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."