By Margo Lemberger
A case of alleged tenant harassment took a strange turn on Thursday. Three men who have been aggressively questioning tenants at 50 West 93rd street – some of the residents thought they were “fake cops” – were actually part of a special mayor’s investigative unit probing reports of illegal short-term rentals in the building, according to Council member Helen Rosenthal, who spoke at a tenant meeting Thursday night.
The mayor’s office of special enforcement has begun cracking down on landlords who illegally rent out residences as short-term hotels.
Tenants had said they feared agents of Stellar Management were trying to intimidate rent-stabilized renters into leaving.
After Rosenthal’s revelation, the focus turned to the general topic of illegal actions by landlords, such as taking rent-controlled apartments off of city rent rolls, not proffering renewal leases in a timely manner or adding illegal provisions, and tenant harassment.
Margaret Myers, a resident for more than 40 years, says she has experienced the sting of Stellar’s intention to turn the rent-controlled building into a more profitable property. “They’re trying to go co-op. A lot of harassment is going on. They don’t change our stoves, our refrigerators. If they do, you have to pay $20 a month as long as we have them. I mean, for that, I’d rather save up and buy my own. I bought my own refrigerator. The stove, I have to work on. I can’t afford all that. I’m retired now.”
Jeffrey Margulies, Assistant Commissioner of the state’s Tenant Protection Unit, said that there was a new law assessing $10,000 per penalty for landlords’ demonstrable harassment of renters, and encouraged residents to report such incidents to the proper agencies. The protection unit was created in 2012 by Governor Cuomo to combat and penalize acts of harassment.
A statement from TPU said in part:
“Through its audits and investigations, the Tenant Protection Unit has returned 43,000 units to regulation, and returned over $1.5 million to unsuspecting tenants who didn’t know they were being overcharged. If a tenant believes they have been the subject of harassment they should call the Tenant Protection Unit at 718-739-6400.”
Representatives from the meeting also told tenants to ask for identification if they are approached by someone claiming to represent law enforcement.