Tenant Protection Unit’s Audit of a Building Receiving 421-a Tax Benefits Uncovered Largest Total Overcharge in a Single Property
TPU Initiatives Returned Over 52,000 Apartments to Rent Regulation; Restored More Than $2.8 Million in Rent Overcharges
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that more than $250,000 in rent credits has been returned to tenants who were unknowingly overcharged at 111 Lawrence Street in downtown Brooklyn. The Governor’s Tenant Protection Unit flagged the owner’s registrations for the rent regulated building known as “The Brooklyner” as being unusually high, and completed an audit that found unlawful rents and overcharges for 60 tenants, some dating back four years. Under the terms of an agreement with the owner, the TPU successfully negotiated the credits for the tenants, recouping their overpayments. To date, the TPU’s audit and registration initiatives have returned over 52,000 units to rent regulation, and approximately $2.8 million in overcharge restitutions to tenants.
“This administration has zero tolerance for those who prey on renters and we created the Tenant Protection Unit to root out these bad actors, tackle tenant harassment and ensure their rights under the law are not violated," Governor Cuomo said. “This recovery of rent overcharges is the latest example of the TPU’s success in cracking down on these unscrupulous practices, and we will continue working to ensure that all New Yorkers have a safe, decent and affordable place to call home.”
“TPU auditors work tirelessly to root out wrongdoing and administrative errors that cost New Yorkers dearly, ”New York State Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner James S. Rubin said. “The TPU will continue to proactively audit rents as one part of the Governor’s overarching efforts to ensure that New York remains a vibrant and diverse city. I encourage owners to continue to work with the TPU, as these owners did, to avoid protracted litigation and achieve a positive result for all.”
The owners of the newly constructed building, Equity Residential, received tax benefits under the 421-a program, requiring apartments to be subject to regulation. In this case, the building’s owner began registering legal regulated rents above the amount allowed under the Rent Stabilization Law and Code. TPU confronted the landlord with their evidence and findings, and in an effort to resolve the matter amicably without the need for litigation, the landlord immediately took steps to comply with the applicable Rent Law provisions and provided credits to the overcharged tenants.
In addition to the overcharges that were recouped for tenants, all affected tenants in the Brooklyn building have also received new leases with their corrected legal regulated rents. In compliance with the law, the building owner has filed amended registrations with DHCR ensuring that these apartments are regulated accordingly. These measures will protect both the building’s current tenants and future tenants from paying illegal rent overcharges.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams said, “I applaud Governor Cuomo’s Tenant Protection Unit for their dutiful investigation that has resulted in 250,000 being returned to the 60 tenants at 111 Lawrence Street in Downtown Brooklyn. This is a clear message to building owners in our state who are receiving tax benefits: The law must be obeyed. Every New Yorker deserves a safe place to raise healthy children and families, and the unlawful overcharging of rent cannot and will not be permitted to be an obstacle to that aim. I will continue to pursue all avenues to advance the welfare of tenants in our borough, particularly those being abuse or harassed by unscrupulous landlords.”
Senator Velmanette Montgomery said, “This overcharge return is great news for tenants. Rent regulated apartments are vital to our residents in Brooklyn where affordable housing is increasingly difficult to find. When we find tenants being taken advantage of, action must be swift. Thanks to the work of the Governor’s Tenant Protection Unit, this is another win in our continuing battle to make sure that owners are properly abiding by New York’s rent regulations, designed to protect tenants from unreasonable rents and rent increases.”
Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon said, “Thanks to the TPU’s audit, Brooklyn tenants who are being charged unfair rents have relief. It is imperative that owners who receive tax benefits under the 421-a program understand and comply with their obligations under the Rent Stabilization Law.”
City Council Member Stephen Levin said, “I am happy to hear the Governor’s Tenant Protection Unit’s audit of this building will result in a well-deserved victory for tenants. The TPU plays a vital role in enforcing the Rent Laws in Brooklyn and throughout the city – a protection more necessary than ever in the midst of our housing affordability crisis.”
Since 2012, the Governor’s Tenant Protection Unit has vigorously protected the rights of rent regulated tenants in neighborhoods that are under development pressure. To date, the TPU has made criminal referrals that led to historic indictments of landlords; announced comprehensive, corporate compliance settlements with landlords who were systematically harassing rent-regulated tenants in gentrifying neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn where the majority of the tenants in the buildings are Hispanic and Caribbean-American; served broad-based subpoenas on landlords in Lower Manhattan, who were allegedly attempting to harass Asian-American and Hispanic tenants to force them from their homes; and launched a major initiative that uncovered the illegal removal of central heating systems in over two dozen rent regulated buildings occupied by tenants who are predominately Hispanic.
The TPU’s audit initiative was led by Director of Investigations, Lewis Gray. The case was handled by Director of Forensic Analysis Harvey Akerman, Project Assistant Barry Kfare, HCR Housing Specialist Marisel Lewis, Assistant Counsel Karis Rasmussen and TPU Legal Director Vernitta N. Chambers, under the supervision of TPU Bureau Chief Gregory C. Fewer and under the overall supervision of Deputy Commissioner Richard R. White.
Tenants who live in rent stabilized apartments and believe they are being harassed or overcharged should call the Office of Rent Administration and the Tenant Protection Unit at (718) 739-6400.
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