Video: Crown Heights Tenant Union rally

Here is an amazing video of the Crown Heights Tenant Union’s first rally back in February, created by CHTU member Alex Roesch and Hunter Steinman. As Donna Mossman recounted in her Surreal Estate reflection piece after the rally, “It was freezing cold that Friday morning, but our hearts and our souls were on fire”.

We’re looking forward to even better energy (and warmer weather) at our next rally on June 7th. Stay tuned!

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Three Borough Pool Press Conference

A few weeks ago, tenants from all across New York City came together in front of City Hall to demand that the Three Borough Pool, a group of 44 buildings in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, be taken over by a new, responsible owner.

The current owners (David Kramer, Normandy Real Estate, Vantage Properties, and Westbrook Partners) failed at paying their mortgage, landing all of the buildings in foreclosure. They’ve also failed at maintaining the buildings, resulting in horrific living conditions in apartments. If the lender, LNR, sells the buildings to a responsible developer who commits to rehabilitating the buildings and including tenants in decisions about their homes, this foreclosure can be an opportunity to preserve the nearly 1,600 units of rent regulated housing that are at stake.

UHAB created this video from our footage of the press conference. Follow the link at the end of the video to watch the tenants’ full speeches!

2014 Alternative Enforcement Program List Released

It is a strange suspense that tenant organizers feel once a year, as they scroll down the new list of buildings being added to HPD’s Alternative Enforcement Program (AEP). Inevitably, our eyes scan the list for buildings we work in. And when we do see addresses we recognize, we are torn between disappointment that the buildings are in such bad shape, and hope that this might give us some leverage to improve conditions.

The Bloomberg administration created the Alternative Enforcement Program as a way for the department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to identify the most distressed buildings in the city and enforce the necessary corrections. As well as the total number of violations, HPD looks at the severity of the problems, which are categorized as A (non-hazardous) B (hazardous) C (immediately hazardous) and I (court ordered to correct, or order to vacate). Once a building enters the program, it is inspected for violations and the owner has four months to do sufficient repairs. If they do not satisfy the requirements by then, they are subject to fees and liens against the building. In some cases, HPD will do the repairs themselves and send the bill to the owner.

We found two buildings whose tenant associations we work with on the 2014 AEP list: 1253 Franklin Avenue in the West Bronx, and 1159 President Street in Crown Heights. We also work with tenants (alongside PACC) in 1059 Union Street, also in Crown Heights. 1059 Union Street and 1159 President Street are both owned by BCB Properties: a landlord the newly formed Crown Heights Assembly Tenant Union has opted to target.

Brooklyn took the lead with 103 new buildings added to the program, 27 of which are in Crown Heights. The list continues with 55 buildings in the Bronx, 19 in Manhattan, 10 in Queens, and none in Staten Island. Only 187 buildings fit the requirements to enter the program this year instead of the usual 200, but according to The Observer, HPD cautions against reading too much into this.

The Observer article begins with a contrast between these distressed buildings and the luxury NYC housing that seems to exist, unscathed, in a separate realm – recalling Mayor De Blasio’s “tale of two cities” theme. As we wait to hear the mayor’s  appointments for several HPD positions, we hope this will be a new chapter in the enforcement of building maintenance and repairs, which is a crucial part of preserving affordable housing stock. We will be fighting on President Street and on Franklin Avenue for the owners to take responsibility for their buildings and provide decent, safe homes for tenants.

If you live in an AEP building or just want to learn more, check out these resources:

AEP Frequently Asked Questions

AEP office:  (212) 863-8262

Stabilis Press Conference

Here is  a video with footage from the Stabilis press conference and building tour on December 3rd. Letitia “Tish” James, who will become our Public Advocate in just a few days, spoke beautiful words of solidarity with the tenants. Tenants spoke about the hardships and appalling conditions they have endured while living in a building with a negligent landlord. Then the tenants lead a tour of the apartments to show some of these conditions. Please watch and share!

Tenants Fight Back in Seryl LLC Foreclosure

Over the past couple of months, UHAB organizers have been working with tenants in 10 Westminster Road, a building near Prospect Park South whose mortgage is owned by Seryl LLC, the same private equity company that owns the mortgages on 545, 553, and 557 46th Street. With an HPD violation count of 205 for only 21 units, 10 Westminster is in the Alternative Enforcement Program. The building is in foreclosure and under the control of a receiver named Harry Horowitz who, according to tenants, is doing nothing to improve conditions. On the contrary, there is evidence that he may be trying to illegally raise rents.

Living here has been a long, rough journey for many tenants. Orazio Petito, the building’s landlord landed the building on Bill de Blasio’s Worst Landlord Watch List. One tenant had a ceiling fall in on her, sending her to the hospital and making her unable to work. Some of the apartments once went without running water for five days straight, others have gone without power for hours at a time, and when trying to contact management about such problems, tenants are treated disrespectfully.

The good news is, the people of 10 Westminster have not given up hope. With the help of South Brooklyn Legal Services, several of them are now in the process of entering the foreclosure case so their voices can be heard in court. We support the families in this building as they fight to make their home liveable, and to have some control over their surroundings. Seryl cannot get away with its irresponsible action! Stay tuned as this campaign moves forward!

Organizers Meet with the Tenant Protection Unit

As the first part of its series of Fall Organizing Trainings, ANHD gathered about 20 tenants and organizers for its “Working with DHCR’s Tenant Protection Unit” session on October 8th. The conversation was led by Ericka Stallings, director of the Initiative for Neighborhood and City-Wide Organizing. Its purpose was to demystify the Tenant Protection Unit (or TPU), a New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal sub-unit that was created in 2012. Its self-stated purpose is as follows:

 The TPU works proactively to:

  • Protect the rights of rent regulated tenants and provide information to both tenants and owners
  • Increase compliance with and enforce rent regulation laws
  • Detect landlords’ fraudulent acts and non-compliance with housing laws

The first part of the three-hour session was a discussion among the organizers about what they knew about the TPU, what they’d like to know, and any direct experience they’ve had so far with the unit. Then in the second part of the session, representatives from TPU joined us to give more information and answer questions. Here is a summary of what was discussed:

The TPU focuses on widespread patterns in landlord behavior, rather than dealing with individual tenant cases. For example, they may start by looking at trends like which neighborhoods rent is increasing the fastest in. Forensic auditing experts then conduct investigations on landlords, and can subpoena them for documents. This information is used to build cases against landlords – hence their unofficial slogan, “TPU is coming after you”.

This article illustrates some of the work the unit has done so far, including investigating a terrible slumlord in Flatbush and bringing tens of thousands of units back into the rent regulation system. Two other issues they work on are increasing the number of landlords who register the rents in their buildings, and auditing Individual Apartment Improvement (IAI) rent increases.

According to the TPU, when you submit a complaint, the more information you have the better. This can consist of photos, surveys filled out by tenants, documents given to tenants, bills, leases, court papers, and notes taken during conversations with the landlord. The complaint should relate to a larger, pervasive problem in New York City rent regulated housing. The TPU evaluates whether they will further investigate based on their capacity and their overall strategy.

Our task now is to find out how to best leverage the TPU’s resources in our organizing. Some important limits to be aware of: their staff is about 30 people, and their jurisdiction is only in rent stabilization. We look forward to working with the TPU, and we hope they will be a valuable addition to our fight against irresponsible and predatory landlords.

8th Annual West Side Tenants’ Conference

On Saturday, September 21st, tenants from many walks of life gathered with organizers, attorneys, politicians, and others in the NYC housing world to talk about issues that affect them. The 8th Annual West Side Tenants’ Conference, which is run by tenant volunteers, took place at Fordham University’s School of Law at Lincoln Center.

The day started off with a free light breakfast and twenty-one information tables run by NYC organizations and political offices. Housing Conservation Coordinators gave out free tote bags filled with information on saving energy and reducing waste, maintaining a healthy environment in the home, an educational coloring book about asthma , and flyers for local free legal clinics on immigration and other issues. There were also free on-site assistance tables for issues with rent arrears, SCRIE and DRIE application help, and a representative from NYCHA present to answer questions.

The Keynote Address was delivered by State Senator Brad M. Hoylman, who talked about how essential campaign finance reform will be to working on affordable housing legislation. Before he spoke, appearances were made by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, State Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, and City Council member Gale Brewer.

Workshops throughout the day discussed varied topics such as fighting tenant harassment, demanding repairs as a tenant association, HP actions, Major Capital Increases, fighting against illegal use of a building by landlords, what affordable housing is and how to find it, and tenants’ rights concerning bedbugs. Workshops specifically targeting seniors included estate planning, housing benefits for seniors, and succession rights, and there were also specialized workshops about NYCHA, Mitchell-Lama and HUD-subsidized housing.

The conference was hosted by eleven local organizations and seven NYC politicians. One of these organizations, the West Side Neighborhood Alliance, is made up of tenants in Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, and the Upper West Side. Their campaigns focus on tenant rights and protections, permanent affordable housing, increasing quality of life, and neighborhood-wide issues such as rezoning.

We applaud everyone who put energy into creating and executing this conference for the people of the West Side. It was well attended, and the tenants who came out learned useful information and were connected with valuable resources. Centering a conference around one neighborhood or group of neighborhoods can contribute to a sense of pride and unity in the tenants who live there. UHAB and Crown Heights Assembly are experimenting with this concept of neighborhood-wide organizing as we collaborate on the Crown Heights Tenant Union in Brooklyn. Here’s to the power of information, and how it can be used for positive change in our neighborhoods.