INVESTIGATORS WHO SCARED RESIDENTS ON 93RD STREET WEREN’T ‘FAKE COPS’ AFTER ALL

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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.”

50 w 93rdTenants said Stellar is essentially renting appliances like cable boxes. Stellar’s leasing agent for the property, Everton Hird, did not return messages left for comment.

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.

NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 37 comments | permalink
    1. Sherman says:

      I can’t believe the chutzpah of the woman in this article. She’s living in a rent-controlled apartment and complaining that her landlord -who’s already losing a fortune renting to her – won’t but her a new refrigerator.

      I mean, she’s been paying an artificially low dirt cheap rent for forty years. Don’t you think she could have put aside a few dollars to buy a new refrigerator?

      • westside gene says:

        Sherman, please read and understand what you are commenting on before you comment. The woman you are accusing of chutzpah is entitled by law to working (not new) appliances at no additional cost under rent stabilization. She also said she would rather pay for her own refrig and stove. Landlords who purchase rent regulated buildings pay less for the buildings because of the rent laws. If her landlord is loosing money on his building, perhaps he should sell it and go into another line of business.

        • Gigi says:

          Well said.

        • Mark says:

          Who needs laws when we can be guided by moral outrage and envy?

        • Nathan says:

          In buildings that have gone co-op it’s often the case that remaining rent controlled sponsor units receive less in rent than the building’s monthly maintenance charge. It doesn’t matter what discount the landlord gets buying that unit, he’s losing money every month until the tenant dies. And, in fact, the unit only has *any* value because the lease will eventually end.

        • manhattan mark says:

          As my memory serve’s me, the original rent control law
          allowed for any landlord who was not making 6% return on
          their investment could bring in their books and prove it…
          I do not remember any time that a landlord did that. In
          rent controlled buildings a landlord does not have to replace
          a non-working appliance with a NEW one, only a WORKING
          one.

          • Nathan says:

            If that ever existed it doesn’t now. A tenant can challenge a rent increase less than 90% of the rent is going toward operating and maintenance expenses. This is, of course, true in basically every rent-controlled apartment. But even then the landlord may only increase the rent by Maximum Collectible Rent by 7.5% annually.

            That sounds like a lot, but consider the case of a rent-controlled tenant only paying $500/month in rent. The maintenance cost is often around $1,000. It would take 10 years for the landlord to reach break even rent assuming the maintenance doesn’t increase, which it will.

            The only upside for the landlord here is that when the tenant moves out—or more realistically, dies—he’ll have a windfall estate-condition apartment to sell.

            Source: http://metcouncilonhousing.org/help_and_answers/about_rent_control

      • 9d8b7988045e4953a882 says:

        I agree it’s disgusting. Rent regulated tenants on the UWS are some of the most entitled people on the planet.

        In addition, these tenants should get the facts before blaming the landlord for sending fake cops after them. Landlord should sue for defamation.

      • JD says:

        Sherman, if they’re losing that much money,why don’t they sell the property. Why take those loses?

    2. Jason says:

      Westsiders forget this neighborhood wasn’t like it is today. W94th street was the most dangerous block and alot of these residents still live here. Not everyone was born with wealthy parents and can afford $4,000 rent. Never get comfortable in your lifestyle because you could always be the one in need of these subsidies.

      Yes there is abuse in the system but the majority of the people do need them, otherwise they would be homeless.

      • Sherman says:

        Nobody would be “homeless” if rent stabilization laws were overturned.

        There are plenty of cheap apartments in safe neighborhoods a quick subway ride away in The Bronx.

        Nobody should have a divine birthright to live in an area they can’t afford and have everyone else subsidize them.

        • JR says:

          Shipping the poor and disenfranchised deep into the outer boroughs is you answer eh? Where does that end? Who do you think works at your favorite restaurant? Serves you your coffee? They’re not the people who pay $3k for a studio apt… Why should they have to commute over an hour each way for a $10/hr job? That’s the part that people like you always seem to forget.

          This is America…a country founded upon the ideals that everyone is equal. Sometimes that means that the less fortunate need a little help. An old woman who has worked hard her entire life should not have to be shipped deep into the Bronx to live out her golden years.

          Perhaps you should move to India. You’d probably be a huge fan of their caste system.

          • anon says:

            well right now we basically ship all the newly arrived, entry-level-salary professionals to the outer reaches of the boroughs (unless they are subsidized heavily by parents or inherit a rent-stabilized lease) and they are no less deserving of a Manhattan apartment than the poor/low-wage earners so meh to that point. In any city someone has to live on the periphery (and some even prefer to) and in most places it’s those with less resources who can afford the (generally cheaper) periphery homes. At my last job about 30% of my colleagues commuted 1.5-2 hours each day (from outer boroughs/CT/NJ/Philly). None of them had the entitled attitudes I hear from stabilized tenants in our prime neighborhood.

          • Sherman says:

            Thanks for letting me know that everyone is “equal” in America.

            I think I’m going to move to Beverly Hills and insist to the locals that they provide me with a heavily subsidized mansion.

            Since we’re all equal I should be entitled to it.

        • Sophia says:

          Have you tried to rent in the Bronx? Could you find a studio apartment larger than a shoebox in a well-maintained building for under $1,00/month close to transportation on a safe street?

        • DMH says:

          Sherman, do you own? How much have you deducted (ie, how much have your renting neighbors subsidized you) in your mortgage interest deductions over the years?

          How much have you yourself subsidized those who take the deduction? Do you know how much this redistribution of wealth costs American households every year?

          You’re welcome for those subsidies.

          • Sherman says:

            I paid cash for my apartment. I never had a mortgage. Nobody subsidized my mortgage interest deduction.

            • DMH says:

              Well and good, however we collectively subsidize those who take the deduction to the tune of around $75 billion a year. Including some of those self-reliant Beverly Hills bootstrappers. This is one of the biggest tax expenditures in the U.S. tax code. It always makes me chuckle when right-wingers complain about having to help the “less deserving” less fortunate, without mentioning this enormous subsidy that accrues to those who are comparatively well off, with little overall economic or humanitarian benefit.

          • Steven says:

            Careful how you define “subsidy.” It usually means giving money to someone. Allowing someone to pay less in taxes (by deducting mortgage interest) is not really an explicit subsidy in that sense, unless you believe that all money belongs to the government, and allowing you to keep more of what you have earned is somehow a subsidy from the government. The mortgage interest deduction reflects a social policy of encouraging home ownership.

            But if you are going to define “subsidy” as in fact meaning “allowing you to pay less in taxes,” then you should be thanking the residents of the dreaded red states for subsidizing you, DMH. Because enabling people to deduct state and local income taxes from their taxable federal income is just as much a subsidy to people in high tax states like New York as the mortgage interest deduction is. People in Texas are subsidizing you. So thank them.

            • DMH says:

              This is contrary to how I understand economics, and I’m pretty well trained, but maybe you can point me to some sources. It sounds like you’re ignoring the difference in services that NY and TX residents are voting on and paying for, and ignoring the AMT which doesn’t allow state and local income tax deductions. Anyway, link some sources and I’ll read up. Thanks!

            • Steven says:

              DMH, here are a couple of things you can read, one from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (this piece is part of a report on ways to reduce the federal budget deficit), and one from the Tax Policy Center, which is a joint project of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution (both considered to be liberal groups):

              https://www.cbo.gov/budget-options/2013/44799

              http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/briefing-book/state-local/fiscal/deduction.cfm

              The “services that NY and TX residents are voting on and paying for” are state services, not federal services. We all get the same federal services (e.g., Social Security, Medicare, the Post Office, etc.). But different states choose to provide different levels of services at the state level. If NY chooses to have an elaborate and expensive state government requiring high taxes while Texas chooses to provide fewer services at the state level in order to keep taxes low, someone living in NY making $50,000 will pay less in federal taxes than someone living in TX who is making that same $50,000, because the New Yorker is paying more in state taxes that he can deduct from his federal taxable income. (And as these links explain, the AMT mitigates the effect only for some taxpayers.) So the Texan is subsidizing the New Yorker for the services you receive from the federal government.

              Regarding your comment above about the mortgage interest deduction as an “enormous subsidy that accrues to those who are comparatively well off, with little overall economic or humanitarian benefit,” I would simply note again that the mortgage interest deduction reflects a long-standing, bipartisan consensus (which could well be wrong, of course) about the benefits to society of higher home ownership levels. Fannie Mae, after all, was created by FDR in the 1930s. Here’s a paper published by the Philadelphia Fed in 2002 (by an economist from Penn State) that discusses the issue of whether the social benefits are worth the cost of the subsidy. In reviewing the research on the subject, he concludes that there are in fact social benefits from higher home ownership rates. Whether they are worth the subsidy is harder to measure.

              https://www.phil.frb.org/research-and-data/publications/business-review/2002/q2/brq202ec.pdf

          • Woody says:

            That’s a bogus argument.

            Some landlords have mortgages, too. Renters benefit from their mortgage interest deduction in that the landlords’ lower income tax liability is passed along from landlords to renters via the either the rent stabilization mechanism or the free market.

    3. Rafael says:

      The creation of the Office of Special enforcement is a great idea. Now I know who to call when I suspect my neighbors of renting out their apartment illegally. This is called profiteering and I am glad to have learned that my neighbors can be fined and evicted for allowing strangers into our building. Our safety must be first and put above the temptation of making a lot of money from illegally renting their apartments
      Let this be a warning

      • anon says:

        Seriously. In fact I plan to contact them this week about two stabilized tenants in my building who have had a LOT of suitcase-carting “visitors” at their place over the past few months.

    4. Gigi says:

      Things were not like this people, do understand. Things have changed very quickly for our UWS. I don’t blame the tenants for thinking these were fake cops. Stupid? yes. But I don’t blame these people. Lots of landlords on the UWS are trying their best to remove old tenants, renovate the apt, make then look more like dorms, and rent them at 5,000 or more, preferably to students from what I’ve seen. I’ve been offered thousands of money to evacuate but I feel I can at least afford a year or two more in here. Honestly, I feel helpless and know my time to leave soon will come.

    5. Erica says:

      So, if the TPU was formed in 2012, doesn’t that mean it was Bloomberg that set it up to look after the rights of tenants?

      Sherman – when you rent an apartment, you get a working refrigerator. I can only imagine your outrage if your refrigerator wasn’t working and the landlord didn’t repalce it. I know you don’t like rent control, but that seems like a basic idea that shouldn’t be hard to follow. She is renting an aprtment from a landlord who signed up for being a rent-controlled landlord. (I am assuming he got into business after WWII when the rent control laws went into effect, but perhaps this landlord is abnormally aged?). I have no rpoblem with landlords agitating for changes in law, and I do think that, like many things with which I otherwise agree, rent control went too far – but you don’t get to just unilaterally stop following the rules before they are changed. And I do not believe rent control should be eliminated altogether because the impact on the fabric of the city (not to mention on individual people) woudl be too great.

      Again, we all want what we want, and we can stamp our feet and act like toddlers when we don’t get it, but Stellar owns a building that is, under current rules, rent controlled and they have tenants that have legal rights. Until the law is changed, Stellar has to live up to those rights. One of those rights is to provide a functioning refrigerator. There should be no extra charge for that. I hope the TPU will look into that.

      • Sherman says:

        I am not denying that the law states that tenants are entitled to working appliances.

        This law s/b upheld – even in the case of rent regulated tenants.

        However, in this article the woman does not state her stove and refrigerator do not work. She is simply saying she wants new appliances.

        In life you get what you pay for. If she pays a pittance in rent her amenities can’t be expected to be the best.

        If she has old and rickety – but safe and functioning – appliances I don’t believe the landlord is morally or legally obligated to buy her new stuff.

        • DMH says:

          Sherman, did you read the article above that you’re commenting on? She states in the article that she did buy herself a refrigerator. She also says she is working towards a stove, but it takes awhile since she is retired, and presumably on a fixed income.

          I was curious and it took about two seconds of googling to get information on the landlord’s obligations under law to maintain working appliances in rc/rs units. Please take a look. I’m not a fan overall of rent control because I believe the measures distort the market. That said, it’s the system we live in, and demonizing people who have rc/rs housing on stuff like ‘oh now they want working refrigerators’ is awfully bilious.

        • Sophia says:

          Then why can’t she buy her own appliances if she wishes? The reason is that most landlords don’t wish to make living conditions in regulated apartments too comfortable for these tenants and would rather have them move out. Apartments used to be homes for families, not transitional units for single people (for the most part) who would double and triple up, get married, and move out to the suburbs to raise their families.

    6. Westsider 73 says:

      These investigators need to be investigated for their conduct.

      I live in a market-rate apartment within 240 W 73rd, a building where there are many rent stabilized tenants (some of which supposedly rent on Air BnB).

      One morning a few weeks back as I got ready for work, these “investigators” started pounding extremely violently on my door. I looked through the peep hole and saw two men in plain clothes. They showed no ID and were yelling loudly, telling me to “open up” the door like it was some kind of SWAT team drug bust. Feeling uneasy about their unprofessional demeanor, and being home alone, I yelled back through the closed door that I was getting ready for work and that I would meet them in the lobby in 10 minutes. They responded with disgust (I heard the word “stupid”) and left. I called downstairs and the desk clerk confirmed that they were actual police and had been scaring everyone.

      So, although I needed to get to work, I decided to do my civic duty and meet them downstairs. When I approached them to introduce myself, I was met with more brash attitude (still no introduction of who they were and what they were up to). After asking me hard-hitting questions such as “have you seen anyone coming in or out of the building with suitcases?” (as if tenants like myself don’t travel regularly for business– but I did not voice this and answered their questions honestly and politely), they ended with a gruff “that’s all we need”. No “thank you” or anything.

      I understand the economic impact that illegal hotel rentals has on the apartment rental market in NYC, and agree it should be investigated with care. However, this little investigation unit is a couple of unprofessional jerks that none of us should be subjected to. They are the perfect example of people who went into law enforcement to get a little bit of power, and clearly can’t handle the responsibility. Courtesy, Professionalism, Respect, indeed. NYPD – get these two jokers back on meter maid duty or teach them some basic manners. They are undermining all efforts to develop a good relationship between locals and the police.