Friday, May 14, 2010

Judge allows tenant lawsuit against hated Pinnacle Group landlord for harassment

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Judge allows tenant lawsuit against hated Pinnacle Group landlord for harassment

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:

Judge Grants Class Action Status in Tenant-Pinnacle Suit

Globe St. com
May 13, 2010

By John Jordan

New York City-The five West Harlem tenants that are suing New York City landlord the Pinnacle Group LLC are asking for tenants in Pinnacle buildings across New York City to submit evidence that will substantiate their charges.
A press conference was held on Wednesday at The Dunbar where the five West Harlem tenants, Manhattan Borough president Scott M. Stringer, several members of the City Council and the group Buyers and Renters United to Save Harlem (Brush) spoke of the importance of a recent decision by US District Court Judge Colleen McMahon in granting class action status to the case originally filed in 2007 against Pinnacle and its CEO Joel Weiner. The tenants charge the Pinnacle Group fraudulently inflated rents, failed to make needed repairs and groundlessly harassed tenants out of rent-regulated apartments throughout New York City.
Ken Fisher, an attorney representing Pinnacle in the case, says that it has filed for leave to appeal the class action status ruling rendered by Judge McMahon on April 27 with the US Court of Appeals.
Supporters of the tenants in their case against Pinnacle term the class action ruling as "one of the most far-reaching court decisions in New York City’s history that could potentially benefit thousands of tenants in rent-regulated apartments across the city." The decision certifies that the class consists of all persons who are rent regulated tenants in Pinnacle properties as of April 27, 2010 and a liability class for rent regulated tenants who lived in Pinnacle properties between July 11, 2004 and April 27, 2010.
Pinnacle’s Fisher, a member of the law firm Cozen, O’Connor, says, "three years into the litigation it is the same group of five tenants that are plaintiffs, which speaks for itself. Pinnacle is proud of its record of providing safe and affordable housing to thousands of New York families and is confident that at the conclusion of the case the allegations will be found to be baseless." He adds that four other tenants who had originally been part of the case have since settled and that no other Pinnacle tenants have come forward to join the lawsuit.
Representatives of the tenants state that Pinnacle and Weiner are linked to more than 420 apartment buildings that contain more than 21,000 apartment units and approximately 60,000 tenants throughout the five boroughs.
"This lawsuit is a huge victory for all working people in New York City and retired and elderly tenants, too," states Andres Mares-Muro, one of the five tenants that filed the lawsuit against Pinnacle. "At a time when we are all living on less and less and terrified of losing our jobs, this...suit is the first step in protecting us from losing our homes. It sends a [resilient] message to flippers and speculators..."
Stringer adds, "This lawsuit constitutes an unprecedented fight against [these] corporate landlords and a powerful show of resistance for middle- and low-income residents throughout the city who believe that illegal tactics are being used to drive them out."
Fisher said, in response to some politicians' comments, "It is disappointing that grandstanding politicians chose to involve themselves in this, rather than trying to come up with real solutions to New Yorkers' housing needs."
In December 2006, Pinnacle Group, LLC, while admitting no wrongdoing, reached an agreement with then New York State attorney general Eliot Spitzer in regards to alleged overcharges in some of its rent stabilized apartments that had recently become vacant and required repair. Fisher says that the overcharges centered on about 300 of the 9,000 vacant apartments in its portfolio and that Pinnacle sent refunds to the affected tenants who later took occupancy of the renovated apartments totaling about $900,000 and about $100,000 in interest.
A meeting described as "a class action classroom" has been scheduled on May 23 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Oberia Dempsey Center on 127 West 127th St., by Stringer, the plaintiffs and BRUSH to provide Pinnacle rent regulated tenants with information concerning the litigation and provide the opportunity for tenants to submit evidence in the case.