NYC Tenants File $10M Lawsuit Against Overcharging Landlords

NEW YORK—Even the politicians of the city are not immune from constant harassment, eviction attempts, and overcharges from landlords—if they live in rent-regulated apartments. “I’ve lived here all my life,” said Assemblyman Keith Wright outside his apartment building at The Riverton complex. “Since my mother carried me over the bridge as a baby.”

The Riverton in Harlem complex was built in 1949, with over 1,200 units, and Assemblyman Wright’s mother was the first to move into her building at the time. The residential development largely served the African American population as other projects like Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village restricted their tenancy based on race.

Today, it is one big melting pot and everyone, market-rate tenants included, are standing together against harassment from the landlords, Compass Rock Real Estate LLC, which is owned by CW Financial.

On Thursday, tenants and Wright filed a lawsuit against Compass Rock for $10 million for years of overcharging tenants through a variety of methods. “They are trying to nickel and dime us to death,” said Darren Pearson, second vice chair of the Riverton Tenants’ Association. Wright, who chairs the Housing Committee, discovered he was being billed multiple times for capital improvements the landlord may not have even made.

"Scam" Emails Involving Notices to Appear in Housing Court


Tenants and attorneys are reporting that scam emails, claiming to be from the New York State Court System, directing recipients to report to court and to open an attachment for more information, are infecting recipients’ computers with a virus.

Rent Control Protections Upheld Twice by Hoboken Voters

Rent Control Protections Upheld Twice by Hoboken Voters
Hoboken Fair Housing Association
November 15, 2013

Hoboken, New Jersey voters have decisively opted to maintain tenant protections in the November 5, 2013 election, exactly as they had in the November 2012 election. In spite of a well-funded opposition and concerns about vote-by-mail irregularities in both elections, the "NO" vote (upholding tenant protections) won by 122 votes, and by 52 votes last year.

These victories have a complicated history that began in the summer of 2012, when a developer/real estate investment group, Miles Square Taxpayers Association ("MSTA"), sponsored a petition-drive initiative to place a proposal on the November 2012 ballot as a local question.

The initiative allowed for permanent exemption from rent control all properties with 4 units or less whenever the current tenant vacated a unit voluntarily or by court-ordered eviction. For buildings with 5 or more units, the landlord would get complete vacancy decontrol (setting rents at whatever s/he wants) for each new tenant.

For the 2012 election, weeks in advance of the ballot printing, the Hoboken Fair Housing Association ("HFHA") members urged the city to change the misleading language of the initiative's ballot question, which read:

Quinn gets things done - for landlords, not for you.

"No I haven't and no, I won't," was Christine Quinn's response to a question posed in 1998 at a neighborhood debate when she was first running for the council seat she still holds. The question from a local tenant to the candidates was, "has anyone taken any campaign contributions from developers (corrected to include landlords and real estate organizations), and would you do so in the future?"

As most voters know now, Quinn broke that promise early on, and she has amassed one of the largest landlord-developer funded campaign war chests in the city's history. To say she is owned by landlords and developers is an understatement. She is their biggest cheerleader, and because of that Christine Quinn is the singular force in NYC, along with Mike Bloomberg, in large-scale evictions and displacement.

The money came in droves because she made it clear to landlords and developers she would do Bloomberg's bidding when it came to rezonings, large-scale developments and favors for developers.

Her friends include Extell, Two Trees, Vornado and Related Companies, and many others. Look at Hudson Yards, Atlantic Yards, the NYU and Columbia expansions, 125th Street, Willets Point and many, many other projects pushed by Bloomberg and Quinn. In each case, her landlord friends benefit enormously. Tenants and neighborhoods are hurt, and in some cases, irreparably.


(Just like Quinn) Billionaires back Margaret Chin for City Council

by Sean Sweeney

Voter beware! In a move that surprised few, a consortium of real-estate developers, landlords, investment firms and bankers have endorsed Margaret Chin for City Council (Chin currently represents District 1 in Lower Manhattan), pledging a share of its $10 million war chest to elect the embattled councilmember.

The Real Estate Board of New York, a.k.a. REBNY, a pro-real estate, pro-development, lobbying association of the city’s biggest real-estate developers, is spearheading a political action committee, or PAC, cynically
named "Jobs For New York," deceptively claiming it is seeking affordable housing and jobs for the middle class. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Although candidates for the City Council can generally spend only $168,000 on their campaigns under strict Campaign Finance Board regulations, recent rulings now permit private-expenditure groups to spend basically
an unlimited amount of money to influence an election’s outcome.

The bulk of the $10 million that this new PAC is promising will go toward direct mail, TV and radio advertising. The group plans to spend $2 million on voter identification and field-targeting in 25 City Council
races. The PAC also suggested that it would run negative campaign ads against Chin’s opponent, civil-rights attorney Jenifer Rajkumar.

Susan Lerner, the executive director of Common Cause, a government watchdog group, indicated that the multimillion-dollar effort is a significant shift in city politics that might alter the nature of campaigning on
the local level.

Quinn 'kin' denies campaign cash wrongdoing

by Gerard Flynn
July 16, 2013

Queens City Councilman James van Bramer finally went public last week about $8,000 in campaign contributions he has received from family members of 5Pointz developer Gerald Wolkoff.

Campaign finance records show that van Bramer, who represents Council District 26 in western Queens, received $2,750 each from the developer's sons David and Adam Wolkoff, the maximum amount allowed under campaign finance rules for a candidate for City Council. A spouse of the former, Stephanie Wolkoff, who runs the Fashion Week at Lincoln Center, donated the final $2,500, early this year.

Wolkoff Sr. plans to raze the 5-story, 200,000 square foot mural-covered warehouse on Davis St. in Long Island City.

Since the mid-1990s, Wolkoff had been allowing aerosol artists from the neighborhood and around the world to use the famed site as their spray canvas. In 2009, a serious accident forced him to shutter its interior from artist use, but the exterior walls remain a globally known graffiti landmark – and significant tourist attraction for Queens.

Wolkoff intends to replace the building with two residential towers. Zoning rules allow for a bulky development, as-of-right, which would add more than 600 residential units to the immediate area. Long Island City's real estate market has been flourishing with upscale condos and rentals since the area was rezoned by City Hall in 2004.

Union Strikes at Legal Services NYC

by Andrew Keshner
New York Law Journal
May 15, 2013

More than 200 attorneys and other workers at Legal Services NYC walked off their jobs this morning after voting overwhelmingly to reject offers for a new contract.

The organization has pledged to continue operations with about 45 managers. However, Raun Rasmussen, Legal Services' executive director, said before the vote that the intake of new cases would be cut "significantly" in the event a strike was called.

Members of the Legal Services Staff Association have been working without a contract since July 2012. The union, which is part of UAW Local 2320, represents attorneys, paralegals, secretaries, social workers and other staff.

Two votes were held at Cooper Union. In the first, only 26 people voted to accept a May 1 proposal, while 192 voted no.

The second vote incorporated the initial offer plus supplemental terms submitted to the union on May 15. There were 173 no votes and only 13 yes votes.

Landlords Owe Millions to City

The city billed landlords over $180 million for housing repairs and fees from 2008 through 2012. Landlords still owe $65.3 million to the city.

How Much is NYC Paying to Make Housing Repairs That Should be Done by Landlords?
The city has two repair programs that step in when residential landlords fail to maintain their buildings:

Emergency Repair Program. If a landlord fails to correct the most serious housing code violations, the city may make the repairs (or contract out the work) and bill the owner for the cost of the repair and administrative fees.

Alternative Enforcement Program. Each year the city selects the 200 most distressed residential buildings for participation. If the owner fails to make repairs, the city may do so and bill the owner accordingly. For more information see IBO’s fiscal brief on alternative enforcement.

PDF version at

Waivers Clear Way for Approval of Rent Overcharge Class Action Lawsuits

Waivers Clear Way for Approval of Rent Overcharge Class Action Lawsuits
Brendan Pierson
New York Law Journal
April 26, 2013

Rent overcharge actions can be certified as class actions as long as tenants waive their right to collect treble damages and individual tenants are allowed to opt out, the Appellate Division, First Department, ruled in three decisions handed down yesterday.

One of those decisions, Downing v. First Lenox Terrace, 100725/10, overturned an October 2011 decision by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Charles Ramos, who held that rent overcharge actions cannot be adjudicated as class actions. That case was argued before the First Department a year ago, on April 26, 2012. The opinion was signed by Justice Richard Andrias, joined by Justices Peter Tom , Dianne Renwick and Sheila Abdus-Salaam . Justice Leland DeGrasse dissented in part.

The other two cases, Gudz v. Jemrock Realty, 603555/09, and Borden v. 400 East 55th Street Associates, 650361/09, were argued more recently, on Jan. 16 and Jan. 24 of this year, respectively. Both decisions, which were unsigned, upheld trial court decisions certifying classes of tenants seeking rent overcharges.

The panel in Gudz was split 3-2, with Justices Tom, John Sweeny and Judith Gische in the majority and Justices Karla Moskowitz and Sallie Manzanet-Daniels dissenting. The panel in Borden, which consisted of Justices Andrias, Renwick, Helen Freedman and Paul Feinman, was unanimous.

Judges OK class actions for NYC tenants claiming rent overcharges

Judges OK class actions for NYC tenants claiming rent overcharges
April 25, 2013
by Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Tenants who claim landlords illegally deregulated their rent-stabilized apartments can bring class actions seeking reimbursement for rent overcharges, a New York state appeals court ruled in a trio of decisions on Thursday.

In the cases, all of them involving class action claims, the Appellate Division, First Department, found that tenants who voluntarily agreed not to seek a treble-damage penalty under New York City's rent-stabilization law are entitled to class certification rather than having to file individual claims.

The cases - Gudz v. Jemrock Realty Company, Borden v. 400 E. 55th Street Associates and Downing v. First Lenox Terrace Associates - are among dozens related to the Court of Appeals' 2009 decision in Roberts v. Tishman Speyer Properties. There the court ruled that building owners cannot deregulate apartments while receiving certain tax breaks known as J-51 benefits.

Under the city's rent-stabilization law, tenants who are overcharged rent are entitled to treble damages unless the owner can show the overcharge was not willful.


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