Tenant Protection Unit Investigates Abuse of Tenants in Rent-Regulated Buildings in New York City
Albany, NY (October 10, 2013)
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced today that the State’s Tenant Protection Unit (TPU) had served a subpoena on a landlord who is alleged to be violating the rights of tenants in the Flatbush/Crown Heights neighborhoods of Brooklyn. The subpoena demands documents from Homewood Gardens and seven other properties with a total of 181 units, owned and managed by Yeshaya Wasserman. Wasserman has purportedly engaged in a pattern of abusive behavior and flagrant violations of rent laws.
“New York State will not let landlords get away with profiting off of tenants through dishonest and illegal schemes,” Governor Cuomo said. “When we launched the Tenant Protection Unit last year, my administration established a new strong tenant watchdog to stop harassment and prevent discrimination. These subpoenas are proof that the TPU is actively fighting to ensure that predatory landlords have no place in New York.”
Darryl C. Towns, Commissioner/CEO of New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), which includes the TPU, said, “In interviewing the tenants in these buildings, we understood how vulnerable they feel – some of them terrified about potentially losing their homes. As a native of Brooklyn, I know most landlords of rent-regulated housing here obey the law, dealing fairly and honestly with their tenants. Thanks to the Governor’s leadership, the TPU is diligently responding to reports of harassment and unlawful behavior – and rooting out those few bad actors to hold them accountable.”
Long-term tenants at Homewood Gardens (651-667 Brooklyn Avenue, 652-668 Brooklyn Avenue and 416-444 Hawthorne Street) contacted the TPU to help them with the landlord who they claim was victimizing them by: failing to cash rent checks, failing to provide services including heat and hot water, pressuring tenants to vacate their apartments, subjecting tenants to frivolous housing court proceedings, and doubling and tripling the rent soon after purchasing the property.
Additionally, a preliminary audit of agency records has shown that the landlord often registered rents with the agency as exactly $2,500, regardless of what the rent was previously registered as. Doing so allowed the landlord to claim that the rent had reached the deregulation threshold – and could exit regulation. Agency records show that the landlord may have also unlawfully deregulated apartments while receiving a J-51 tax abatement, which mandates that apartments remain rent-regulated.
Aga Trojniak from the Flatbush Tenant Coalition, which worked with the TPU on the investigation, said, “For tenants who have been suffering and struggling with harassment, knowing Governor Cuomo’s agency is investigating – provides immeasurable relief. But the relief is not just for the tenants of one bad landlord – it extends to other tenants who may similarly be tormented by an abusive landlord. Tenants and advocates now have somewhere to turn, thanks to the Governor.”
Edward Josephson, Director of Litigation, South Brooklyn Legal Services said, “Landlords cannot engage in corrupt practices which threaten and endanger tenants. Harassment by landlords that violates the law will not be tolerated. We are delighted to be working with Governor Cuomo’s Tenant Protection Unit to halt this discriminatory and abusive behavior.”
New York State's rent laws, strengthened in 2011, are designed to protect nearly one-million residents of rent-regulated housing. Created by Governor Cuomo in 2012, the TPU has begun proactively enforcing the state's rent laws. In its major activity, the TPU has conducted a random audit of building owners who failed to register their properties in the last four years as required by law.
The TPU has also audited owners, requesting proof of work done as part of apartment improvements that significantly raised rents and had been used in the past to move units out of regulation. For the first time ever, subpoenas were sent to owners who failed to comply with the TPU’s requests for the required proof of these apartment improvements.
In June 2013, the TPU served its first major subpoena on Castellan Real Estate Partners/Liberty Place Property Management, the owner/manager of some 1,700 apartments in over 35 buildings in Harlem, Washington Heights and the South Bronx. That investigation is ongoing.