HRI orchestrates class action lawsuit against predatory landlord (The New York Daily News)
EXCLUSIVE: Harlem tenants accuse landlord of illegally hiking up rent in over 20 buildings in class action lawsuit
By Kerry Burke and Larry McShane
New York Daily News
Wednesday, December 7, 2016
A class action lawsuit by Harlem tenants accuses their landlord of illegally jacking up rents and abusing city tax breaks in more than 20 apartment buildings. The Manhattan Supreme Court filing charges Big City Properties LLC and Big City Realty Management with “a scheme designed to inflate rents over and above the amounts which they are legally permitted to charge.”
The lawsuit, with 28 named plaintiffs, charges the companies abuse the city’s J-51 program by taking the offered tax breaks without providing tenants with rent-stabilized leases.
Rent hikes based on a system known as individual apartment improvement — installation of new doors, counters, cabinets, for example — were levied despite a lack of actual work in the apartments, charged the lawsuit brought by the law firm of Newman Ferrara.
“J-51 offenders are not only cheating on their taxes, but also robbing our city of affordable housing,” said Aaron Carr, founder of the nonprofit Housing Rights Initiative.
A message left Tuesday for Big City Realty was not returned.
Plaintiff Sheresa Jenkins-Risteki said she agreed to pay $1,800 a month for a rent-stabilized apartment on W. 151st St. — only to have the landlord bump the cost to $1,950 and then $2,200.
“I talked to a couple of people in the area, and they said similar things,” she said. “Then I went to a community meeting, and found out I’m one of a bunch of people.”
Tenant Alex Waterbury, a model who lives on W. 129th St., said her rent-stabilized apartment was leasing for $2,100 a month — when the cost for the two-bedroom should be $1,600.
“It shouldn’t be this way,” she said. “My roommate and I don’t have steady incomes, and it’s illegal.”
According to the lawsuit, the defendants boosted the rent in another W. 129th St. apartment from $975.69 to $2,030.58 between 2009 and 2010, a hike that would have required $32,000 worth of individual apartment improvements, the suit charged.
“There is not evidence that IAIs in that amount took place in plaintiff’s apartment, and in fact, an inspection of the apartment suggests to the contrary,” the 31-page complaint charged.