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. http://ow.ly/kMMWj

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 http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/printnycbtn14.pdf.

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
Reuters
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.

Stabilization Protects SRO Occupants, Panel Rules

by Brendan Pierson
New York Law Journal
April 17, 2013

A person who lives in a single-room occupancy building for at least six months becomes a permanent tenant protected by rent stabilization, regardless of whether he has a lease or pays rent, a unanimous state appellate panel ruled yesterday, reversing a lower court.

The Appellate Division, First Department, ruled in Branic International Realty v. Pitt, 570284/10, that an SRO tenant does not need to have a landlord-tenant relationship with the SRO owner, aside from living in the SRO for at least six months, in order to be a "permanent tenant" under New York's Rent Stabilization Law.

Justice Darcel Clark (See Profile) wrote the opinion, joined by Justices Richard Andrias (See Profile), David Friedman (See Profile), Rolando Acosta (See Profile) and Helen Freedman (See Profile).

Man living at SRO hotel is permanent tenant: appeals court

Reuters
by Joseph Ax
April 16, 2013
Read the decision here.

New York -- A homeless man who lived more than six months in a single-room occupancy hotel in New York City under an agreement with a city agency is a "permanent tenant" under rent stabilization law, a New York appeals court ruled on Tuesday.

Phillip Pitt satisfied the requirements of Rent Stabilization Code 2520.6(j), which defines a permanent tenant in hotel housing as an individual who has continuously resided there for at least six months, the Appellate Division, First Department, said. That is true even though he did not have a landlord-tenant relationship with the hotel, since the city's Human Resources Administration paid his rent under the terms of a deal with the hotel's owner.

Though Pitt no longer lives at the hotel, located on West 103rd Street in Manhattan and owned by Branic International Realty Corp, the court said the case posed an issue of "substantial public interest."

Landlord Accused of Endangering Tenants

New York Times
b Sarah Maslin Nir
March 27, 2013

A Queens landlord who authorities said had packed nearly 50 people in illegally converted apartments, some in garages and cellars, was charged with reckless endangerment and other crimes on Wednesday, reflecting a growing concern about the kind of overcrowded housing that has been cited in several fatal fires in recent years.

The landlord, Segundo Chimbay, 48, was accused of turning four houses in Jackson Heights and Elmhurst into fire hazards, with subdivided apartments, illegally installed utilities and rooms without required exits, according to Richard A. Brown, the Queens district attorney.

In the absence of any fire or other disaster in the buildings, Mr. Chimbay’s arrest indicated an increased enforcement of laws banning illegal conversions by the district attorney’s office and other city agencies.

Is your Smoke Detector Effective? Maybe Not.

Push to Address Possible Danger in Smoke Detectors
City Limits
by Bill Hughes
March 27, 2013

A popular kind of detector is poor at sensing certain types of fires. Some lawmakers want New York City to require property owners to also install a more expensive kind.

Jeremy Paniagua's mother died saving his life after a fire broke out in their two-bedroom apartment in East Harlem in February 2005. His mother, Jeanette Montanez, threw her 11-year-old son into a bathtub and covered him with her body to protect him from the flames. Her silhouette was burned onto the flesh of his back by the intense heat and flames.

"His back is burned pretty badly, but you can see the patch where she held him, where she put her head between his shoulder blades and where she held onto his right arm," says Mallory Claudio, Jeremy's older sister, who was pulled out of the 112th Street apartment by firefighters.

Investigators later determined the fire that killed Montanez was started by a cigarette. And while there was a working smoke detector in the apartment, it may have failed to give the kind of advanced warning that allows people to flee fires with their lives, and without scarring burns.

Report Says Bronx Rent Disputes Favor Landlords

New York Times
March 14, 2013
by Winnie Hu

The Bronx handles more than 85,000 housing court cases annually, more than any other borough, making it New York City’s epicenter for disputes between landlords and tenants.

Now a new report by tenant advocates charges that the borough’s heavy caseload puts tenants at a disadvantage, and that tenants often receive scant attention from busy judges and have few other resources to help them fight landlords’ lawyers and navigate the legal process.

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