000 for overcharges. In doing so, the company admitted no wrongdoing.
Pinnacle originally claimed to the state that it spent $47,000 for improvements to Gordon's 1,200-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment, including a new kitchen and bath.
Under state law, a landlord who renovates a rent-stabilized apartment is allowed to increase its monthly rent by one-fortieth of the cost of those improvements. Thus, a $40,000 makeover translates into a $1,000-a-month increase.
But because the law doesn't require landlords to produce evidence of their repairs unless a tenant challenges the new rent, the system is vulnerable to abuse, housing advocates say.
Among the questionable invoices Pinnacle filed with the Division of Housing and Community Renewal for Gordon's apartment:
· $1,500 for a new main electrical box. A construction expert hired by Gordon concluded there was no new box.
· $1,029 for 100 gallons of latex paint and $454 for 45 gallons of ceramic adhesive. That's enough paint and adhesive for an entire building.
· $1,800 for labor to install two new front doors and door handles, installed by contractor Shaban Cecunjanin. There were no new front doors or handles, and Cecunjanin is the building's superintendent.
· $490 for 10 pieces of 3/4-inch, 4-foot-by-8-foot plywood and for 20 pieces of 4-foot-by-8-foot Sheetrock. There was no new plywood or Sheetrock installed in the apartment, Gordon's expert said.
· Three separate invoices totaling $336 for five toilet flushometers. The apartment has only two bathrooms, and Gordon's expert concluded the existing flushometers showed no signs of recent replacement.
· $396 for more than 120 brass nipple pipe fittings; Gordon's expert couldn't find any in the apartment.
· $17,800 for two men to install new sinks, toilets and medicine cabinets in the two bathrooms. One of the contractors Pinnacle claimed it paid was Rasim Toscic, who also happens to be Pinnacle's super for other northern Manhattan buildings. The other was Toscic's brother, Rafaet.
A floor below, tenants Ted and Marjorie Charron found the same story with their invoices:
There was one invoice of $3,948 paid to Rasim Tokic (sic) for supplies purchased at Home Depot for rehab work on three apartments, including the Charrons' and Gordon's.
The actual Home Depot receipt that corresponded to the invoice revealed a few curious items, such as $169 for 240 light bulbs - 80 per apartment.
There was another invoice for the shipment on June 27, 2001, of 30 gallons of paint for the Charrons' apartment. Problem was, they had moved into their new apartment on June 5.
Other Charron invoices were for a new 30-inch range hood and a new pedestal. None was ever installed.
Most comical of all was Pinnacle's Houdini-like use of the invoice that included Gordon's 100 gallons of paint.
The total amount of that invoice was for $1,920. In addition to the paint, it included a bunch of supplies that Pinnacle claimed it used renovating other apartments in the building.
But in the documents it filed with the state, Pinnacle charged $1,200 from that invoice to the Charrons' apartment, $1,456 to Gordon's and $1,724 to tenant Don Gilmore on the eighth floor. Thus, $1,920 in supplies was magically transformed into $5,100 in charges.
All of these "costs" were used by Pinnacle to justify sharp increases to the rents of all the vacant apartments.
Asked about the fraud charges from the tenants of 706 Riverside, company spokesman Robert Barletta said Friday in a prepared statement: "Pinnacle believes that work [full renovations] and invoices were proper." In some cases, the company "settled with the tenants in order to avoid a lengthy litigation process," Barletta said.
Ted and Marjorie Charron eventually got their rent lowered from $1,900 to $1,300, though Pinnacle is appealing that decision.
To get that rollback, however, they had to battle not only their landlord but the bureaucrats at Division of Housing and Community Renewal and the city's Buildings Department. Those agencies repeatedly refused to investigate evidence of false filings by Pinnacle, the Charrons say.
"We're a complaint-driven agency," said Division of Housing and Community Renewal spokesman Peter Moses. "We have no records showing that anyone filed any allegations of fraudulent improvements by Pinnacle."
The agency may want to recheck its records.
On March 24, 2003, Marjorie Charron hand-delivered it a detailed complaint alleging the fictitious renovations by Pinnacle. The letter was time-stamped by the agency, and Charron has supplied a copy of it to the Daily News.
It included photographs of her apartment to prove what work had not been done.
More than three years later, state housing officials have not even bothered to look into whether anything improper occurred at 706 Riverside Drive, and if so, how prevalent such practices are among city landlords - especially Pinnacle.
Housing hearing
Four Northern Manhattan community boards will conduct a joint public hearing at 6:30 p.m. today to examine some of the problems in Pinnacle Group LLC buildings highlighted by the Daily News' Juan Gonzalez. Tenants, company officials and elected officials are expected to attend the meeting at Riverbank State Park, 145th St. and Riverside Drive.

Full Court Press vs. Poor Tenants

By Juan Gonzalez
NY Daily News
Sunday, May 7th, 2006

One of New York's biggest owners of rent-stabilized apartments is quietly carrying out an aggressive campaign to chase out many of its tenants.
The Pinnacle Group LLC has filed more than 5,000 Housing Court eviction actions in the past two years, court records obtained by the Daily News show.
That's an average of one court action for every four units that the company owns in the city.
The company often buys a building in a low-income but up-and-coming neighborhood, such as Harlem, Washington Heights, the South Bronx, and Elmhurst, Queens; identifies tenants who, under the law, are vulnerable to being evicted, and begins eviction proceedings.
At Harlem's historic Dunbar Houses, a 534-unit complex that the firm took over last August, court records show that Pinnacle wasted no time. It initiated more than 250 eviction proceedings for nonpayment of rent or illegal occupancy during the first six months.
At a 300-unit complex on Morrison Ave. in the South Bronx, the company took 173 tenants to court in 254 separate actions since acquiring the buildings in August 2004.
For the entire Bronx, where Pinnacle controls more than 3,600 units, its lawyers filed nearly 2,000 dispossess actions during the past two years - an average of more than one for every two apartments.
Joel Weiner, the company's chief executive and himself a lawyer, insists the firm's tactics are completely aboveboard and legal.
"We only go to court when a tenant owes more than two months rent," Weiner said.
Weiner acknowledged that he strictly enforces company policy that only the tenant-of-record on a lease can pay rent and occupy a Pinnacle apartment - going after those whom the company asserts are violating the policy.
But neighborhood leaders say too many of Weiner's legal actions are based on flimsy or dubious claims. They say Pinnacle is using the courts and the law to harass and intimidate long-term tenants.
"Their philosophy is, if I drag you into court enough, I'm going to wear you out," said a major Bronx landlord familiar with Pinnacle's efforts.
"At least once a week, I get a call from someone in a Pinnacle building looking for another apartment," said the landlord, who asked not to be identified.
It is unclear how many Pinnacle tenants were formally evicted or simply moved out once an eviction notice was filed. The company refused to provide any eviction data.
The News examined a sample of 85 eviction cases involving the Dunbar Houses in Harlem. More than a third resulted in a judge's warrant for Pinnacle to evict the tenant or take possession of the apartment.
Once an apartment becomes vacant, Pinnacle typically renovates the unit, then sharply increases the rent - often to double or triple the previous rate - housing advocates say.
"It's called working the building," said Evan Hess of the nonprofit Northern Manhattan Improvement Corp. "Landlords these days want to get rid of as many low-income tenants as possible."
Changes to rent laws that Albany lawmakers passed in 2003 make it easier for city landlords to hike prices after fixing up vacant apartments, Hess said.
On Riverside Drive in West Harlem, where Pinnacle owns more than a dozen buildings, Weiner is planning several condo conversions and is proposing to sell units for up to $1 million each.
"They have become the leading force for gentrification in northern Manhattan," says Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat (D-Washington Heights). "My office is being overwhelmed by complaints from families being crushed by this company."
The growing threat of displacement has sparked a huge backlash from hundreds of Pinnacle residents and local political leaders in a half-dozen neighborhoods.
State Assemblyman Keith Wright (D-Harlem) joined with a newly formed anti-Pinnacle group, Buyers and Renters United to Save Harlem (BRUSH), to picket the company's midtown headquarters last month. BRUSH has sponsored several neighborhood meetings in recent weeks that have drawn hundreds of irate Pinnacle tenants.
In Washington Heights, the Mirabal Sisters Cultural Center has collected signatures from more than 1,500 Spanish-speaking Pinnacle tenants demanding an investigation of the company.
Esther Martin and Juan Silva are two of those tenants.
Martin, 82, has lived in the same rent-controlled apartment at 610 Riverside Drive since 1951. Three years ago, Pinnacle sued to evict her. The company claimed she was illegally subletting while living in Florida.
"She has a daughter in Florida and visits there a couple of times a year, but she's always lived here in New York," said Silva, 66, the woman's nephew, who lives with his widowed aunt in the dilapidated three-bedroom apartment that overlooks the Hudson River.
The supposed illegal tenant Pinnacle named in its complaint, Silva said, was Martin's husband, Joseph Martin, who has been dead since 1996.
Silva accompanied his aunt to Housing Court a half-dozen times over a three-year period. In January, Pinnacle's lawyers suddenly offered them $30,000 to vacate the apartment.
"We refused the money and told them, 'Let the judge decide,'" Silva said.
Pinnacle dropped its case after getting Martin to sign an agreement not to seek succession rights for her nephew in the apartment.
Asked about Martin, company chief Weiner said: "Do I want to sue an 82-year-old lady? No. We had information she owned a condo in Florida. Anyway, now she gets to stay."
Weiner points out he spends millions of dollars to improve some of the city's worst-kept and most crime-ridden slum housing. "I love to restore old buildings," Weiner said.
During interviews with The News and a recent tour of a dozen of his northern Manhattan properties, he showed off some of those improvements. At the sprawling Dunbar Houses, for example, he has reduced the number of city housing violations from 2,000 to less than 700 since taking over last year.
Weiner, who receives major financing from The Praedium Group, a nationwide private equity fund, refuses to say how many buildings he has acquired. Many of Pinnacle's properties are held by subsidiary partnerships and operate under different names. But a review of city records shows that Weiner and the partnerships he controls own at least 440 properties with nearly 20,000 apartments.
Even his strongest critics concede Weiner usually improves common areas as soon as he buys a building. Pinnacle typically renovates public entrances, installs new intercoms, security cameras and bright outdoor floodlights, and invariably raises an American flag on all the company's properties.
But dozens of Pinnacle tenants interviewed in recent weeks say those are largely cosmetic changes to attract new tenants. They accuse Pinnacle of delaying major repairs in existing tenants' apartments for months.
"They [Pinnacle] are awful to tenants," said Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz (D-Bronx), who successfully battled several Pinnacle court actions against senior citizens in his district. "They are quick to institute eviction proceedings ... but they never get back to us when we call."
One resident's sorry saga
City College music student Frank Montoya knows firsthand how far Pinnacle Group LLC will go to try to evict one of its rent-stabilized tenants.
In 2001, Montoya, 34, moved into a new apartment at 845 Riverside Drive near his school's campus. He roomed with a Columbia University pal who had initially leased the apartment.
When the roommate moved in 2003, Montoya secured the lease in his own name from the landlord at the time. He then got two new roommates to share the $1,300 rent.
A year later, Pinnacle purchased the six-story building.
Last summer, Montoya made his annual trip to his parents' farm in New Mexico, where he usually works a few months as a chef at a nearby assisted-living facility.
In August, Pinnacle sent a registered letter to Montoya's Manhattan address, notifying him that his lease was not being renewed because Pinnacle had evidence he was a legal resident of New Mexico.
Montoya returned to the city in the fall. He sent Pinnacle his rent checks for September and October but the company refused to accept them, even though his lease didn't expire until Nov. 30.
Pinnacle sued for eviction in Housing Court, claiming Montoya doesn't live in New York and is illegally subletting the unit.
"I've been in this city for eight years," Montoya said from his apartment, its walls adorned with his original artwork.
"My driver's license is from New York and I'm registered to vote here. I still need one more course to get my degree," he said. "What more proof do they need?"
Montoya has been to court several times with his documents but the case keeps getting postponed. Pinnacle's lawyers recently filed a discovery motion demanding copies of his income tax returns and the chance to depose him and his two roommates.
The next court date is at the end of the month. Like most tenants Pinnacle sues, Montoya can't afford to pay for a private attorney.
"How can this company just make up a story like this and keep dragging me through court for months?" he said.

Firm At Pinnacle of Landlord Disputes

By Juan Gonzalez
NY Daily News
Originally published May 8, 2006
Carlos Delarosa, Russell Taylor and Rosa Elsevyf-Conrad share a few things in common.
They've all battled recently against eviction by the same landlord, the Pinnacle Group LLC, the real estate company that has filed an astonishing 5,000 eviction proceedings since 2004 against tenants who live in its nearly 20,000 apartments.
And all have suddenly seen Pinnacle drop its cases against them within hours of the Daily News inquiring about their particular situations.
On April 24, city marshals actually evicted delaRosa, his wife and two children from their Morrison Ave. apartment in the South Bronx and promptly changed the locks.
At the time, delaRosa, a restaurant deliveryman, owed a grand total of $493 - just half of the $986-a-month rent for the one-bedroom, fifth-floor walkup.
There must be some mistake, delaRosa told the marshal. He'd mailed Pinnacle most of what he owed the previous week and had an overdue balance of only $100. Besides, the federal government's Section 8 program was paying the bulk of the rent - $786 - directly to the landlord each month, he said.
Tell it to the judge, the marshal replied.
DelaRosa's wife, Jennifer Aguilar, quickly borrowed $100 from a friend, then her husband - armed with the cash - scurried over to Bronx Housing Court. He produced receipts for two postal money orders, payable to Pinnacle for $100 and $300, dated April 7 and April 19.
He also gave a sworn affidavit to Civil Court Judge Pierre Turner that he had mailed the money orders the same day he purchased them. With the $100 he had on him, delaRosa said, he should be up to date with his rent.
Pinnacle's attorney, however, claimed the company had no record of receiving the latest money orders.
Turner immediately granted delaRosa a show-cause order that banned any removal of the family's furniture until a hearing the following day.
But when delaRosa returned home, he discovered the marshals already had carted off the family's furniture and clothes to storage.
That's a rare move: Although some 7,000 evictions are ordered annually in the Bronx, barely 200 result in forcible action by marshals.
"I've never heard of anything like this," said Carmela Price, an assistant to state Sen. Ruben Diaz (D-Bronx), who intervened to assist the family.
The following day in court, Pinnacle's lawyers demanded delaRosa pay $2,000 for moving and storage costs of the furniture, the marshal's fee, plus legal expenses - or they wouldn't let him back in the apartment.
"We could barely pay the back rent." his wife said. "How are we supposed to come up with another $2,000?"
The next day, April 26, I called Pinnacle to ask about the case. Company chief Joel Weiner returned my call within a few hours.
Weiner has been under fire lately from housing advocates who say his company harasses rent-stabilized tenants in order to vacate apartments and sharply increase rents. Weiner says all his actions are aboveboard.
"As soon as I heard about it [delaRosa's eviction], I ordered my super to restore them immediately," Weiner said. "I felt the tenant misunderstood the legal situation. They won't have to pay anything."
That same evening, the family and its furniture were back in the apartment.
Meanwhile, Russell Taylor was locked in his own months-long court fight with Pinnacle.
Back in 2000, Taylor, an academic adviser at New School University, moved into an apartment on St. Nicholas Ave. in Harlem with his girlfriend.
The girlfriend, however, had signed the original lease, so when she moved out two years later, Taylor asked his landlord to add his name as tenant of record. The landlord was Baruch Singer, a reputed slumlord who has been in the news lately because of his relationship to the Brooklyn warehouses that spectacularly burned down last week.
The office people at Singer's Equity Management kept promising to change the name but never did so, Taylor said.
Still, he continued paying his rent for the next three years with no problem.
Last August, Pinnacle purchased the building, along with dozens of others owned by Singer, who still retains a minor share in the properties.
Pinnacle immediately moved to evict Taylor, claiming he owed $3,000 in rent.
"I always pay on time and I have the proof," Taylor said. In December, a Housing Court judge agreed and dismissed Pinnacle's complaint.
Weiner blames the mixup on poor records he inherited from the previous landlord. "Not all of Singer's stuff was accurate," Weiner said.
Taylor recalled that when he went to Housing Court, "practically everyone there was being sued by Pinnacle."
The day after Taylor's victory, Pinnacle lawyers started another eviction action against him, this time claiming he was not the apartment's legal tenant.
I asked Weiner about that second action. "I don't mind giving Taylor the right to stay there," he said. "That's a problem I'm trying to solve."
A few hours after that conversation, a Pinnacle lawyer called Taylor to tell him the company was dropping its eight-month campaign to oust him.
Then there's Elsevyf-Conrad. She's a supervisor at a city agency who has lived in the same apartment on Riverside Drive in Washington Heights for 25 years. Pinnacle claimed in court she really lives in the Bronx.
"I pay my mom's gas and electricity bills in the Bronx to help her out and my name is on the bills," she said. "I've given them my tax papers and all my documents and they still aren't satisfied."
Weiner said the building's super told Pinnacle she had moved to the Bronx. "If she actually lives there, it's fine," Weiner said, adding that he is now willing to let Elsevyf-Conrad stay.
These three people are lucky. But for the many still being sued by Pinnacle, the nightmare continues.

Their Landlord From Hell

By Juan Gonzalez
New York Daily News
Originally published May 12, 2006

Brooklyn residents Lois Simmons-Wallace (l.) and Audrey Smith have received eviction threats from Pinnacle.

Five months ago, Angela Diaz walked into her apartment at 845 Riverside Drive and was shocked to discover four big screws sticking out of her bedroom wall.
A repairman for Pinnacle LLC, her landlord, had been next door installing a new bathroom cabinet for her neighbor. He did such a great job that the screws he used to fasten the cabinet passed right into Diaz's apartment.
"I complained the same day to the super and he just laughed," Diaz said. "It's been five months now, and they still haven't fixed my wall."
Then there's the softball-sized hole in the wall of Diaz's hallway closet. Pinnacle workers recently punctured the wall while running wires for a new intercom system. The workers then left without plastering the gap, and now rats have rushed through it into the apartment.
"It's like they're trying to force us all to leave," said Diaz, 54, who has lived in the same apartment for 28 years. She and a half-dozen other tenants say that after Pinnacle took over the Washington Heights building in October 2004, there was no heat or hot water for most of that winter.
These are among scores of horror stories that rent-regulated Pinnacle tenants all over the city have told the Daily News in recent weeks.
Tenants say they have to wait months for the company to fix major violations in their apartments - even after a Housing Court judge orders the work. And when Pinnacle work crews finally arrive, they often bungle the repairs or do slipshod work, the tenants charge.
Dorothy Hall, 68, is one of some 250 tenants at the Dunbar Apartments in Harlem to get a Housing Court eviction notice from Pinnacle since the company purchased the 540-unit complex last August.
In her case, she deliberately withheld her rent to force the company to make repairs to her apartment.
In a court stipulation reached earlier this year, Hall agreed to pay her back rent and the company agreed to complete repairs in early March.
It's now May, and the work is still not finished.
"Their workers brought me two sink cabinets with no drawers," Hall said. "My home has been upset and uprooted for two months, everything's off the walls and they haven't even called to say when they're gonna finish."
At 146 E. 19th St. in Brooklyn, a six-story tenement Pinnacle purchased in January 2005, resident Thomas Rudy says "everything went down the drain when they took over."
Rudy, a Vietnam veteran with two Purple Hearts and a veterans' counselor for the state Labor Department, has a long litany of complaints.
"They stopped cleaning the building," he said. "The incinerators are all nailed up, there's never hot water until 8 [a.m.] ... and they're not fixing anything. The only way I get their attention is by withholding rent."
Records from the City's Department of Housing and Preservation show there are 109 unresolved violations in the 41-unit building, including 91 that are classified as hazardous or immediately hazardous.
In Rudy's apartment, work crews recently installed a new bathroom sink.
"After they left, I happened to brush against it and the sink fell down," Rudy said. "They'd forgotten to fasten it to the wall."
In his kitchen there's no metal plate on one of his electrical sockets, and he has waited weeks for Pinnacle to supply one.
Over in Crown Heights, Lois Simmons-Wallace, 78, has lived in the same large rent-controlled apartment at 457 Schenectady Ave. for 40 years.
As soon as Pinnacle purchased the building in January 2005, it sued to evict her in Housing Court, claiming she owed four months back rent.
"I always pay rent on time, and I have a copy of every rent receipt since I moved in," she said.
After several trips to court, Simmons-Wallace produced her proof, and the case was dismissed.
But she has fought for months to get repairs to her apartment, including a new paint job - the last one was 15 years ago.
HPD records show 89 open housing code violations in the 94-unit building.
Last summer, part of a bedroom ceiling collapsed from a major leak. Simmons-Wallace sued Pinnacle in small claims court for damages to her rugs and furniture. In October, the court entered a default judgment against Pinnacle for $1,600.
"We do not have any knowledge of the small claims action," said Robert Barletta, a spokesman for Pinnacle when asked about Simmons-Wallace.
As for the chorus of complaints, Barletta said Pinnacle chief Joel Wiener commissioned an independent survey last week showing "an overwhelming majority of tenants are satisfied with their apartments."
Despite that survey, four community boards in northern Manhattan are convening an unusual joint public meeting Monday at 6:30 p.m. at Riverbank State Park at W. 145th St. and Riverside Drive.
"There is definitely something going on," said Jordi Reyes Montblanc, chairman of Community Board 9. "We don't know what, and that's why we're collecting information."