Thursday, May 13, 2010
Judge allows tenant lawsuit against hated Pinnacle Group landlord for harassment
BY Brian Kates DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Thursday, May 13th 2010, 4:00 AM
Landlord Joel Weiner, owner of Pinnacle Group Corp, accused in a Manhattan Federal Court lawsuit of 'corporate slumlording.'
A federal judge has allowed thousands of tenants to sue one of the city's most hated landlords for trying to strong-arm them out of their apartments.
Manhattan Federal Judge Colleen McMahon granted current and former tenants the right to file a class-action suit against notorious landlord Joel Weiner. Damages could run into the millions.
Weiner and his Pinnacle Group are linked to 420 city buildings with at least 60,000 tenants across the city, according to Buyers and Renters United to Save Harlem, a plaintiff.
Tenants have long charged that Pinnacle launched harassment campaigns to drive them from their rent-regulated apartments.
"They placed a surveillance camera at my door when I complained about conditions," said Kim Powell, 48, who has lived in a Pinnacle apartment on Riverside Drive for 28 years.
"They held my [rent] checks and claimed I didn't send them. They have denied tenants heat and hot water, and when repairs are done, the work is invariably substandard."
McMahon's decision expands a suit filed by Powell and 10 other tenants in 2007 claiming Weiner inflated rents, failed to make repairs and systematically evicted tenants to raise rents.
In her April 27 order, McMahon wrote that if the allegations are true, "all of [Pinnacle's] rent-regulated tenants either have been subjected to or are at risk of being subjected to the same pattern of racketeering."
Any big payoffs could take years. Tenants first have to prove that Pinnacle violated federal racketeering laws by plotting to oust them from the cheap flats. If they succeed, they can then sue individually for damages.
The city Department of Housing Preservation and Development has cited many Pinnacle apartments for inadequate fire exits, lack of heat and hot water and lead paint. Some hazardous conditions have not been corrected for years.
The suit is open to current and former tenants who have rented from Pinnacle since 2004. Many vowed to add their names to the plaintiff list at a meeting held Wednesday by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.
"Count me in," said Kahn Hightower, 42, who said he staved off attempts to evict his family from a Riverside Drive apartment. "Those people at Pinnacle almost made me homeless," he added.
Weiner's lawyer, former City Councilman Kenneth Fisher (D-Brooklyn), dismissed the allegations as "overblown."
"In an organization that manages as many properties as they do, they will make mistakes from time to time," Fisher said. "But that is a far cry from a claim that this was a vast conspiracy."Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2010/05/13/2010-05-13_judge_allows_tenant_lawsuit_against_hated_pinnacle_group_landlord_for_harassment.html#ixzz0nobz9OTo