Friday, November 02, 2007

Council Proposes Crackdown on Abusive Landlords

Columbia Spectator
By Melissa Repko
City Council members aim to crack down on tenant harassment with a bill they introduced in front of over 100 supporters on Wednesday.
The proposed legislation, spearheaded by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, would make tenant harassment a class C violation of the Housing Maintenance Code. Violators would pay from $1000 to $5000 for each offense.
“For too long, tenants have been powerless against landlords who seek to pursue them illegally through threats or interruption of basic services and increasingly through frivolous court proceedings,” said Councilmember Dan Garodnick, D-Manhattan. “This bill gives tenants a fair chance to fight back.”
Locally, allegations against landlords of tenants harassment have been widespread. Tenants in buildings owned by the Pinnacle Group in West Harlem and elsewhere, along with the advocacy group Buyers and Renters United to Save Harlem, have filed a federal lawsuit against Pinnacle, saying that the landlord has mounted a concerted campaign of harassment aimed at getting tenants out of their rent-regulated apartment so they can be “flipped” to market rate.
While Quinn stressed the positive aspects of growth and development, she warned against taking extreme measures to evict tenants. “We need to recognize that with development often comes gentrification pressures,” she said. “There are bad apples out there who are responding to that gentrification by deliberately and willingly engaging in campaigns of tenant harassment.”
“There is no compassion in the tactics that are being implicated,” said Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito, D-Manhattan Valley and East Harlem, adding that many tenants being targeted are elderly. “We are here to say that greed will not trump dignity.”
Rachael Klausner, a 96-year-old resident of 200 East 26th St., voiced fears of landlord harassment in her home of 64 years. Ever since there was a fire in the building on April 16, one third of the building’s tenants—most of whom are elderly—have been homeless and there have been no repairs to the site.
“These are the people who are being harassed out of their homes,” said Christine LaFroscia, another resident of the building and the president of its tenant’s association. “Only by changing the system will we be able to put our heads to our pillows at night knowing that people like Rachael and others like her are not going to be evicted from their homes.”
Quinn responded to concerns that landlords would be inundated with frivolous lawsuits, pointing to the bill’s safeguards. The bill spells out the offenses that are considered harassment, which include cutting off services like water and heat, deliberately failing to make repairs, and falsely claiming that tenants have failed to pay rent. Tenants who file three lawsuits that are deemed baseless are not allowed automatic standing to file a fourth.
With Quinn’s backing and widespread support within the council, the proposal looks likely to pass. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has not taken a public position on the bill.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Suit Against Landlord Could Turn Class Action

September 16, 2007

Thousands of tenants may join a lawsuit against a prominent Manhattan landlord. In July, the tenant group BRUSH filed a federal racketeering lawsuit against the Pinnacle Group and owner Joel Wiener. The suit claims Pinnacle made shoddy repairs to apartments, violated rent stabilization laws, issued illegal evictions, and harassed tenants to try an force them out and raise rents. Now, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum says a petition for an upgrade to the lawsuit has been filed. It would add every Pinnacle tenant to the lawsuit, about 21,000 people. In July, a spokesman denied trying to force tenants out of their homes and said the group is committed to preserving affordable housing.

Thursday, July 12, 2007



NEW YORK, NY -- Buyers and Renters United to Save Harlem, Inc. (BRUSH), and the law firm of Jenner & Block, LLP, has filed suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against one of New York’s biggest residential landlords, The Pinnacle Group, and its CEO, Joel Wiener.

The lawsuit, filed with the full support of NY Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, accuses Pinnacle and Wiener, who together own over 21,000 apartments in New York City of engaging in wanton and widespread violations of New York rent laws as well as the Federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”) statutes.

In the lawsuit, BRUSH contends Pinnacle engaged in:

“… reckless and intentional systematic acts and business practices of demanding and collecting rents in amounts beyond those permitted under the law …” and “… an overall pattern and practice of tenant harassment, which includes: … failing to timely make necessary and reasonable repairs, to address housing maintenance code violations, or to provide essential, required services and then threatening and taking action to evict tenants who have reasonably and legally withheld rent because of such illegal conduct; (iii) commencing unfounded eviction actions to demand rent that already has been paid; (iv) commencing unfounded proceedings to challenge tenants' succession rights and harassing and intimidating tenants by demanding an unduly burdensome, unjustified, and unwarranted amount of evidence regarding a tenant’s succession rights; (v) unjustifiably refusing to accept tenants’ rent checks and then claiming non-payment of rent and commencing eviction actions or other proceedings challenging succession rights; (vi) directing, encouraging and allowing the superintendents of its buildings to, among other things, harass tenants by making unacceptable and shoddy repairs or making false promises to conduct repairs; scheduling appointments that the superintendents do not attend; issuing false notices and documents regarding tenants’ activities or conduct; and ignoring tenants’ complaints and acting in a hostile and retaliatory manner to tenants who have made complaints; (vii) failing to offer tenants lease renewals, or lease renewals on proper terms; (viii) failing to comply with orders issued by the New York Department of Housing and Community Renewal requiring Pinnacle to pay monetary awards to tenants for rent overcharges and rent reductions; (ix) seeking to restore original rents that have been reduced in accordance with Department of Housing and Community Renewal orders, knowing that the housing violations giving rise to the rent reductions have not been resolved; and (x) refusing to respond to and ignoring tenants’ inquiries and requests for documents relating to rental histories, rent increases based on individual apartment improvements and major capital improvements, and lease renewals.”
Kim Powell, President of BRUSH said: “The Pinnacle Group is a parasite in the community, profiting unfairly and illegally from harassment and loopholes in the rent laws without giving anything back to the community. They have acquired thousands of affordable, rent-controlled and rent-stabilized units in New York City, and have systematically victimized tenants by illegally inflating rents while at the same time reducing the quality of repairs and services. What’s Pinnacle’s goal? To push out long-term tenants, drive up rents until apartments are deregulated, and shove through condo conversions that replace affordable rentals with million dollar condos. This landlord has made a mockery of the NYC Housing Court, abused and crippled NYS and NYC housing agencies by its egregious conduct. We hope that this lawsuit sends a clear message to the Pinnacle Group and other landlords that the community will not tolerable abusive and illegal conduct.”
BRUSH is a non-profit association founded to promote tenants’ rights and preserve affordable and quality housing in the West Harlem and Northern Manhattan communities. BRUSH does outreach in the community and hosts seminars and workshops to raise awareness of tenants’ rights. BRUSH has played a key role in organizing tenant associations and works with various state and local agencies and officials in an effort to combat displacement of tenants by the forces of gentrification.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Death Notice

It is with profound sadness we announce the death of one of our BRUSH Board members, Ms. Debbie (Maudline) Brown. Ms. Brown served on the Board since the organization's inception, and up until her death.

As a Board member and resident of the Harlem community she was very active, vocal, and responsive to the needs of the community. A "tower of strengh" and a woman dedicated to the cause of the community. She will be missed. Our Condolences to her family, and friends.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Tenants Nominate Pinnacle Group as NYC's Most Abusive Landlord Twice

Pinnacle Unpopular Despite Gift
Tenants Nominate Group Twice as 'New York City's Most Abusive Landlord'

By Kevin Shin
Issue date: 1/25/07 Section: News

The Pinnacle Group, one of the city's largest owners of rent-regulated apartments, has fallen out of favor with residents and seems to be trying to buy its way back into their hearts.On Tuesday, before a city-wide tenants' convention of over 500 tenants, Pinnacle garnered two nominations out of a total of 12 for "New York City's Most Abusive Landlord." Tenants' delegations from Harlem and Washington Heights/Inwood, areas in which Pinnacle owns the majority of its rent-regulated apartments, submitted the nominations.These nominations came on the heels of Pinnacle's announcement that it would give a $500,000 grant toward the founding of the Harlem Senior Tenants and Landlords Reconciliation Center. The center, which will be administered by the Harlem Consumer Education Council, aims to educate Harlem's elderly tenants, property managers, and landlords about their rights and obligations."This worthy initiative will offer tenants, and particularly seniors, a vehicle to address any concerns in an open, timely, and cost-effective manner," said Joel Wiener, CEO of the Pinnacle Group, in a press release earlier this month. "The Pinnacle Group believes in setting the standard for housing in New York City and listening to the communities we serve."The initiative comes at a turbulent period of strife between Pinnacle and many tenants renting its properties."In a two-year period, Pinnacle has not only bought close to $1 billion worth of buildings in substandard conditions, but since 2004, it has started eviction proceedings for a quarter of its tenants," said Anne Ingersoll, president of the Community Union of Washington Heights and Inwood, and spokesperson for Washington Heights/Inwood at the nomination convention.Ingersoll and her delegation chose to nominate Pinnacle for as the city's most abusive out of the over 100 landlords her union oversees."They are much more aggressive than most other landlords," said Ingersoll of Pinnacle. "They send inspectors to private homes asking for personal information, file eviction proceedings on false grounds, and serve unwanted tenants with complex legal documents."
These tactics, said Ingersoll, are meant to intimidate and push out lower-income tenants, many of whom are immigrants who are elderly or have limited command of English.Once tenants either move out or are evicted by the court, landlords are legally allowed to raise rent. Because the law allows landlords to successively raise the rent each time a tenant moves out, residents claim the law has created incentives for landlords to pursue transient tenants, such as students, who may only rent for semesters at a time. Once rent reaches at least $2,000 per month, apartments are no longer classified as rent-stabilized and the landlord can charge market price.Harlem tenants at the convention echoed many of the same allegations against Pinnacle."Every time a person is taken to court, you lose one-twentieth of your working days per month," said Rafael Luna, a community activist who, after deliberating on eight other area landlords, nominated Pinnacle on behalf of Harlem tenants. "A lot of people that they take to court work two, three jobs. They can't afford to go to court. So they say, 'Screw this shit, let me take the $2,000 or whatever shitty amount Pinnacle pays me to leave, and just get out.'"Pinnacle hopes that their contribution to the Harlem Senior Tenants and Landlords Reconciliation Center will help smooth out such potential conflicts in the future."This model is unique and innovative because for the first time in Harlem's recent history, a program's primary focus will be to bring together senior tenants, landlords, and property managers to address issues all three groups face everyday," said HCEC founder Florence M. Rice, in a press release. "It will provide a forum where they can come together and work in a non-threatening environment to develop, not necessarily perfect, but workable solutions that each group can live with."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Stuy Town Tenants Sue over Rents

Stuy Town tenants sue over rents
The Associated Press

January 23, 2007, 10:06 AM EST

A group of tenants at Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village want to see their rents rolled back, saying the complex's owners illegally charged market-rate rents while benefitting from tax breaks that should have precluded them from doing so.The suit, filed Monday in Manhattan state Supreme Court, names both the previous owner of the complex, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, and Tishman Speyer Properties, which bought it for a record $5.4 billion last year. Most of the more than 11,000 units in the property are under rent regulation, while about 3,000 are not. The class-action lawsuit asks that those 3,000 apartments be put back under rent regulation for another 10 years, until a series of city-given tax breaks expire. Those tax breaks are given in exchange for unit owners agreeing to keep rents reasonably low. Those filing the lawsuit say that means the owners shouldn't be charging market-level rent.The suit also asks for $320 million in damages, The New York Times reported in Tuesday's editions.A spokesman for Met Life declined to comment to the paper, while a spokesman for Tishman said the suit was without merit.

List of 12 of NYC's Landlords

  • List of NYC's 12 'worst landlords'
    By Justin Rocket Silverman
    amNewYork Staff Writer

    January 24, 2007

    The 'Dirty Dozen' list provided by the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development:
  • Mt. Eden, the Bronx: Jacob Finkelstein for not fixing leaks at 105 E. Clark Place
  • Washington Heights: Joel Weiner of The Pinnacle Group LLC, which is said to have begun legal proceedings against 5,000 tenants
  • Central Brooklyn: John Tsevelos of G-Way Management
  • West Side Manhattan: Jay Podolsky for harassing tenants at SRO hotels-
  • Lower East Side: Nathan Shuchat at 141 Ridge Street
  • Williamsburg: Adam Mermelstein and TreeTop Development LLC
  • Queens:George Subraj for his many buildings in the Jamacia area.
  • Bushwick: David Melendez is said to have more than 673 open building code violations-
  • Harlem: Joel Weiner of The Pinnacle Group LLC
  • South Bronx: Doug Peterson of NYC Capital Value Fund II LLC for pressuring Section 8 tenants to move out
  • Chinatown: Benjamin Shaoul for bringing frivolous lawsuits
  • South Brooklyn: Julia and Carlos Guzman for harassing tenants at 268 Dean Street

Advocates Name the Worst Landlords in NYC

Advocates name city's 'worst landlords'
By Justin Rocket Silverman
amNewYork Staff Writer

January 24, 2007

Housing advocates Tuesday released a "dirty dozen" list of landlords, who they claim are harassing tenants to force them out of rent-stabilized apartments.In years past, the most notorious landlords were criticized for letting their buildings fall apart. But in this rapidly gentrifying modern city, owners are coming under fire for trying to clear their buildings of tenants to make way for luxury apartments. "We are hard-working families, paying our rent on time, and don't deserve to be harassed," said Jacqueline Hernandez, a resident of 188 South 3rd St. in Williamsburg. "The apartments we live in are full of mold and drafty windows. Meanwhile, we see nice new windows being installed in empty apartments."The owners of 188 South 3rd -- Adam Mermelstein and TreeTop Development LLC -- were voted "New York's Most Abusive Landlord" by the hundreds of people attending Tuesday's gathering of housing advocacy groups.Eleven other landlords from neighborhoods from the Bronx to Manhattan's Lower East Side were cited for what the participants said were strong-arm harassment tactics used in trying to clear tenants out.More than half the tenants of 188 South 3rd have already moved out, and their one-bedroom apartments are being renovated and combined into two- and three-bedroom units, the residents said.Reached by phone, Mermelstein said he was not making any effort to get the rent-stabilized tenants out. He said he had only bought the building four months ago, and that constant repairs were being made to all the apartments.TreeTop Development's website was advertising 188 South 3rd as a "gut-renovation upscale rental."Market-rate rent in the area could reach upwards of $2,000 a month for renovated units. Many of the current tenants are paying less than $700."Harassment of tenants has become one of the dominant business models in New York City," said Benjamin Dulchin, of the Association of Neighborhood and Housing Development, which sponsored Tuesday's event. "Landlords buy buildings where tenants are paying low rent, and then expect to be able to push out those tenants."Dulchin said the solution was a City Council bill that would criminalize the harassment of rent-stabilized tenants.One common harassment tactic, Dulchin said, is to bring a large number of frivolous lawsuits against tenants, who often can't afford a lawyer or speak English well enough to understand the accusations.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Convention to Select New York's Most Abusive Landlord

Are You Being HARASSED By Your Landlord?
Come to a
Convention to Select
New York’s
Most Abusive
Tenants from neighborhoods across New York will nominate landlords who are using illegal methods to push tenants out, then vote to chose New York’s Most Abusive Landlord.
This event will bring attention to the crisis of harassment, and support new legislation in the City Council that will give tenants a new tool to fight back.
DATE: Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007
TIME: 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM
PLACE: Judson Memorial Church
55 Washington Square South
(between Thompson and Sullivan Street, three blocks from West 4t Street stop of A,B,C,D,E,F,V subway)

For More Information, contact: Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, 212-747-1117,