Residents of a Brooklyn Heights building battle a controversial rent hike

New York Daily News
by Erin Durkin
May 29, 2012

Elderly tenants of 85 Livingston St. say hike would be devastating; state housing agency rules in landlord's favor. Residents of a Brooklyn Heights building are seething over a rent increase they charge could devastate elderly tenants. The 18-story building at 85 Livingston St. was converted to co-ops in 1989, but about 30 rent-stabilized tenants have held on ­ but now fear they could be forced out because developer Mark Teitelbaum, who owns the rental unit, is jacking up their rent.

“He wants us out. He wants the apartments. He’s licking his chops, waiting for them,” said Zaida Concepcion, 62, who has lived in the building 35 years. Teitelbaum ­ who also owns the land under Grand Central Terminal ­ maintains he’s entitled to raise the rent because of renovations made to the building starting in 2004. The state Department of Housing and Community Renewal initially denied his application for a hike ­ saying he filed the application past the deadline of two years after the work was finished ­ but he appealed and the agency reversed its decision. The developer is demanding about $60-90 more per month, plus about $2500 in retroactive rent from each tenant. He originally owned some 75 apartments in the building, and has sold them as they emptied out.

The dispute centers around work to caulk and waterproof bricks on the building’s facade that co-op owners in the building decided to do. Tenants say Teitelbaum shouldn’t be able to use it as a reason to increase the rent because he didn’t file to do so until 2008. “The attitude at DHCR is, ‘Pay the rent and shut up,’” said Lorraine Miller, a 35-year resident and former housing court judge. “We’ve been stonewalled from the beginning.” On Thursday, DHCR issued an order upholding the rent increase, saying work on the building continued long enough that the application met the deadline. “At their core, the tenants’ primary objections are based on the impact of the increase rather than its supporting factual basis,” Deputy Commissioner Woody Pascal wrote. “However, DHCR must administer the increase in accordance with law.”

Kathleen Moses, 74, said with the money she has to shell out out of pocket for chemotherapy treatments for esophogial cancer, there’s no way she could afford the rent hike and the $2500 lump sum. Yet for Teitelbaum, she said, “this is chump change.” “I don’t have any family. I don’t have any children,” she said. “This has been my home since 1975, and my question is, where do I go?”

Almost all the tenants are seniors. The oldest is 94-year-old Margaret Cafiero, who has lived there more than 30 years. “It’s putting a burden on people to raise the rent so much at one time,” she said. “It’s like fighting City Hall - you never win.” Local pols are backing the renters. “Almost every single one of the renters are senior citizens, and many on fixed incomes. If these rent increases go through, some of these seniors may be out on the street,” said City Councilman Steve Levin (D-Brooklyn Heights). Teitelbaum did not return calls.